Guest blog – The threatened valley of the River Yare by Prof Tim O’Riordan



Tim O’Riordan is emeritus Professor of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia. He is President of the Norfolk Branch of the Council for the Protection of Rural England, and co-chair of Colney Parish.


The threatened Yare Valley on the western margin of Norwich

The valley of the River Yare situated on the western flanks of Norwich, divides the city from the university development on the east and the research and hospital facilities on the west.

This is an idyllic valley, prone to increasing but episodic flooding and much used by walkers, cyclists, and dog lovers, as well as by lots of wildlife. It is a county wildlife site harbouring over 5500 recorded species of birds, bats, insects, and plants.

Above all it is a haven of peace and tranquillity for the many who simply enjoy open space and a slice of a decent natural setting.

The Norwich Rugby Club has been offered vast amounts of cash for the sale of its site to the north west of Norwich. Searching around for an alternative location, it forged an alliance with the Sportspark of the University of East Anglia (UEA) to establish an all-weather flood lit rugby pitch, plus some 25 other pitches, a two storied function building, as well as over 300 additional car-parking spaces.

All of this is right in the middle of the Yare Valley. It will destroy the view and open the area to cars and general disturbance, creating an urbanised extension in this critical open space.

The local council South Norfolk has agreed a Local Plan which protects such landscapes as well as seeking to maintain and enhance biodiversity where possible.

In this case it is breaching its own rules, while the UEA is countermanding its commitment to reducing overall carbon dioxide emissions from its properties and activities.

These are two breaches of promises in the same application, yet without protest the proposal will probably receive approval from South Norfolk, which is due to consider the scheme on 12 October.

Here is a website for adding your protest for lots of concern and anger over both the loss of this special valley as well as the scope for alternative locations for rugby playing (not least in the NW of Norwich where the need is greatest). Because protest is what local planning authorities have to listen to.

Local media coverage: EDP yesterdayEDP July, EDP March.

Pyramidal Orchid - Anacamptis pyramidalis - one of the species which will be affected by the proposed development. Photo: Björn S... (Pyramidal Orchid - Anacamptis pyramidalis) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Pyramidal Orchid – Anacamptis pyramidalis – one of the species which will be affected by the proposed development. Photo: Björn, via Wikimedia Commons

17 Replies to “Guest blog – The threatened valley of the River Yare by Prof Tim O’Riordan”

  1. Dear Tim,

    A couple of thoughts:

    I’ve been wondering how long it is before someone successfully sues either the planning department or the developer of sites which have quite clearly caused the flooding of their property.

    Second, and bigger and highly relevant to your work, having worked extensively in damaged greenbelt I’ve been deeply concerned about the way we treat the land around our cities – exactly the sort of green space you are talking about. There is a sharp divide between green space – parks, street trees etc – within towns and the land around which most planners seem to treat as ‘waste’ – anything that isn’t ‘developed’ is open to urbanisation, and a Rugby pitch is a good deal closer to a car park than an natural wetland. This is the setting of our cities – and we continue to trash it in the sort of way you are describing. I’d like to see conservationists taking the findings of the Natural Capital Committee far more seriously – or actually simply realising they are important. Their proposal of 250,000 has of ‘community woodland’ around our towns and cities could be transformational for people, for biodiversity for water management and, as restoration of damaged landscapes is already proving, for the attractiveness of cities to business. And, despite being a forester, I’d stress that I read ‘community woodland’ as undeveloped, accessible open space (not intensive farmland !) rather than simply trees, and the River Yare as you describe it falls right in the middle of that definition. Now I’ll go and sign !

  2. Sadly I suspect there will be many more of these kinds of planning related issues as the ‘greenest government ever’ continues to cut the ‘green c**p’.

    Naively this is where I thought the county trusts or local CPRE used to step in (the WTs used to have a fighting fund for what were seen as important cases), sometimes with the support of the RSPB Yes it needs a local grassroots campaign but also that all important network of support because recent history has shown that planners and the likes of Natural England are either unable or unwilling to stand up to business.

  3. There is so much degraded farmland that is now only fit for building on. Its sterile, structureless soils devoid of nutrients cause by continuous intensive agriculture – and now requiring expensive inputs to get a decent crop! They’ve got to rethink the old ideas of protecting farmland – a lot of itvis now only fit for building on.

