Councillors Criticise AONB Report For Lack Of Information

Councillors have criticised the Scilly Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) for failing to provide enough detail on their activities, including dry-stone walling and “bee cleaning.”

This occurred during the recent Planning and Development Committee meeting, where AONB manager, Trevor Kirk, presented a report on the achievements and projects currently ongoing in his team.

The two-page report (which you can read here) listed a number of projects that the AONB have been working on over the past year, including “Pushing the Boundaries,” a project, part-funded by the Isles of Scilly Local Action Group, that “seeks to unlock the economic, cultural and educational potential of Scilly’s traditional stone-built field boundaries” and a project for the “promotion and support for beekeeper training sessions on bee hygiene and queen rearing.”

However, Councillor Gaz O’Neil criticised the update, saying there was “little content to the report” and describing it as a “checklist, ticking off things that have been done.”

He said he would have liked more background information on areas such as “bee cleaning and Scilly dark skies” before coming to the meeting.

However, Councillor Marian Bennett, who sits on the Joint Advisory Council or JAC, which has oversight for the AONB, was concerned that members could drown under piles of paperwork and suggested that they should “go into the AONB department to find out more.”

Planning Committee Chairman, Amanda Martin, responded by saying there was “a world of difference between having every dot and comma of every report, and a couple of sentences of explanation.”

This sentiment was echoed by Councillor David Pearson, who suggested the AONB could take a leaf out of the Finance Department’s book, which has recently started to provide more background information to their reports.

He said it wasn’t, “a great intellectual achievement to add a sentence or two.”

Amanda suggested that the Chair of the Planning Committee should also sit on the JAC and this proposal was taken forward. She said this would help to “round the circle.”

In response, Trevor said his team had not received any formal requests for greater transparency, which prompted Councillor Martin to say this was “a huge oversight” on the part of the Chief Planning Officer, Craig Dryden, in whose department the AONB sits.

The AONB report detailed a number of areas in which the group is working.

These include projects to support the tourism industry in Scilly, such as better signage on St Mary’s quay, in collaboration with the Duchy, the Steamship Company, the Wildlife Trust and inter-Island boat operators, as well as development of a “Keeping Scilly Special” campaign, which will provide posters, leaflets, postcards, on-line materials for visitors.

The AONB is also supporting the Duchy in their development of a Woodland Management Plan, although Trevor admitted, upon questioning from Councillor Dudley Mumford, that the earlier draft report had been criticised following a lack of inclusion of the Off-Islands.

The AONB are also continuing to build on their “Dark Skies” work and are involved in the Scilly Farming Initiative, a partnership with the Duchy, LAG and the local farming sector to promote “holistic land management.” They are helping the Duchy to secure funding for a manager for the project.