Chairman’s 2012 AGM Address

cropped-logo_small.jpgChairman’s 2012 AGM Address

50 years of the Society

Last year I reviewed the activities of the Society’s Committee under my chairmanship over the past 10 years or so. I have now been reminded by the Secretary, Dr Ivor Johnson, that this is the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Society. I believe it was formally instituted on 16 April 1962. One of its founder members was Bill Hope Jones who was our president until his death a few years ago. He continued to actively support the Society until he died.

Missing Records—can you help?

I have looked up some of the records of the Society which cover the decade of the 90s. If anyone else knows where the previous records are going back into the60s 70s and 80s then please do let us know. I don’t say they had an easy time of it in the 90s. There was the major planning appeal in relation to Buckland rings in 1987 and the ongoing issue of the siting of the hospital all the way through the 90s.

My reason for joining

It was the possibility of being able to push forward the development of the Hospital that encouraged me to join the Society’s Committee and to become its Chairman and very soon after, probably not due to any great effort on my part, the hospital was built and is a very splendid facility for the Town, whether one likes its location or not.

All change with the new millennium

Apart from the Hospital, things in the minutes in the 90s were some what routine. I don’t know whether it was the fault of the new Committee but, as I set out in my last Chairman’s speech last year, everything then happened. The Chicken Factory Site issue became active and has had a mind of its own ever since. Mr Prescott decided to encourage development on Brownfield sites and incorporated back gardens into the term Brownfield. That started a battle which lasted several years until the planners came round to our way of thinking following a public meeting, and the Government eventually modified its directives. previous meetings with envy. Possibly two or three letters to be discussed. These days not a day goes by without emails circulating amongst the Committee dealing with all these issues. We take the details them as read and discuss the wider principles at our Committee meetings. It is principles upon which an Amenity Society needs to operate. Its mission and message need to be clear. It is not an organisation for individual one-off issues important as they are. It has to look at the overall picture and argue to its strengths. That involves getting a good relationship with the planners and the local councillors, which I hope we have now achieved. That does not mean that we all agree all the time. As has happened this year we had surprise decisions not only from the District Councillors over Wetherspoon’s but also from the Town Councillors over Redrow. That does not mean that we fallout but that we put over our point of view to ensure that at the end of the daythe issue has been fully debated and properly considered by those bodies, do not agree with the current plan, but understandable. It is also understandable that a single issue organisation such as “Lymington Last Shores” using a website to attract support, fights on to get a much lower density. The Committee however feel that it has adopted a reasonable and responsible approach which prevents the Town from the risk of the 300 unit development rising to 4 to 5 stories.

…and Wightlink…

On the issue of the ferries the Society has finally seen to a conclusion, in the recent public enquiry, its efforts toensure that the introduction of the ferries was carried out on the basis of all appropriate investigations being carried out by the authorities rather than the presentation of a fait-accompli by Wightlink.

…and Wetherspoons

On Wetherspoon’s we have been surprised and shocked at the Council’s decision to grant the application in the teeth of local opposition and have expended some of our funds in establishing whether there were grounds to challenge that decision. There were, but on a pragmatic basis when it was clear to us that the decision would be likely to be repeated if set-aside after a very risky and expensive judicial review, the right decision was not to go further. Jonathan Hutchinson would like me to say that if any members criticise that decision he would like to know whether they were one of the few members who responded to his request for their views in making that decision.

This is your opportunity to say whether the Committee is doing what you think is right. The Advertiser and Times suggested that we were raising a white flag over Wetherspoon’s. I have sought to justify our position in the local paper. If you have any views let us have them tonight.

The Committee have to act on your behalf. I sit on various committees and Ihave to say that this is one of the most active and well integrated committees that I am involved with and I am lucky to be Chairman of it. I hope you will continue to support it.

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

Letter to Lymington Harbour Commissioners

Mr P. Griffiths

Chairman

Lymington Harbour Commissioners

25 February 2009

Dear Mr Griffiths

It has been announced by Wightlink that Wightlink have decided at a Board Meeting yesterday to commence a commercial service with the new W Class ferries from midnight tonight. Wightlink have issued a statement this afternoon.

As you will know, following an exhaustive Appropriate Assessment process conducted under the Habitats Directive, Natural England  have issued advice to all the Regulators that the new W Class ferries will cause a significant and as yet un-quantified “adverse effect on the Natura 2000 designated sites that the ferry passes through in the Lymington River in the decades ahead” .

