You may have noticed that not much that occurs in the local press escapes our attention. So we've decided to chronicle a series of little 'spats' taking place in public between a couple of individuals over the past few months who like to portray themselves as in some way concerned with the environment.
One of these we all know far too much about - Councillor Sean Parker-Perry. The other person - Bill Johnson - is not someone we've looked at in detail before, but he certainly deserves more attention.
It's possible to view these spats as a bit of a 'turf war' for environmental credibility. We've done a lot to document the history of Councillor Parker-Perry's Active Longdendale, but Bill Johnson has his own environmental organisation - Longdendale Heritage Trust (LHT) - which seems to have a record that Cllr Parker-Perry can only dream about. Interestingly, the LHT has also attracted funding from 'Awards for All' - in this case £5,000 to rebuild a drystone wall, a tad more tangible than Cllr Parker-Perry's spending of his grant (about which, at the time of writing details are still not publicly available).
The first of the latest spats come about in May 2007, when TMBC set about felling trees that lined the sides of the deep cutting at Mottram, ostensibly to prevent root growth from destabilising the masonry. Johnson was annoyed, and ran to the Reporter/Chronicle, who duly provided an article.
Parker-Perry then replied to Johnson in the last 5 paragraphs of a letter on various topics in a later letter to the Chronicle/Reporter. One of them makes clear his priorities:
"Any loss of trees such as this is always a shame, but our engineers must do what is best to maintain major engineering works"
And then Parker-Perry pulls out the classic Greenwash trick - an offer to plant trees elsewhere to mitigate the loss. But in a response to Parker-Perry's letter, Johnson points out the folly of removing trees which stabilise the sloped sides of the cutting and also that cracked masonry has still not been attended to.
All had then been quiet until a couple of weeks ago, when the spats erupted again. This time it was over a request for funding from the Friends of Etherow Lodge Park, in order to fund an orienteering course. The minutes of the District Assembly clearly don't do justice to the passionate feelings in evidence in the local press over the following couple of weeks, and Bill Johnson's subsequent letter to the press is a well-argued illustration of the sound reasons why pathways in the protected woodland have been historically minimised. But then he blows it by attacking and insulting the the 'friends' group in a rather snobbish and condescending manner.
We've no doubt that Bill Johnson has credentials - but it's always galling to hear someone flout them vainly rather than offer an argument based on evidence and facts. And whilst we tend to sympathise perhaps a little more with him in this dispute, it's all the more puzzling why he has taken a wholly contradictory stance with regard to Swallow's Wood.
For he has always shown much less concern about the fate of this Ancient Woodland. As recently as November last year, he was writing to the Glossop Chronicle to roll out the 'nature will recover' flannel we too often hear from Councillors and Siege, the fig leaf to cover their destructive urges. He even goes as far as to eulogise the M67 Roundabout at Mottram! Johnson's principles may be in short supply possibly because he lives on Ashworth Lane and the traffic queues outside his front door - but then we know he hasn't formally written in to support the bypass either. So where does he stand?
We'd rather a little consistency was applied in Mr Johnson's concern for the environment, and given that Swallow's Wood is classified by the Woodland Trust as Ancient Semi Natural Woodland, we would have thought that fell under the remit of concern for the Longdendale Heritage Trust. And his eloquent argument against holding orienteering courses in Etherow Lodge Park must surely also apply to Swallow's Wood, where there are plays to destroy it for good.
**UPDATE 28th October 2008: we are reliably informed that the same Mr Bill Johnson used to be very much against the Bypass - in the early 1990s, he participated in a fledgling (and now defunct) group called PATROL (People Against the Road Over Longdendale). We get the feeling he likes to monopolise concern for the environment if not personify it. But there's no hard feelings - there's room for all kinds of weird people and ego-tripping in this campaign, so come on Bill, get with the program!