Save The Ribble

A blog dedicated to preserving the beauty and delicate ecosystem of the River Ribble, and opposing the Riverworks 'vision' to build a barrage on our River and develop on our riverbanks, floodplains and green spaces, causing damage to wildlife and the environment and increasing the risk of flooding to our homes. Save the Ribble Campaign is not responsible for the content of external blogs or websites which link here.

Monday, October 30, 2006

NWDA Commit £300k To Project Nobody Wants

The North West Development Agency has awarded Preston City Council £300,000 and agreed 'in principle' to commit £18 million to council projects which include the Riverworks Ribble Barrage and Housing Scheme.




This is a sign of a major crisis in democratic representation. Huge amounts of public money, and of the time of council officers is being devoted to projects that nobody in Preston has even been consulted on, and all the evidence so far is that those who have found out about the Riverworks project are either deeply suspicious of it or else angry that the council is even thinking about such a socially and environmentally irresponsible plan.

Locals who have seen the 'Composite Masterplan' produced for the council by Taylor and Young are livid that the council is prepared to sacrifice valued local amenities, like football pitches, green fields and allotments to make space for a massive suburban housing estate on the banks of the river (and in the river's flood plain), and deeply concerned about the effects that a barrage would have on wildlife such as the birdlife of the Ribble Estuary that depends on silts being washed down the river, and the aquatic life, including endangered species like the Atlantic Salmon which would find a barrage an insurmountable obstacle to its journey to its spawning grounds.

Locals are also concerned that a barrage, which would raise the river to permanently high tide level, will raise the water table beneath our houses and increase the risk of flooding to unacceptable levels. The Environment Agency has made it plain that development in flood plains significantly increases the risk of flooding.

Why is the council pressing ahead with these projects despite the rising local opposition?

Why is the North West Development Agency which claims to aim to promote the regions 'outstanding quality of life' backing projects that will impact so negatively on the quality of life of people from Preston and South Ribble?

Where are our councillors who made promises of consultation?

What about those areas of Preston that desperately need redevelopment - areas that have been ignored by the council and are now suffering all the social consequences of this neglect?

Why has no environmental audit of the consequences of this barrage even been proposed, at a time when government and opposition alike compete to parade their environmental credentials?

Where is the accountability when these bodies make such huge decisions about our future, and allocate such large amounts of money, without asking for, or listening to the voices of local people?

Save The Ribble has always suspected that the voices of wealthy development companies ring much more loudly in the council chamber than the voices of local people.

It is time for local people to make sure that their voices cannot be ignored any more.


Get involved with the Save The Ribble Campaign, voice your opinions in the local area development framework and get organised to campaign using whatever peaceful means neccessary to stop this mad and dangerous project now.

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Ribble Flood Warning Sensor Grid

A high tech grid of river sensors that can predict if and when the Ribble is likely to flood is being installed along the banks of the river according to this report in the New Scientist.

Those of us who live within the flood plain of the river can only welcome such intelligent sensors, which according to the article could give locals and government decision-makers earlier warning of impending floods by producing more accurate and concise data than existing monitoring systems.

Here's the explanation of how it works:

Each node is smaller than a human fist and powered by batteries and solar panels. Each is also accompanied by a computer unit about the size of a packet of chewing gum, which contains a processor about as powerful those found in a modern cellphone.

The sensors are positioned within tens of metres of each other and communicate through Wi-Fi and Bluetooth antennas. This enables them to collaborate for data collection and processing tasks, creating a larger community computer. The same "grid computing" approach is used to connect computers at different locations for distributed research projects.

If the river’s behaviour starts to change, the network uses the data collected to run models and predict what will happen next. If a flood seems likely – because it is rapidly rising and moving quickly – the network can send a wireless warning containing the details.



Of course such devices can only warn about floods when they happen, they cannot prevent flooding from happening in the first place. The Ribble is a river that is known to be prone to flooding, and anything that increases the risk of flooding, such as building new housing estates in the floodplain, or a Ribble barrage that would cause silting on the riverbed and raise the level of the water table underneath our houses will be strongly resisted by residents living along the River's banks, and by the 'Save The Ribble' campaign.