With their press release Wightlink have produced an opinion from their solicitors and leading counsel to the effect that Wightlink are a statutory harbour authority in respect of Lymington Pier and therefore have environmental duties under section 48A of the Harbours Act 1964.

Those duties should have regard to the conservation of the natural beauty of the countryside and natural features of special interest and to take into account any effect which the proposals may have on those features.

Similarly the opinion states Wightlink has statutory functions requiring it to have regard to the requirements of the Habitats Directive so far as those requirements may be affected by the Wightlink’s activities.

The clear effect in the case of the Lymington River is to the saltmarshes and the river channel itself.

No doubt other opinion may contradict Wightlink’s own opinion that it can effectively act as judge and jury as its own statutory harbour authority but regardless of that, the legal opinion that Wightlink has received has made it quite clear that under the above provisions Wightlink should carry out an environmental assessment of the effect of introducing the new ferries. An environmental assessment shall be equivalent in form and scope to the appropriate assessment process which is under way by Natural England.

There are clearly issues between the various marine surveyors and experts involved in that process and Natural England’s consultants at least, HR Wallingford, take the view that there is unacceptable impact resulting from the new ferries.

Wightlink have effectively pre-empted further discussion and argument which would lead to a resolution and conclusion of the appropriate assessment by concluding that their experts are correct and on that basis, subject to a final sea trial, are proposing to enter the ferries into service.

In view of the unresolved issues between the surveyors that would appear to be a premature conclusion. However Wightlink states in its press release that the advice shows that Wightlink has fully complied with its legal obligations. This would appear not to be the case on the face of the documentation produced by Wightlink.

The Lymington Society have never sought to be an expert in this issue but have sought to ensure that the interests of the Lymington and its environment are fully taken into account in the decision-making processes and are protected and accordingly the Society draws this position to your attention representing that you as a relevant authority should take steps to prevent Wightlink’s prejudgement of the regulatory position.

In the circumstances the Society urge all the regulators to ensure that they use the powers at their disposal to ensure that Wightlink are prevented from starting this commercial service prematurely which according to Natural Englands experts, will lead to a clear adverse affect on the Natura 2000 site by the anticipated 23,000 ferry sailings per year of the significantly larger ferries.

Yours sincerely

Clive Sutton Lymington Society Chairman.

Ferry River Trials

Lymington Harbour Commissioners
New Ferries River Trials Information Update to Stakeholders – No. 4
Wightlink have defied the will of all the regulators in deciding to introduce their new ferries before the necessary safety trials are complete and the environmental concerns have been resolved.
They have taken this action despite repeated requests from the LHC and their previous undertaking not to do so. They claim that they are justified because of the needs of the Isle of Wight, but the real problem that has lead to this situation is Wightlink’s determination to design and build ferries in advance of meaningful consultations with all the regulators. As a result, all subsequent consultations have taken place against the commercial necessity on the part of Wightlink to introduce ferries that had already been paid for.
We have once again requested Wightlink to desist from this action, and are contacting all the relevant Government Departments for support in preventing it. However, if Wightlink go ahead without completion and acceptance of the risk assessment we will be providing whatever harbour patrols are appropriate to help safe guard other river users. These actions will be taken by the Commissioners in order to minimise any threat to the safety of other river users but without condoning the introduction of the new ferries. It has been confirmed to us by Government that as presently constituted, the Commissioner’s do not have the power to prevent the new ferries sailing.
We expect the full BMT report to be available by 5 March and it will be circulated to stake holders for consultation as soon as possible.
In this fast developing situation, we will keep you all informed as they occur.
Peter Griffiths – Chairman LHC
24/2/2009.

Desmond Swayne Questions in the House

19 Nov 2008 : Column 334

Lymington River

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —[Mr. Frank Roy.]

6.58 pm

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West) (Con): Through you, Madam Deputy Speaker, I thank Mr. Speaker for allowing me this opportunity to bring the question of the Lymington river to the attention of the House almost a year after I first raised it. Complex technical and legal matters are involved, so to dispose of the business in the time available, there will have to be a measure of simplification.

