Magpie 30 – The last hours of Abbey Pond

Pondlifer, (1994) Eye Witness: The last hours of Abbey Pond. Magpie 30, p.6-8

Eye Witness: The last hours of Abbey Pond

 Abbey Pond, and all its wildlife, was obliterated on the 24th of February in a deliberate act of destruction directed by a Director and shareholder of Manchester Science Park. This was in flagrant violation of Councillor Spencer’s much vaunted Planning Condition No.8, which states that: “Prior to the commencement of any development on the site, the pond and its contents shall (mandatory) be transferred to an alternative site. Reason: To safeguard the pond’s ecological value.” On the 16th of February, our green Councillor was at pains to tell a top level meeting about the pond, that this remarkable act of ecological generosity was made in the teeth of entren-ched resistance from his colleagues whose stance he sunned up as “Sod the pond, just fill it in with concrete.” That is exactly what happened but without bothering to comply with the troublesome planning condition. This astonishing act took place before many witnesses; the media, the campaigners, the Under Sheriff of Greater Manchester and many police. Maybe it was an act of spite by the Science Park’s Project Manager, Mr.W.J. Townson of Bowdon, member of the Board and owner of 62,000 preference shares in MSP ltd., for the two weeks of inconvenience caused by the pond occupation.

The eviction of the Pond campers or “residents”, as Earth First would have it (the Post Office delivered mail to a hand crafted box on the fence), began at first light on the 24th in accordance with due process of law. The two week old Republic of Newtonia had a short but intensely busy and harmonious life, forging links with the community, keeping children off the streets, entertaining visitors and staying warm and well fed. We were supported by many gifts of food and equipment, and complimented by the local police for our responsible behaviour. (If only the powers that be were as well behaved as the protesters – Ed.) Dr. Allen, MSP Director, described us as “marauder and invaders”. The shock waves from the protest caused a level of embarrassment, to the bureaucrats, not previously experienced by Manchester. Did our mascot, Issac the giant newt, also have a claw in the collapse of Global Forum? 

By 3 pm that day, the protest was over and observers were waiting for the tanker to return from St. George’s Park where the “alternative pond” had been given refuge at the eleventh hour. Two loads of 5000 gallons had been pumped out (did anything survive this experience?), but this had made little impression on the Abbey Pond. The object of the exercise, in terms of the stated procedure for discharge of the planning condition, was to expose the vital sludge layer containing virtually all the aquatic life, insulated from the sub-zero temperatures by the volume of water above. Abbey pond contained an estimated 30,000 + gallons. We were told the half size “replica” would need 15 to 20 thousand gallons, allowing for seepage. Clearly another day (Friday) would be needed to dispose of the remaining water and retrieve and transfer the sludge. Manchester Wildlife had written to Hulme Regeneration suggesting that at least half of the material should be taken to a safe and more suitable destination in the Mersey Valley. This letter, like others, remained unanswered.

We had also commissioned an independent appraisal of the entire mitigation process from a respected ecologist who sent a damning report to the City Planning Officer and also discovered that the “retained” ecologist (hapless fellow, evidently impaled on the horns of a professional dilemma), had not been fully informed of the planning condition about translocating the pond and “was quite taken aback by it”. No wonder; it was by then the 9th of February and, as we know, the pond was to be drained on the 11th! Even more to the point, the new pond hadn’t been started and wasn’t ready to receive so much as a bucketful until the 23rd! Where do you keep a pond for a fortnight?

It was with shocked disbelief and some quite unprintable comments (to the chap from the Guardian) from parents escorting children home from the nearby schools, that we saw a huge JCB appear, as if from nowhere, charge onto the site and proceed to shovel mounds of soil, rubble and trees into the pond, so dealing with the contents of the pond and the hibernating newts at one blow. Mr. Townson, clad in his “elegant black overcoat and matching trilby”, conducted the operation like a man possessed but he was overheard to say, it had been the most embarrassing day of his life”. It may not be his last! 

The breach of the planning condition was total and the professional credibility of the Planning Department, the Science Park and ecological consultants is in shreds and tatters. Manchester Wildlife is buckling down to the piles of paperwork involved in bringing those accountable to book.

Vice Chancellor, Martin Harris (University of Manchester) has expressed sincere but futile regrets, realising that he had been at the wrong end of a certain amount of misinformation and convenient silences; the University representatives on the MSP Board appear to have told him nothing at all. You’d think the V.C. would find out for himself from his university colleagues, most closely involved with the pond in happier times! He does have a souvenir – a personal fax from David Bellamy pleading the case for the pond “as a real living centre to a science park of which the University and the community of Manchester could be proud.” This had been the vision of Dan Aris and many others from the outset; what have we got now? In the words of Nitin Thakrar, Ethnic Participation Advisor to the Community Forest, “an injury to nature and the local people. A wound that cannot be healed.” No prizes for guessing who will be the recipient of our prestigious “Des Poiler” Award for 1994. // 

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