The University of York has been heavily criticised after revelations that the new lake on the Heslington East Campus will be “environmentally unsustainable”, and cause significant ecological damage to the surrounding environment.
At a Public Inquiry into the new development, held in 2006, the University’s own environmental experts were forced to admit that “the sustainability of the lake is clearly questionable, and requires further study and design development.”
Evidence presented at the inquiry by Dr Richard Firn, an environmental specialist, and then-Biology Professor at the University, aimed to invalidate the University’s own environmental assessment of the lake.
According to Firn, the University’s assessment did not take into account the significant effects of climate change, because its evidence was “estimated with rainfall and temperature patterns that we know will not apply in the future.”
This means “the inquiry was not presented with a proper estimation of the viability of the lake under conditions expected to apply during the lifetime of the [lake].”
Badly designed, shallow lakes become stagnant over time, causing algae blooms, which lead to serious long-term damage of the surrounding wildlife and environment.
Firn believes that the University’s failure to design an environmentally viable lake, means it is, “highly likely” that the lake will become stagnant – as is the current lake on the Heslington West Campus.
To prevent stagnation, a lake must be “continually flowing”. The University’s assessment of the sustainability of the new lake depends on wet winters to fill it up after dry summers.
“To base the campus design on a key feature that is unsustainable is remarkably arrogant.”
Dr. Richard Firn,
If future rainfall were to be reduced throughout the winter months over the coming years, as climate change experts agree will be the case, the new lake will eventually stagnate.
The University will then be forced to ‘top up’ the lake each year, in order to keep the water flowing; an expensive and environmentally damaging practice.
A first-year student, Alex Mason, commented: “It seems ridiculous that the University is planning to spend millions of pounds building a lake that will have to be ‘topped up’ with water every year to ensure it doesn’t become stagnant.”
He continued: “I know options were discussed which were more environmentally sustainable. I’m not happy for the University to be spending my fees on an unsustainable project that is going to damage the environment.”
Although the University has not challenged the view that there are many environmentally superior options, it is yet to reconsider its current plans.
Firn stated: “To base the campus design on a key feature that is unsustainable is remarkably arrogant.”
YUSU Environment and Ethics Officer, Jade Flahive-Gilbert, stated: “Although I can see certain benefits of building a lake on the Heslington East campus I think it’s essential that its environmental impact should be one of the most important considerations of the University. The University claims to take environmental concerns seriously and they need to demonstrate this. I’m sure the next E&E Officers will want to research this issue further and possibly campaign on it.”
David Garner, of the University Press Office, commented: “The issue of the lake’s sustainability was examined in great detail at the Public Inquiry.
“The independent Inspector who conducted the Inquiry recommended to the Secretary of State that the University’s proposals for the lake were robust, and the Secretary of State granted outline planning approval on that basis.”