The mouth of the Lymington river is bounded by the Solent marine conservation area, as designated by the habitats directive. The New Forest district council coastal protection team believes that, at the current rate of erosion, the salt marshes that constitute the special conservation area will not survive another generation. In 1991, HR Wallingford was commissioned by the Lymington harbour authority to investigate the erosion consequent on the existing Wightlink ferry service between Lymington and Yarmouth. The company reported the extent of the erosion and predicted that it would continue, as has now transpired. The erosion had been noticed at the time by the then harbour master, and I mention in passing that it strikes me as extraordinary that the regulators were prepared to live with that, rather than take action to deal with it.

Leaving that aside, a new horror has now arisen. Wightlink is to replace the two ferries of the existing service with three, much bigger ones. The new ferries—

It being Seven o’clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —[Mr. Blizzard.]

Mr. Swayne: The new ferries have almost 76 per cent. more water displacement, and the jet thrusters used to propel them have almost 200 per cent. more horsepower thrust. Those jet thrusters—quite different from the conventional screw propulsion systems—are largely directed at the bed of the river, gouging it up and leaving the spoil to have to be dredged and dumped out by the Needles. In addition, they have 84 per cent. more windage. Windage is a complicated term, but essentially it means that for a significant amount of the time, those thrusters are pointed directly at the banks of the salt marshes, leading to a much faster rate of erosion.

To implement the new ferries, Wightlink believed that shore works would be required so that they could be berthed and loaded. A planning application therefore had to be made, and that application will be determined by New Forest district council and the Marine and Fisheries Agency. Those bodies will be guided in their determination by Natural England, based on whether there will be any adverse impact on the special area of conservation. The Marine and Fisheries Agency decided that an appropriate assessment must take place to establish whether there will be an adverse impact.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): Does my hon. Friend not accept that, owing to open port duty regulations, the only reason that would prevent Wightlink from using the new ferries on the Lymington river is
19 Nov 2008 : Column 335
that they are unsafe? Despite extensive sea trials and investigations, no evidence has been produced to suggest that they are, or that there are any substantive environmental impacts.

Mr. Swayne: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, although I disagree with that analysis. I shall explain why shortly.

I made it clear from the start that, for a number of reasons, I was not satisfied with the appropriate assessment. First, it excludes from the equation important areas of policy that will be affected, not least the leisure yachting industry in Lymington, which has a huge impact on the economy of Lymington, and the implications for traffic through the New Forest national park consequent on the greater capacity of the new ferries. In addition, under the appropriate assessment, there would be no public consultation.

The collection of data for the appropriate assessment is being carried out by the consultants BMT SeaTech, under the supervision of the Lymington harbour commission in its attempt to design the safety parameters in which the ferries can operate. However, hydraulic measurements to establish safety are wholly different from the hydraulic measurements that are needed to establish whether there is an adverse environmental impact. I was never persuaded that the right measurements would be taken, never mind how those measurements would be interpreted.

My third reason for being suspicious of the appropriate assessment arises from the way in which Natural England decided to interpret the regulations. It seems to me that Natural England is measuring “adverse impact” as incremental, additional damage—the extra damage of the new ferries, over and above that caused by the existing ferries. That runs counter to both the spirit and the letter of the regulations. The existing ferry service is accountable to article 2.2 of the habitats directive, which requires maintenance and restoration of a favourable conservation environment. I do not believe that that is happening, although it is supposed to be happening now, while the existing ferry service is in place.

The new ferries constitute a plan or project under regulation 48 of the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994. As such, they need to be judged in their own terms, and not against the old ferries, which do not constitute part of that plan or project. As far as I am aware, the old ferries have a long life ahead of them—at least another 13 years. For all those reasons, I believe that a full environmental impact assessment is a better way forward than an appropriate assessment. In that, I am supported by New Forest district council, the elected local authority.

I thank the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) for at least keeping the door open to the possibility of an environmental impact assessment. In his written answer to me of 13 October, he said that

“a number of related environmental issues need to be considered, potentially with an environmental impact assessment.”—[ Official Report, 13 October 2008; Vol. 480, c. 938W.]

The Minister has left the door ajar; I want him to open it and go through it, because the situation has changed
19 Nov 2008 : Column 336
dramatically. On Monday, the Lymington harbour commissioners were informed by Wightlink that it no longer requires the shore works to which the appropriate assessment was attached. Furthermore, it has judged that the ferries are safe to operate, notwithstanding the fact that Lymington harbour commissioners are still conducting the sea trials. Wightlink has therefore unilaterally declared that it will implement the new service in December, without asking permission from anyone.

Mr. Turner: That is what my hon. Friend does not seem to understand; Wightlink is entitled to do so. It is entitled to use the river whenever it wishes.

