W Class ferries Press Release

Lymington Society Press Release 18.02.09

Natural England confirms that the W. class ferries will have significant adverse effect on Lymington River

Lymington Society argue that any environmental impact must be mitigated within the River

Lymington Society Fully Supports Continued Ferry Service to the IOW

The Lymington Society firmly supports continuation of a reliable, environmentally friendly and modern ferry service from Lymington to Yarmouth which we acknowledge brings tremendous benefit to both communities. However this must not be at the risk of damage to the EU protected Natura 2000 habitats which the whole community wishes to see protected.

Lymington Society Argued for Full Environmental Impact Assessment of New Ferries

Since the W. class ferries were first announced in 2007, the Lymington Society has been concerned to ensure that the Wightlink proposal to bring very much larger ferries to the Lymington River was subjected to detailed scrutiny by the authorities and was instrumental in persuading Natural England that this proposal required detailed environmental scrutiny. We would have preferred that a Full Environmental Impact Assessment had been carried out rather than the more limited Appropriate Assessment (AA) which only looks at environmental concerns.

The Society Has Been Actively Involved during the Appropriate Assessment Process.

However, during the AA process, we have been co-operating fully with Natural England and their marine consultants, HR Wallingford, to ensure that all aspects of the environmental impact have been fully considered, including making detailed submissions and attending briefing meetings as a stakeholder in the process.

HR Wallingford Concluded That W. Class Ferries Will Cause “Adverse Effect” to the EU Protected Habitats in the LymingtonRiver Contrary to European Habitats Directives

As has now been reported in the Lymington Times, the HR Wallingford report concluded that due to insufficient control by the authorities of their speed, the current C Class ferries have over many years caused major environmental damage and loss mudflats and salt marshes along the length of the Lymington River.

  • HR Wallingford confirmed that the majority of the damage that has occurred in the upper reaches of the river since the ferries arrived in the mid-19 70s is due to the operation of the ferry service and not as many has claimed due to tidal flow or increased wind and wave action.
  • Although the current ferries have been more tightly controlled since 2007, HR Wallingford predict that they will continue to cause some further erosion to the protected habitats in the river if they continue in service at the current speed.
  • HR Wallingford have concluded that the W. class ferries, despite going slower than the C Class used to, will cause the same amount of erosion to the protected habitats and the river generally as the C Class did when their speed was allowed to be in excess of the speed limit.
  • They are predicting that the wave action caused by the W Class ferries on the intertidal mudflats will cause adverse effect to 1.3 hectares of mud flat per decade.
  • In addition the scouring action of the much more powerful Voight Schneider engines will deepen the river by at least half a metre causing a widening of the river by 20%. This could cause the loss of 3.7 hectares of saltmarsh, mainly in the Lymington River in the next 30 years or so.
  • Direct action of the thrusters on the riverbank, when turning corners or when steering to avoid being blown off course by the wind, may have a direct effect on the riverbank and the intertidal areas.
  • There is a large amount of uncertainty concerning the effects of the thrusters on the riverbank and the intertidal areas and the effects may be significantly greater than currently calculated.

Natural England’s Advice to the Regulators

Following the publication of the HR Wallingford report, Natural England have concluded that Wightlink have failed to demonstrate that the new ferries will not cause an adverse effect on the protected habitats to which the Lymington river runs.

Natural England’s Position on Mitigation of the Effects of the W. Class Ferries

Operational Mitigation Not Sufficient to Reduce Adverse Effect to Acceptable Levels

It was originally thought that changes to the methods of operation of the new ferries (so-called operational mitigation), such as speed reductions, or restrictions on passing in the river, might be sufficient to reduce the damage caused by the new ferries to an acceptable level.

Following discussions with the Harbour Commissioners and Wightlink, Natural England have concluded that no operational mitigation will reduce the adverse effects of the W. Class to an acceptable level.

