Archived News - Chilterns Gateway Centre
Angry Gazette readers have been complaining that improvement work on Dunstable Downs is spoiling the acclaimed beauty spot.
In the firing line are the Chilterns Gateway Centre area-and the work to create the new pathway over the Downs.
One protector has said that it is all leading to the "urbanisation" of the beauty spot.
The Gazette this week put the readers' comments to Beds County Council and the National Trust.
Now the organisations, both involved in the Chilterns Gateway Project, have strongly defended the work that has been carried out.
One of the irate Gazette readers is Denis Hawkes, of Eaton Bray, who wrote: "I have seethed with rage and frustration as I've viewed with horror the unprecedented and unnecessary intrusive development of Dunstable Downs, my once-favourite ex-beauty spot."
He described the new Chilterns Gateway Centre as "a ghastly glass warehouse" which he said seemed to serve no purpose, other than to try to attract "indoor people" to an outdoor spot, and sell them "twee, over-priced tack".
Mr Hawkes said that "the urbanisation" continued with large areas of paving, tarmac, lighting poles and other items.
He also complained that parking meters would deter people from visiting the Downs.
Another reader, Linda Madden, of Dunstable, complained about the work going on to create the new path on the Downs.
Her letter said: "I feel compelled to write about the destruction that is happening at present on Dunstable Downs."
She complained that the work was spoiling the natural habitat, and that many people already walked up to the Downs "without the need of man's intervention".
And she claimed that work on the new pathway had involved digging at least six feet down at certain points.
She was concerned about the effect on wildlife, too, and was doubtful about whether the pathway would encourage people to leave their vehicles at home.
One of the aims of the new pathway is to make sure that everyone can have the chance to visit the Downs, without using their vehicles.
Another important aim is the hope that carefully planned new routes for visitors will help to safeguard the chalk grassland.
The county council told the Gazette yesterday that the new multi-user route will actually benefit local wildlife.
Meanwhile, the National Trust said that the former visitors' centre was inadequate, and the new cafe and shop are very popular with many people.
And he said that more people are helping out with volunteer activities, and spoke of the community work involving the Downs.
Visitors' centre 'has helped engagement with new audiences'
National Trust area manager Philip Broadbent-Yale this week highlighted the reasons behind the development of the new visitors' centre on Dunstable Downs.
He said: "The condition of the previous centre, with inadequate toilets, no protection from the elements for people enjoying their food, inadequate seating and interpretation was of concern to visitors and partners from the AONB Office (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty), Bedfordshire County Council and the National Trust.
"The new centre has certainly helped, improve facilities for all our visitors and helped engagement with new audiences.
"We have seen an increase in the number of people helping us with volunteer activities, There are now Healthy Walks being organised from the centre by the Groundwork Trust, and the county council are funding a community officer working in Dunstable and Luton.
"We have received grant aid to improve the interpretation and this will be completed March 2008. With almost 100,000 transactions already since March this year at the cafe and shop, it is clearly a very popular site for many people.
Beds county councillor Bob King, cabinet member for community services, talked yesterday about the work being carried out to create the new multi-user pathway on the Downs.
He said: "The excavations and work are being scrutinised by Albion Archaeology, who are recording what is found, and this has given us the chance to raise public awareness.
"A good example of how we are working together is that old, sunken trackways were discovered only because we created the new route.
"They show people have been using the line of the route for centuries.
"The depth of parts of the excavations is necessary to reduce the gradients to a satisfactory level. There are many people who cannot access the site as it currently is, the less able including those in wheelchairs, older people, members of the public with pushchairs, etcetera.
"There are also those who do not currently use the site but may do so in the future, such as the 'indoor types' one of your readers refers to.
"With all the current attention on childhood obesity and lifestyle induced health issues, we have a responsibility to provide opportunities for everyone to enjoy the benefits of access to the countryside.
"All projects of this type and scale will have an inevitable impact, but the long-term benefits outweigh the short-term ones.
"A full environmental assessment was carried out as part of the planning application, with input and guidance from English Nature, now Natural England, and others.
"Placing the route where there are existing scars means that erosion will be reduced in the future.
"The route also gives us the opportunity to get people out onto the Downs to learn about landscape, conservation, ecology and history, as well as providing an opportunity for exercise.
"The scheme will be of benefit to local wildlife, and English Nature, the Wildlife Trust and others were consulted prior to the work being carried out.
"The National Trust has a wealth of experience in managing chalk grassland sites for the benefit of people and wildlife.
"By hopefully reducing erosion and keeping visitor pressure away from the most vulnerable sections of chalk grassland, the route will help conserve it.
"Scrub removal is beneficial on chalk grassland sites because scrub is invasive and reduces botanical and animal interest.
"The site has a plan which aims to balance the management of chalk grassland with the need to maintain a variety of diverse habitats, including scrub."
And he added: "There are obvious benefits to leaving the car at home - health, less congestion, reduced vehicle emissions and better quality of life for local people."
Source: Dunstable Gazette, 7 November 2007