Mr. Swayne: I understand that; I just happen to disagree with it, as will now unfold. Wightlink will pursue the option that I mentioned without seeking permission from anyone. I ask the Minister to perform two actions. First, will he make contact with his ministerial colleagues in the Department for Transport to establish fully the legality of what Wightlink is proposing to do, and what the powers of the Lymington harbour commissioners are? If they do not have the power to overrule Wightlink, there does not seem much point in having harbour commissioners.

To come back to a piece of legislation to which my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) drew my attention, my understanding is that Wightlink believes that its absolute right to use the ports is consequent on the Harbours, Docks and Piers Clauses Act 1847. The Act was put in place to ensure that shipping could continue to trade after the great storms that had washed away so many of our harbours. Ships had moved further up river because of the disappearance of the harbours, and many people were denying the ships access.

I have been briefed on legal advice to the effect that under the existing ferry arrangements, Wightlink is responsible for some 22,500 ferry movements a year, which stands well outside the parameters of the 1847 Act. If Ministers were prepared to take the matter to court, the Act would be overturned in respect of the port of Lymington, as it has been for other ports, under existing case law. That is the first action that I ask the Minister to take.

The second action is on the environmental impact assessment. Now that the appropriate assessment option seems to have disappeared, I should like him to initiate a full environmental impact assessment. Notwithstanding the fact that there are now to be no shore works, I have no doubt that the option of the environmental impact assessment remains with him, because Natural England’s advice—based on the legal advice that it was given—was that Wightlink proposes a plan or a project, and the European Commission is clear in its advice about the interpretation of the habitats directive. It says:

“The term ‘project’ should be given a broad interpretation to include both the construction works and other interventions in the natural environment”,

of which this is most definitely one.

I am not anti-ferry, and I want there to be a thriving ferry service between the ports of Lymington and Yarmouth, because it is vital to my constituents and to those of my hon. Friend. But a lot of fear has been floating about, and people have been saying that Wightlink has made it known that it does not intend to renew the safety licences of the existing ferries after next spring—in other words, Wightlink has said, “There won’t be a ferry service unless you accept these new ferries.” It has
19 Nov 2008 : Column 337
now gone further, effectively saying, “It doesn’t matter what you do; we’re going to implement the new ferries.”

The Lymington to Yarmouth route is a profitable monopoly. Wightlink has invested a significant sum in the project, and I just do not believe that there is any prospect of Wightlink walking away from it. I therefore believe that we should call its bluff. Wightlink is owned byMacquarie, which has form. It has gained the most aggressive reputation for the way in which—how can I put it charitably, Madam Deputy Speaker?—it pursues the interests of its shareholders with a singular vigour, and it is time for Ministers to call Macquarie to order.

I believe that, had there been a marine Bill, we would never have been in this position, and I hope that there will be a marine Bill in the Queen’s Speech, because it will certainly have my support. We do not have a marine Bill, and we will not get one in time for Lymington, but I believe that, under existing regulations, Ministers have the power to act, and I am here tonight to ask them to do so.

7.12 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Huw Irranca-Davies): I congratulate the hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) both on the passionate and extensive way in which he has set out the case on behalf of his constituents, and on the way in which, since I have been a Minister, he has been persistent, consistent and diligent on behalf of his constituents on a wide range of related issues. As he said, he is not necessarily anti-ferry, but he wants a proportionate way forward, and to deal with very significant issues regarding the potential environmental impact.

The debate is very timely because of the issues that the hon. Gentleman has raised, and because of developments that I shall come on to. By the end of my contribution, I hope to have dealt with all his points and given clear and categorical assurances about what we consider to be the way forward to reach the right outcome not only on the environmental issues, which are close to the hon. Gentleman’s heart, to those who have worked locally with him, and to my heart, because it is a very beautiful and precious part of the world, but on the economic and social interests that are linked to the ferry.

It may be helpful if, in part of my contribution, I set out how we have got to where we are and how we can take the matter forward. I shall also deal with some of the hon. Gentleman’s comments on how the issue has developed in literally the past 24 hours. That will also give me the opportunity to talk not only about the area but about the Government’s commitment to protecting our biodiversity—our variety of species and habitats. That is very close to the Government’s heart as well as to his.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned that the salt marshes and mudflats at the Lymington estuary are internationally designated as part of theSolent and Southampton Water special protection area for birds. They constitute a Ramsar site, and are part of the Solent maritime special area of conservation; they are also part of the national sites of special scientific interest series.

