Thursday, 4 March 2010

"MP: Rethink Vision" - Headline in today's Ely Standard

There is a half-page report in today's Ely Standard, the link for which is here -

... but, as the report is important, I reproduce it as follows:

"MP: Rethink Vision

MP for South East Cambridgeshire Jim Paice, has broken his silence on the controversial Wicken Fen Vision, calling for a major re-think on the aims of the project.

Mr Paice, who is also shadow agricultural minister, has long been silent on the issue owing to the pressures of party politics.

However, recent developments have enabled him to speak out on the Vision, which he said went too far in taking valuable agricultural land out of production.

Campaigners have hit back at Mr Paice's comments; however, highlighting that the total area proposed in the Vision makes up just 0.16 per cent of farmable land in the UK.

Having recently finished drawing up agricultural policies for the forthcoming Conservative manifesto, Mr Paice has been freed to give his views on the Wicken Fen Vision and, speaking exclusively to the Ely Standard he said that flooding any more land under the banner of the Vision would be a 'backward step',

"Most experts believe that increasing population and prosperity will mean that world food production must double by 2050 whilst climate change will reduce the productive capacity of much of the world's land, he said.

"That brings me to the vexed question of the expansion of Wicken Fen about which, until now, I have had to bite my tongue.

"For most people I believe the existing Fen is a gem in our countryside which shows how the land was when we only had a fraction of today's population to feed and therefore it should be maintained that way."

"However, I do not believe that this is justification for further land being effectively taken out of agriculture altogether. Since the Vision was conceived the global picture for food has changed significantly so it needs to be rethought."

The MP also stressed that taking 53 square kilometres of land out of food production was 'going too far' and, despite supporting the existing Fen, he believed that farming in the future would have to strike a balance between conservation and production.

The Wicken Fen Vision was launched in 1999 as a plan to create a 'green lung' in the county that stretched across 53 square kilometres between Wicken and Cambridge.

According to the 100-year plan the land would be returned to its natural wetland state, acting as a habitat for thousands of wild birds, animals and insects.

A spokesman for Wicken Fen, said: "The land that makes up the Vision represents a tiny fraction of British agricultural land and we have already turned some of the land we have acquired to high quality grazing for cattle, so it is still in agricultural use.

"It should also be noted that the Vision is there as a blueprint for the future, if the funds aren't there or people don't want to sell the 53 square kilometres set out in the Vision then it will not happen.

"A number of polls have suggested that a large majority of people support the idea of the Vision and having a large open space to enjoy in Cambridgeshire and discussions are always ongoing to ensure that we are finding the right balance between conservation and agriculture."

Geoffrey Woollard, a parish councillor for Swaffham Prior, has been a fierce critic of the Wicken Vision and believes the prime Fenland farmland should be kept solely for food production.

He described news that Jim Paice was calling for a rethink as "not much of advancement" and accused Mr Paice of "sitting on the fence".

He said: "Mr Paice, as shadow agriculture minister, has had many opportunities to support agriculture and food growing in the Fens and it appears that he is still sitting on the fence.

"I am supporting farming on the Fens because our growing population needs feeding. In the past food has been plentiful and available from overseas and that may not be the case in the future."

Ben Gibbs, who has long campaigned in favour of the Vision, said: "I think the Vision is a far sighted scheme that will help create a pocket of land to protect our wildlife population and I hope that it won't be used as a political football to be kicked around by people looking for personal gain."

I have sent a follow-up letter to the Ely Standard. My letter welcomes Mr Paice's shifting his position somewhat on the controversial so-called 'Wicken Vision' and concludes with the following:

"Mr David Lloyd George, the former Prime Minister, deployed a splendid insult against a political opponent. He said that the gentleman had 'sat on the fence so long that the iron has entered his soul.' Fence-sitting and tongue-biting can be painful, but to different parts of the body. Mr Paice should eschew them both."

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