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Memorial Gallery exhibition, Drawn To Witness

Memorial Gallery exhibition, Drawn To Witness

Drawn to Witness

“Not your idyllic Springwatch in a Sussex bluebell wood, but an observation of the processes that drive out protected species to prepare the land for tarmac.” This is local artist Emily Johns’ description of her new exhibition, ‘Drawn to Witness’, documenting the changes in the Hollington Valley local wildlife site over the past year, as local residents struggled to stop the Queensway Gateway road being built on top of it. Andrea Needham writes.

According to its site designation report, Hollington Valley is ‘a very major wildlife corridor and one of the best wildlife habitats in the Borough’. The site – between Queensway and the A21 just south of the Ridge – contains rich meadow habitats, a very diverse range of plants, and protected species including bats, dormice and reptiles. A spring rises at the top of the site, forming the Hollington stream which meanders through the town to join the Combe Haven before it empties into the sea. It was a beautiful little green lung, a place of tranquility, a space beloved of dogwalkers and local residents, including many of the formerly homeless people who live in the Emmaus community next to it.

All that richness and diversity didn’t trouble Hastings Borough Council’s planning committee, who voted unanimously in February 2015 to grant planning permission for a road to be built across the middle of Hollington Valley. The road – to be built by ‘regeneration’ company SeaChange Sussex – would be followed by a business park which would wipe out almost the entire site. Planning permission was later quashed, when a local resident brought a legal challenge showing that the road would cause unlawful levels of air pollution. Undeterred, SeaChange Sussex simply changed the air pollution figures – citing ‘methodological errors’ in their original calculations – and last December, the application was passed once again, although three councillors voted against it this time. Permission for a judicial review of the second decision has been refused, but the case is now going to appeal.

Legal challenges – successful or otherwise – have made little impact on SeaChange’s determination to press ahead with the road as fast as possible. Last year, they felled most of the woodland on the site, and in the past couple of months have chopped down another huge swathe. Plastic fences have been put up, heavy machinery has destroyed bluebells and other plants, and someone has poured oil into the spring. Hollington Valley is now a long way from its designation report description as ‘an invaluable and irreplaceable habitat of excellent quality and an asset for the people of Hastings to enjoy’.

Emily, drawing on the site, surrounded by security guards. Photo Peace News

Emily, drawing on the site, surrounded by security guards. Photo Peace News

Emily has been spending time in the valley over the past year, documenting the changes as the work to build the road progresses. Sometimes alone, sometimes with friends, sometimes undisturbed and at other times threatened by security guards: it has been a long and sometimes difficult project. Emily’s drawings show what happens when cars are considered more important than nature, when the need to get to places quickly outweighs the need to tackle climate change. It is a sobering vision of what the future could look like if we don’t start prioritising the issues that really matter.

Drawn to Witness

Exhibition: May 16-29, 9-5 daily, Memorial Art Gallery, 7 Cambridge Road, Hastings

Opening event: Thursday May 19, 6.30pm

Talk by Emily Johns on ‘The Art of Protest’: Wednesday 25 May, 3pm

Closing event: Thursday May 26, 6.30pm

For more information about the exhibition and the Combe Haven Defenders, check out their website here. Or email Combe Haven Defenders via combehavendefenders (at) gmail.com or call on 07565 967 250.

 

Posted 12:48 Friday, May 6, 2016 In: Arts News

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