The harbour itself is part of a complex of sheltered, semi-natural estuaries in the Solent, supporting a diverse
19 Nov 2008 : Column 338
coastal ecology. The key features of international interest are extensive salt marshes, supporting plants such as sea lavender, sea blite and sea purslane. In addition, the extensive mudflats and sandflats support marine invertebrates that provide food for thousands of water fowl, which arrive each autumn to feed on the rich food supply of the sheltered inlets marking the Solent estuaries.

However, although, like the hon. Gentleman, we recognise the significance of the nature conservation interest, we, like him, are also aware of the socio-economic importance of Lymington harbour. We are therefore keen for there to be a balanced and sustainable solution to any problems facing the port. The harbour needs a solution that takes into account nature conservation, landscape, and archaeological and environmental issues, while securing the future of the recreational and commercial activities that sustain the local economy and enrich the lives of communities and visitors. We are keen to support such a solution.

On the habitats directive and requirements under regulations, I should say that development applications likely to affect European protected sites need to be assessed under the habitat regulations; there is a legal procedure associated with applications that may have a significant effect on a protected site. The procedure requires an “appropriate assessment” to be carried out by the consenting body or competent authority. In relation to the conservation objectives, that includes a detailed study of impacts, mitigation measures and an assessment of alternative solutions. When the assessment process suggests that there are no alternative solutions, but there may be adverse effects on the protected site, the development can go ahead only if it is judged that there are “imperative reasons of overriding public interest”, or IROPI, and if the member state—in this case, the UK—takes all compensatory measures necessary. That is some of the background.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned Wightlink. The development proposal affecting Lymington harbour is the subject of an application by Wightlink Ferries. It wants to operate larger ferries from Lymington harbour to Yarmouth, on the Isle of Wight. The enabling shoreside works require consent, and through the consent procedure the need for an appropriate assessment under the habitat regulations has been triggered. The hon. Gentleman has been aware of and involved in that issue. The appropriate assessment will include the effects of changing from the existing ferries to the new W-class vessels.

As the hon. Gentleman will understand, it would be inappropriate at this stage for me to comment in detail on the assessment or speculate on its likely outcome. Only after it has been completed will we have a complete picture of the likely effect on the protected sites of operating the larger ferries.

Mr. Swayne rose—

Huw Irranca-Davies: The hon. Gentleman may not want to intervene, as I will come in a moment to how the issue has developed.

I turn now to the science and the appropriate assessment. The competent authority has been in close contact with Natural England over the scientific work needed properly to assess the impact of the new ferries; as Minister, I have been keeping an eye on that issue. The competent authority has consulted Natural England on the different impact of the larger ferries. Without going into the
19 Nov 2008 : Column 339
details, I should say that the scientific work includes an initial assessment of whether the existing ferries appear to be having any detrimental effects, in order to assist in predicting whether the new ferry will cause additional such effects.

The assessment includes consideration of mapping evidence to assess changes to the navigational channel, consideration of sediment movement and a review of other natural and anthropogenic influences on the navigation channel. The work will also consider propulsion and ship wash modelling and other effects likely to result from the increased size of the new ferries.

Mr. Swayne: I do not complain that the Minister is dwelling on the appropriate assessment, as I did so myself. However, is he confident that the appropriate assessment will be completed? It is tied to the application for the shore works. Wightlink is now saying, “We don’t need the shore works and we’re going to start next month without them.”

Huw Irranca-Davies: The hon. Gentleman makes a valuable intervention. When I deal with the immediate issue before us, I will refer to the need to ensure that the timeliness of any decisions works for the balance of the environment and the economic considerations.

In terms of the assessment, the requirements of the habitat regulations will ensure that the adverse effects will be identified and mitigating measures explored. The current position is that the new ferries are undergoing sea trials under the management of the Lymington harbour commissioners. This work is primarily aimed at determining safe navigation and speeds, but valuable environmental information will also be gathered. It is hoped that the appropriate assessment will be concluded before Christmas. I am not in a position to give any guarantee on that, but I am watching the situation very closely. It is important to ensure that the assessment is sufficiently rigorous.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would want me to record the valuable input of the Lymington River Association. Although opposed to the introduction of the larger ferries, it has, to be fair, entered into a constructive dialogue with Natural England about the scientific issues. Although it has not been possible to include all the science that it has proposed, Natural England has pursued some of its suggestions and is still considering others. I hope that this valuable dialogue will continue in future, and I know that the hon. Gentleman will encourage that. I understand that he has met officials from the statutory agency, Natural England, to go through the issues relating to the appropriate assessment. I sense from this debate that he may still have some reservations about the scope and timeliness of the scientific work, but I hope that this important dialogue will continue.