Mitigation of Adverse Effects by Habitat Re Creation

Natural England indicates in their advice that instead of operational mitigation, they are willing to consider allowing Wightlink to pay for re-creation of alternative habitats elsewhere in the Solent Maritime SAC (Special Area of Conservation).  This is regarded as an alternative mitigation of the effects of the new ferries rather than operational mitigation which was previously considered likely.

Currently no scheme of mitigation through habitat recreation has been designed or approved and this will take some time to be designed and costed and agreed with natural England. Natural England state that any habitat re-creation scheme offered by Wightlink as mitigation, must have a high degree of probability of being successful to allow it to be accepted as mitigation for the effects of the W. class ferries.

Consideration of Natural England’s Advice in Light of the H R Wallingford Report

With the release of the final HR Wallingford report on the likely environmental impact of the W. class ferries on the river and the issuing by Natural England of their advice to the Regulators, whose permission Wightlink require to operate the service, the Full Committee of the Lymington Society has discussed the impact that the ferries are likely to cause in the river and whether Wightlink should be allowed to commence commercial service using the W. class ferries

Consideration of Natural England’s Current Position

The effects of Natural England’s advice is that they appear to be accepting that the upper reaches of the Lymington river and the Inner Harbour will be subject to possibly major environmental damage with loss of salt-marshes, mudflats and general visual amenity and that Wightlink will be allowed to pay for this lost habitat to be recreated elsewhere in the Solent maritime SAC

Natural England’s Acceptance of Adverse Effect on the Lymington River Undermines Breakwater Scheme Recently Approved by Natural England

However another proposal concerning the Inner Harbour and upper reaches of the river, was recently also approved by Natural England. This involves the proposal by the Harbour Commissioners to build two large stone breakwaters to protect the remaining salt marshes still remaining in the Lymington River. It is thought by most observers that without this protection, much of the remaining salt marshes in Lymington River will be lost in the next 10 to 20 years – exposing the harbour to the full effects of increasing storms due to global warming.

It is likely that within the next 20 to 30 years, much of the remaining saltmarsh in the Solent will be lost due to what is called “costal squeeze” as rising sea levels overwhelm existing salt marshes which are unable to retreat inland due to harbour walls such as the sea wall around the Salterns.

Position of the Lymington Society in Light Natural England’s Advice

Sacrifice of Lymington River saltmarshes and environment not acceptable to allow Wightlink to bring larger ferries to the river

Whilst understanding that Natural England with its regional and national remit, may take the view that recreated habitat elsewhere in the Solent Maritime SAC may be acceptable as an alternative to habitat lost in the Lymington River, the Society does not feel that Lymington should be asked to effectively sacrifice its mudflats and salt marshes, which the new breakwaters are supposed to protect and their replacement by salt-marshes in another part of the Solent.

We therefore do not find it acceptable that Wightlink should be given permission to operate a service which it is now knownwill cause possibly major damage to the Lymington River and be allowed to offset this by creating salt marshes somewhere else in the area.

All Alternatives Should Be Fully Examined before Allowing Adverse Effect on the Lymington River.

Under European law and the operation of the Habitats Directive, compensatory mitigation such as habitat re-creation should not be considered until all alternatives have been examined and the minister at Defra has declared that the development in question must go ahead because of Overriding Public Interest. Compensatory habitat re-creation may then be considered as an absolute last resort.

Natural England has indicated that habitat recreation inside the designated protected area (in this case the Solent Maritime SAC) does not count as “compensatory mitigation” under EU law and they argue that they are allowed to consider such re-creation of habitat before considering alternatives. We understand that legal advice is being taken by various parties including the Lymington River Association on this interpretation of EU law

The Society Does Not Agree That All Alternatives Have yet Been Fully Considered

The Society understands that all three of the old ferries are still available and that (subject to their annual passenger certificate being renewed) they could continue in service for the foreseeable future. It has become public knowledge that at the time of the sale of Wightlink to the current owners, the report on the current ferries produced by naval architects Hart Fenton concluded that the ferries could be used for an additional period of at least another 10 years.

