Riverworks - Pub Debate Primer
It’s a warm, dreamy, summer afternoon, and you are resting your aching feet in a riverside pub after a pleasant ramble along the soft green banks of the River Ribble. You are nursing a pint of cask-conditioned real ale, appreciating the softness of your barstool, and the murmur of pleasant conversation with friends, when suddenly the topic of the Riverworks initiative rears it's ugly head!
Are you ready to put forward the pro-river arguments? Pour yourself a beer and read through this dry run of some of the arguments put forward by the acolytes of the Riverworks 'Cult of Concrete', along with the pro-Ribble responses.
Isn’t turning the river into a water sports park a good idea? - the Riverworks people say it will expand our range of leisure options which can't be a bad thing.
We have no objection to people taking boats on the Ribble, but we do object to keeping the river artificially at high tide, for a number of reasons. One is that it will drown the mud banks that many birds find their food in. It also means that long stretches of the riverbank will be covered with concrete to provide walkways and moorings for boats . It is hypocritical of the council to pretend this would expand leisure options when they are thinking about building new housing over 3 different sets of football pitches - at Vernons, Penwortham Holme and Frenchwood as part of the Riverworks proposals. These pitches provide leisure opportunities for hundreds of people all year round, as do local allotments that they are also talking about building over.
And do we really want power boats and jet skis on the Ribble? - today I saw 14 swans on the water by Avenham Park, heavy usage by boats would drive away this birdlife, and the wake would swamp their nests (if they can nest anywhere along banks encased in concrete).
OK - So the Ribble Barrage may affect wildlife near Preston - but the environmentally significant wildlife and the migratory birds in the Ribble Estuary are miles away.
The wildlife near Preston, Walton Le Dale and Penwortham is very significant to the people who live there and enjoy their access to the beautiful river and the fields around it as it is today. They don’t want their green areas covering with housing, roads and concrete. Fish like the Atlantic Salmon, which is an endangered species would find a barrage to be a major obstacle to getting up the river.
And anyway, building a barrage WOULD affect the estuary; The ecology of the estuary depends on the silts that are washed down the river. A barrage would disrupt this flow of silts and cause more and more damage every year to the crucial environment of the Ribble Estuary - at the moment there are 250,000 birds and a huge density of invertebrates in the mudflats that support them - cut off or restrict the flow of silts and this huge ecological resource would be lost forever.
But the council say that "this is a river which has lost it's identity" - we need a big marina to attract tourism to our area.
There are plenty of people who think our river is very beautiful - especially when the mudflats and rocky stretches are exposed - the Save The Ribble blog has published loads of local people's photographs that show just how beautiful it is. If the council tried to promote the River properly instead of denigrating it, a whole range of new tourists could come - people interested in Lancashire's Civil War heritage, the Vikings, the Romans and all the other history of the area, as well as people interested in the opportunities to walk and cycle in the green areas so close to the city centre. Type 'River Ribble' into Preston Councils' tourism website search engine and you come up with nothing. The council has done nothing to promote this beautiful river - this couldn't be connected with their plans to encase it in concrete could it? Preston already has a marina on the docks - and they can't even manage that - it is full of blue-green algae and stinks during hot weather - if they build a barrage, our whole river could end up like this.
Yeah, but a Ribble barrage is going to protect us from floods isn’t it.
The barrage in the Riverworks proposals is not being specifically designed as a flood defence barrier - it has a different job, which is to raise the level of the river to a permanent high-tide level. A flood defence would be in a different place and be a different design. The barrage will increase the risk of tidal flooding to those downriver from it, as it will displace the incoming tide sideways. Also because silts will accumulate on the riverbed upriver from the barrage, it will reduce the capacity of the river to carry off rainwater when it is in spate and increase the risk of flooding to upriver areas - including the new housing they want to build in it’s floodplain. Raising the average level of the river will also have the effect of raising the level of ground-water beneath housing that is near the river - with all kinds of dangerous effects given that much of this land was formerly marshland. The Welsh Assembly is having to pay £20 million a year to dredge the silts from Cardiff bay and pump out the rising ground waters since they built the Cardiff bay barrage - who will foot the bill for the dredging and pumping necessitated by the Ribble Barrage?
But this is all just ideas - it isn’t really going to happen anyway, so why are you making so much fuss?
The Cardiff Bay barrage started off as some planners whim, but ended up being built. We think there is growing interest from developers and building firms behind the scenes in these Riverworks ideas that is giving a lot of impetus to driving them forward, despite the opposition expressed by local people. There has already been large amounts of council time and money spent dreaming up and promoting these ideas, and they want to spend a considerable amount more on feasibility studies - this is our money and should not be being spent on ideas that are not wanted by local people.
The council should have asked the people of Preston and South Ribble what they wanted BEFORE making these Riverworks proposals - we think ordinary people would have come up with a very different set of priorities than turning the River into a Power-boat Playground. The people who live downriver and upriver whose homes could be affected by these proposals will want to have their say too, people at Freckleton and at Ribchester for example. Freckleton Parish Council has voted to strongly oppose any barrage plan.
The best time to campaign to stop the barrage and housing proposals, and defend our sports fields and allotments is now, before the Riverworks proposals gather too much momentum and money behind them and become unstoppable. We are having some success - we helped persuade the National Lottery not to back these ideas because of the high level of local opposition, and we are beginning to make local councillors listen - but it will take a lot more campaigning before we change the council’s mind.
OK OK - you’ve convinced me - how do I join the campaign?
Easy! email firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Save The Ribble Campaign PO Box 1104 Penwortham Preston PR2 0DB - and welcome to the Save The Ribble Campaign! You can email our blogs web address to your friends and workmates, and you can print off our leaflet and window poster to show your mates and put it up in your window or on your work noticeboard - spread the word! (And buy me another pint - my throat's gone dry!)
pubs debate ribble development environment river wildlife greenbelt barrage flood