Let me turn now to the wider environmental issues to explain some of the background. I will come to the point about timeliness, but it is important to explain why we have got to this position and some of the ways forward. Several regulators have a role to play in a proposal for a new development, including, in this instance, the local authority, the local harbour commissioners and DEFRA’s Marine and Fisheries Agency—the MFA. The MFA was asked to license minor improvements to berths in Lymington harbour
19 Nov 2008 : Column 340
under the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985. It was not apparent when the original application for the works was submitted to the MFA that it could be part of a wider process facilitating the introduction of these new ferries. That information came to light only through subsequent discussions between regulators, the applicant and stakeholders. Since then, my Department, alongside the MFA, has continued to work with other Government Departments, the Government office for the south-east and regulators in order to address the issues that this complex case presents within the regulatory regime.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and his constituents for raising wider concerns over the possible effects, including possible traffic increases, the effects on local yachtsmen, and the environmental and economic impacts. However, I note that, as with many issues of this type, there are always at least two sides to every story. I understand that many people at the other end of the ferry route, in Yarmouth, feel that these ferries provide a lifeline for them to the mainland. Many of them rely on the service for access to health services, education and employment. We must also consider the important social and tourism aspects and the economic benefits to Lymington. Of course, the new ferries will comply with all modern safety and operational standards, so we need to ensure that our course of action is the right one.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the marine Bill. I will not go into great detail on that, but I think he is right to mention it, and we will welcome his support when it is introduced. We are looking forward to that. The Bill will bring in a new planning system allowing for the creation of a much more integrated regime for planning in the coastal zone—that is long overdue. It will also provide for the designation and protection of marine conservation zones. Together with European marine sites, MCZs will contribute to the UK’s achieving, first among the nations, an ecologically coherent network of marine protected areas. As the hon. Gentleman says, that may not be in time, despite our best wishes, but the marine Bill will have an impact in future.

I come now to the immediate issue before us. The proposal by Wightlink to introduce new ferries in the near future seems, on my first reflections, to be rather premature in the light of the ongoing assessments, and I would suggest that Wightlink might constructively like to reflect carefully before pursuing this course. Although I am not aware of anything unlawful in this proposal, Wightlink is a harbour authority as well as a commercial company, and although I accept that its existing ferries may no longer meet safety standards, and that it is waiting for a decision on its application for consent to the enabling shoreside works, I urge it to give due consideration to its responsibility for the environment.

The regulators need to consider carefully the full implications of any such action. There are general duties under the habitats regulations that require Lymington harbour commissioners to have regard to the requirements under the habitats directive when exercising their functions and the commissioners would need urgently to assess the position. Furthermore, it is of particular concern that the company is contemplating the introduction of new ferries on this route before the appropriate assessment under the habitats regulations has been completed. We are not talking about a big overlap of time in this case. Should the assessment, when completed, show that the operation of the new ferries would have an adverse
19 Nov 2008 : Column 341
effect on the integrity of the protected site, and that mitigation measures could not be agreed with Wightlink, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the other regulators would need to consider carefully, and as a matter of urgency, any regulatory powers they have or might need to exercise in order to fulfil the UK’s obligations under the habitats directive.

I should point out that my officials have already met the Department for Transport to discuss this case. I will instruct them as a matter of urgency to explore further with that Department and other regulators, including the harbour commissioners, the implications of any such action. I will consider carefully any existing regulatory powers that might need to exercised in order to fulfil the UK’s obligations under the habitats directive.

I will not step over the mark tonight and outline the exact course of action that I am likely to pursue, and I stress the balance between the social and economic needs of the ferry service and its responsibility, as a harbour commissioner, to the environment. After reading the transcript of this debate—the strong and powerful contribution of the hon. Member for New Forest, West, the intervention by the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) and my comments—I hope that Wightlink will take its responsibilities seriously, consider the issue in the round and recognise that an appropriate assessment is under way, through which we are rapidly gathering the science to make an appropriate decision. I hope that, on that basis, we can find a way forward and that Wightlink hesitates before acting prematurely and rapidly introducing the larger ferries. I hope it recognises that, although it is a commercial operator, it has wider responsibilities.