Statutory Duty of the Harbour Commissioners to Protect the Environmental Integrity of the Lymington River

It is our understanding that the Lymington Harbour Commissioners have a statutory duty to protect the environmental integrity of the area under their control and protection. If they allowed the W. Class ferries to commence operation, knowing in advance that environmental damage and adverse effect, would take place on the remaining saltmarshes and the natural beauty of the Lymington River, this may be considered by some to be incompatible with their obligations to protect theLymington River and Harbour.

In addition, due to the uncertainty described by HR Wallingford, the direct effects of the thrusters on the riverbed and the intertidal areas (which may well be much greater than currently estimated,) the level of the adverse effect which the river might be subject to, is completely unknown at this stage and may be much greater than feared.

We therefore call on the Harbour Commissioners to use the precautionary principle and put the protection of the Lymington River and the salt marshes, which their own breakwaters are being built to protect, first and to refuse Wightlink permission to allow these much larger ferries, which it is now known will cause possibly major environmental harm and loss of amenity to the town, to start a regular service in the Lymington River

Speaking after the Lymington Society committee meeting, Dr Donald Mackenzie Press Spokesman for the Lymington Society said:

“Because of the large increase in size of the W. Class ferries compared with the old ones and the equally large increase in engine power and windage, it was always likely that the new ferries would prove to be significantly more damaging to the EU designated Natura 2000 habitats and the Lymington River generally, than the current ferries.

This has now proved to be the case, and many hectares of habitats – which are supposed to be protected to the highest level under their EU Natura 2000 designations, are likely to be destroyed or degraded by the new ferries over the years ahead – especially in the upper reaches of the Lymington River and in the inner harbour.

It is very regrettable that for so long the current ferries have been allowed to routinely travel faster than the recognized speed limit and that they have been found to have caused so much damage – especially in the upper reaches of the river.

From the start, the position of the Lymington Society on the new ferries has been to press the authorities to fully and properly investigate all aspects of the environmental and safety impacts that these new ferries might cause.

The Society successfully lobbied Natural England and the regulators involved, to give this proposal the scrutiny which we felt it should have and we have been co-operating with Natural England and their consultants HR Wallingford through regular meetings and other communications, to ensure that all aspects of the possible environmental impacts were properly considered

It is now clear that the W. class ferry will definitely cause increased environmental damage to a large area of the river in the years ahead. It is also clear that there is very considerable uncertainty about how much damage may be caused and that the potential is for the damage to be significantly worse than has currently been estimated, if the effects of the thrusters are as great as some people fear they may be. If ever there was a case for the use of the “precautionary principle” when deciding environment issues, then this is such a case.

The area north of Pylewell, where HR Wallingford have implicated the ferries in causing most of the loss of habitat over the years, is supposed to be protected by the new breakwaters for which the Harbour Commissioners have only just received permission from Natural England

It is therefore doubly important that this vital natural resource for wildlife in the Lymington River, as well as for the amenity value of the scenery – which we all take the granted, is properly protected and not sacrificed for future generations, in order to allow Wightlink to increase the level of traffic – especially lorries and buses – which they carry to the island.

It would be perverse indeed if having been given permission by Natural England to build new breakwaters to protect the remaining River saltmarshes, the Harbour Commissioners consented to a new environmentally damaging ferry service which then put at risk those very same saltmarsh habitats.

We believe that there it is a viable alternative to bringing the W. class ferries into service, as the old ferries are still all available and could be pressed into service quickly once they have been through their annual recertification process.

 We therefore call on the Lymington Harbour Commissioners to put the interests of Lymington ahead of that Wightlink and to make it clear that these ferries are simply too large and too damaging to be allowed to start regular commercial service in the Lymington River.”

Dr Donald F. Mackenzie

Lymington Society Press Spokesman

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