Bury Water Meadows Group held its 10th birthday party this month. Well we thought we were 10, until it was pointed out that our first meeting, to seek help to protect the arable field called Leg of Mutton, took place late 2012. This field has had uninterrupted views of the water meadows for thousands of years. It’s quite possible pilgrims coming to Bury to worship would have looked across from what is now the intersection of the A14 at Sainsburys and seen the magnificent Benedictine Abbey, 3 times the height of our present cathedral tower, standing proud over the town rising round its two pristine chalk streams.
There was certainly concern and support from Suffolk Wildlife Trust, The Suffolk Preservation Society and The Bury Society, but any campaign also needed Bury St Edmunds residents to come together to lobby councillors; there were only 13 months until the Local Plan came into being. This Plan was St Edmundsbury (now West Suffolk) Council’s proposal for the development of our town over the next 10 years and included a hotel with associated parking and lighting to be built on this field, along with proposals for houses, which was government policy to alleviate the housing shortage. But this ancient open space was at stake and this was a development too far. In the early heady years, there was talk of raising capital to buy the Leg of Mutton to protect it.
Individual letters were sent to all local Councillors about just how important it was to secure this land and its vista, for the people of Bury and for wildlife present and future. Talk then of the dual crises of climate change and biodiversity loss were only just beginning to gain momentum. On 1st January 2014 a small community group was established with a constitution; somehow from nothing, a significant force had been built up, in little over a year. The real pressure was on though, when the Group’s committee had to present the case to the Government’s Planning Inspector in May 2014. This was held on the stage in the newly built Apex. Many BWMG members took seats in the stalls to watch the proceedings. The Chairman had had coaching on how to present a case to the Inspector, right down to always calling him Sir. The campaign had attracted a lot of local media attention including two Bury Free Press front pages. It was a momentous day, several weeks later, when the Inspector published his recommendations, which were that this land was to be used for ‘informal recreation only’.
The battle was not quite over as there was fear that St Edmundsbury Council might appeal the decision. In the end this did not happen and the Group went from strength to strength as the saying goes but these successes can be explored in another diary as space does not allow this time!