I believe that there is a way forward. The debate has shown the complexity of regulation in the marine
19 Nov 2008 : Column 342
environment. I feel strongly that—curiously—the marine Bill is uniquely fitted in Europe to introduce a coherent and integrated regime, which has the buy-in from stakeholders at the earliest opportunity, and can consider such an eventuality in future.

In the meantime, there is a regulatory framework, and work is under way, in which the hon. Gentleman has not only been involved but pushed along diligently. That is the way we need to proceed. That would be my message to the constituents with whom the hon. Member for New Forest, West has worked, to those who rely in his constituency and that of the hon. Member for Isle of Wight on the important economic link that the ferry constitutes, and to the operator, who has an understandable desire to improve the service. I also ask them to take their responsibilities seriously and work with the agencies and regulators who are currently involved with making the appropriate assessment. We can then determine the further action that might need to be taken.

I thank the hon. Member for New Forest, West for raising the matter in a timely fashion and for the way in which he did so. I urge him to continue his close involvement with the issue and to keep communicating with the Department directly. I hope he is reassured that I, as a Minister, the Department and my officials are fully engaged in the matter and keeping a close eye on progress. We want to work with Wightlink and agencies in the area to ensure the right outcome, which balances priorities in a beautiful, diverse and environmentally important area of the coast.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-nine minutes past Seven o’clock.

Chairman’s letter to Lymington Times 9th August 2008

Dear Sir,

Thank you for giving publicity to the efforts of the Lymington Society to ensure that all aspects of the introduction of the larger ferries by Wightlink into the Lymington Yarmouth service fully considered particularly by statutory bodies whose duty it is to report on these matters.

The Society is concerned to ensure that the matter is fairly considered and seen to be fairly considered. With this in mind it is unfortunate that when Wightlink received a preliminary report leading to a statutory appropriate assessment in connection with their planning application, and they provided quotes in your paper which gave the impression that this report gave the go-ahead for the new ferries without any further consideration by the statutory bodies concerned.

That statement was retracted in a subsequent edition of the paper but by then the seeds of doubt had been placed in the mind of the public that the decision has effectively been made.

It is unfortunate also that no discussion was allowed by the District Councillors about the question of an Environmental Impact Assessment in respect of the ferries because of the legal advice received by the Council that such an environmental impact assessment was not required. The Society are asking the Council to provide a copy of the advice given that it has led to a decision being made and a decision which has pre-empted further discussion of the matter in the Council.

Lastly it is unfortunate to read in your recent edition of the paper that the Harbour Commissioners are publicly considering their response to “rumours” that some people were planning to take action once Wightlink’s new larger W. class vessels are launched later this year. The fact that such a rumour is reported in a public meeting of the Commissioners so that it is his liable to be reported in your paper can only exacerbate any tensions which may arise as a result of the sea trials of these ferries when members of the society have heard no rumours to this effect.

The society hopes that the consultation processes can continue without inaccurate reporting of position by either side, a fair review of the legal position in relation to the environmental impact assessment and restraint by those in public positions in raising issues in relating to “rumours”.

Yours faithfully

Clive Sutton

Public Meeting on new ferries

The Society hosted a public meeting last night, Nov 1st 2007, at the Community Centre, to enable public debate about Wightlink’s proposed new ferries. All interested parties were invited to attend, with assurances from Society chairman Clive Sutton that they would have a fair opportunity to state their case.

We expected a good turn out, and were pleased to be able to use the new Hall at the community Centre, which has accommodation for 200. However, we were rather overwhelmed by the numbers, as well over 300 people attended the meeting. At least a half of the audience were standing, and the sound system struggled to manage. Evidence that the topic is an important one to the town, and that the Society’s role is very much appreciated.

The Meeting

The meeting opened with a welcome and introduction from Clive.

This was followed by a presentation of the Main issues by Society Press Spokesman Donald Mackenzie, in which he presented the history of events leading up to the meeting.

Andrew Willson, Managing Director of Wightlink, then presented the reasoning behind the need for, and choice of, the new R Class ferries.

Peter Griffiths, the Chairman of the Harbour Commission, discussed the makeup and responsibilities of the Harbour Commission, and their involvement to date with this issue. He also took the opportunity to aprise the Lymington community of the threat to the salt marshes, and to appeal for help with this serious situation.