    1. Soils devoid of nutrients can actually offer lots of good opportunities for successful habitat creation. Species-rich grassland being a really good example – the lower the background fertility, especially soil phosphate reserves the better the chances of successful establishment. I suspect woodland plantations on land low in phosphate will have much more diverse ground flora in a few centuries time then High P soils will.

      Increasingly though, a lot of farmland on the urban fringe is actually suffering from the opposite problem as they often become dumping grounds for excessive applications of sewage sludge, digestates and other, often nefarious, wastes.

  4. Signing the petition is no doubt helpful but it may be even more effective to actually register an objection via the council’s planning ‘portal’ (indeed there is no reason why one cannot do both). The link to the planning application, including the ‘submit a comment’ tab is at:

    You need to register in order to be able to submit a comment but this is quite straightforward and easy.

  5. I remember this valley well. I walked along it many times while attending a course run by the Open University at the UEA campus. It’s a disgrace that it’s destruction is being planned. Come on councillors pull your finger out and stop allowing sites like this to be ruined.

    1. Chris

      Even if planners object, developers then appeal and local authority budgets under pressure cannot defend such actions.

      Love Roderick’s notion of planners or developers being sued for flood related issues, would that it could happen. Prime example of a potential case being the management practices above Hebden Bridge, the issue is actual proof and level of? One specialist consultant will say one thing, then the other sides will present a contra case.

      What a mess and sadly it will get worse till there are some landmark cases and some Barristers with consciences and belief in ‘public interest’. Bring it on?

  6. The planning application reference on the petition is wrong: it states 2016/2033 (which seems to relate to the re-development of Harleston Service Station), when the actual application ref is 2016/0233.

    I’m not familiar with the planning system in England, but I don’t think that it should matter much to the local authority that the application apparently ‘goes against the UEA parking reduction policy’ (whatever that means). The real question is whether or not application is in accordance with national planning policy and regional / local development plan. (Colney Parish Council’s comment contains a list of the relevant policies.)

    1. In principle local planning policies should be aligned with national policies. In practice the latter will tend to be broader and more general and the former more specific as they seek to apply national policy to local needs and conditions. Planning officers should take account of policy at all relevant levels when they assess planning applications.
      The University of East Anglia is not a planning authority so its parking reduction policy is not a part of formal planning policy. However, that does not mean that it is not relevant or appropriate to refer to it – the petition can seek to cause the University to rethink its proposals as well as persuading the planners to reject the proposals as they are. I presume the parking reduction policy is part of a strategy to discourage car use and ‘nudge’ people into use of alternative transport modes. In this case it is likely to be supportive of local planning objectives to reduce traffic congestion and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

      1. Thanks Jonathan. What I indented to say was that I’m familiar with the Scottish planning system, but not the English one. I agree that it may be relevant and appropriate to refer to UEA’s parking policy in the petition, but I think it would be quite pointless to do the same if one were to comment on the planning application itself as it’s irrelevant.

  7. Nimby

    Yes I agree entirely, so much for local democracy eh? Do as you are told or you will pay the bill

  8. Attention appears to be focuses on the “planners”, these are the easy target of comment. The true focus should be on the ‘controlling mind’ within the University of East Anglia. Why have we heard nothing of this from Professor O’Riordan? As I interpret his words, the University is one of the promoters of the development. Surely Professor O’Riordan must have some knowledge of who in the University has made the decision to promote this development. There should be a process of naming so that the public can understand who are the individuals that have made this decision. They should be the ones that are held to account and not the easy target of the planners.
    Over to you Professor O’Riordan.
    Roger Buisson

  9. Mark,/Tim, I’m ENV alumni, 20 years ago a student of Tim”s. Deeply shocked. Are coalitions campaigning on this? – councillors, academics, local community, students union, FOE, CPRE, etc. Is there a strategy or action plan in place? Powerful organisations listen when their reputations are at risk, councillors have constituents. Tim taught me that people have the power to change decisions by working together, and I know from my day job that collectivism can turn things round. October isn’t far away but things are by no means over. Please point in the right direction for more info on any local group, thanks.

Comments are closed.