Geoff Holmes, the Commodore of the Royal Lymington Yacht Club, then spoke, giving the Club’s position, and relating how it has become increasingly concerned over the potential impact of the new larger ferries.

There followed presentations from personal speakers. These were concerned users of the river, with personal expertise and experience.

Chris Baldwick Boats, Moorings, etc
Roger Wilson Junior Sailing
Michael Derrick Displacement
Dr Ken Hay Windage, Horsepower and Damage to Riverbanks
Derf Paton Environment
Mike Beggs Traffic, Transport and Freight
Dr Tom McEwen General Concerns
Mark Malanaphy General Concerns

Dr Mackenzie, Andrew Willson, Peter Griffiths and Geoff Holmes were then invited onto the stage, and the audience put questions to them. The final hour or so of the meeting consisted of questions from the audience. It was evident that the ferry service is much valued, and that the skill and good nature of the ferry crews is much appreciated, but the community is nevertheless very concerned about the impact of the new ferries, and is unhappy about the procedures to date. Several times the question was asked “How can it have come to this point?”

Desmond Swayne MP expressed the thoughts of many present when he asked why Natural England had declined their invitation to attend. Many feel that they are the Government body with authority to take the necessary steps to protect the delicate marine environment.

The meeting closed at just after 10:00 pm. The chairman thanked all of the participants, and expressed his appreciation to all attending, particularly as over 150 people had been standing throughout. The meeting had a spot on the BBC local news at 10:30.

The meeting was recorded, and we will be posting a transcript on this website when it is available. There was an enormous amount of useful detail in the presentations and Q and A session.

For a Transcript of the Meeting Click Here

This transcript is a close to verbatim as we can manage. During the question and answer period, the secretary made notes and these can be seen Here. These included questions asked after the transcript tape ran out, so they are NOT verbatim.

LATEST: Solent Protection Society Drops Support for New Ferries – Watchdog’s ferry U-turn

80 members attended the Solent Protection Society’s AGM on Monday. At the end of the meeting the Society resolved to register its objection… pending the completion of the relevant competent assessments, prior to them entering into service. Society Spokesman Susan Preston Davis told the A&T : ” In the light of additional information recently made public by Wightlink and in the Adjournment Debate in the House of Commons on Nov 27th, the society has decided to oppose the ferries pending the analysis of the assessments commissioned by the Lymington Harbour Commissioners.” Society Chairman Shelagh de Carteret Evans added “Whilst appreciating the need for new ferries, we are concerned at the potential impact of the proposed new ferries, and have contacted Wightlink and the Lymington Harbour Commissioners to register our objection. We will be carefully monitoring the outcome of the relevant assessments.”

Friday 2nd Nov: Wightlink orders third new ferry for Yarmouth route.

Isle of Wight ferry company Wightlink has confirmed that it has placed an order for a third new ferry for its Lymington to Yarmouth route, despite a public outcry about the size of the new ships. The news comes the day after a public meeting in Lymington which was called because of the high level of anger in the town at the introduction of the new ferries, currently being built in Croatia, which displace almost twice as much water as the existing vessels. Campaigners claim that the new 1,496-ton ships will damage the environment of the Lymington River with its reed beds and salt marshes and will be a hazard to other vessels. Some sailing activities from the Royal Lymington Yacht Club are also said to be under threat.

Southampton Echo: Friday 2nd Nov: FERRY operator Wightlink has pledged to establish new guidelines for the two larger boats it controversially plans to introduce to Lymington River next year. Speaking at a packed public meeting last night, chief executive Andrew Willson said that he will use a new risk assessment – ordered by the Lymington Harbour Commissioners – to establish rules for his ferries. He made the promise as the two sides in the fiery debate over the larger ferries met for the first time at a meeting attended by more than 250 people. Wightlink made assurances about the ferries’ necessity and low impact but other users of Lymington River made calls for further assessments. Fears of more water displacement and damage to the salt marshes were top of opponents’ worries. Mr Willson said: “The way forward is for the harbour commissioners to undertake a further risk assessment. We will use the results and conduct trials to determine appropriate guidelines for the ferries.” advertisement From next summer, Wightlink plans to replace two ferries on its Lymington to Yarmouth service. The new £10m vessels, each weighing 1,495 tons compared to the current 850 tons, will displace almost twice as much water.