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Friday, October 20, 2006

Marine Reserves NOW! Urge your MP to Take Action!

URGENT ACTION!!! Protect OUR SEAS!!! Marine Reserves NOW!!

URGE YOUR MP TO lobby our new Prime Minister Gordon Brown to take action to instate Marine Reserves in key locations around our shores, and urge your MP to SIGN THE MARINE BILL Early Commons Motion NOW!

Marine Reserves protect key areas from damage and explitation, and enable marine species to recover their numbers - which has direct positive impacts on the populations beyond the boundaries of the Reserves themselves.

Early Day Motion 1833 –

“That this House welcomes the ongoing campaign by Wildlife and Countryside Link, a coalition of environmental organisations, including the Marine Conservation Society, the RSPB, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, The Wildlife Trusts and WWF, for a comprehensive Marine Bill; notes the continued public and cross party political support; welcomes the publication in March of the Marine Bill White Paper A Sea Change; believes that with the utmost urgency the United Kingdom needs a new approach to managing and protecting its marine resources, wildlife and cultural heritage; that this Marine Bill must be based on a system of spatial planning to reduce conflict between the many users of these seas; believes that the Bill must include reform of inshore fisheries; further believes that, given the extraordinary richness of wildlife in UK seas, the Bill must put protection of wildlife at the heart of marine policy through measures including the designation of a network of marine conservation zones; and calls on the Prime Minister to include such a bill in the 2007 Queens Speech. “

The list of current signatories is here.

If YOUR MP is not among them, urge ACTION NOW!

Protecting our Marine environment is crucial. The River Ribble is only a part of a greater whole, and it is vital we protect this global ecosystem NOW. All life on this planet - including ourselves - relies on the health and well-being of our oceans: the key in the foodchain, the water system, the weather system - life itself.

The Ribble Estuary plays its own part in this ecosystem, not least the small fry of sea fish spend their early life in its protective intertidal nursery...



but without Marine Reserves our whole marine ecosystem is under serious threat.

Act NOW. Before it's too late.

You can contact us at savetheribble@tiscali.co.uk

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Will Unitary Authority Status be a Threat to our River and Greenbelt?

Last month both Preston City Council and South Ribble Borough Council voted in favour of merging and becoming a single unitary authority. Both councils are now working on feasibility studies but both councils have already stated that they recommend a merger and the formation of a single “super authority”.

South Ribble councillors have agreed to ask local people what they think of this proposal while Preston City Council have so far been silent on the matter of public consultation.

Councillors argue that a unitary authority can deliver improved services. However, the question many local residents are asking is how the proposed single unitary authority will affect our River and Green Belt.


Preston City "vision":
Preston City Council already have proposals for developing on the Green Belt in South Ribble. As long ago as 2005, PCC’s Big Lottery bid was staking a claim for the Riverworks project as the core of a new city centre for Preston which viewed South Ribble as part of a wider Preston City. (Of course the Big Lottery bid failed due to Preston City Council’s lack of public consultation!)
PCC want to develop “a new city along an underutilised river valley that currently separates two halves of (the) established urban structure” of Preston and South Ribble.

The Council see the Riverworks project as a symbol for the new City region, viewing their proposed Ribble barrage and Central Park building development as “connect(ing) together the two halves of the city” (PCC Lottery Bid Appendix A: RiverCity Project).

These ideas are reflected in the Central Lancashire Sub-Regional Spatial Strategy, a document drawn up GVA Grimley (property advisors and consultants) for a partner group which includes Preston City Council and South Ribble Borough Council. This document argues for “the major location for growth…..in the wider Preston area which ‘straddles’ the River Ribble”, building on Penwortham Green Belt a “new sustainable community supporting the growth of the City centre” (Central Lancashire City p.24).

To achieve this it is proposed that “consideration needs to be given to strategic Greenfield release” thus “a review of the greenbelt south of the River Ribble should be considered” (ibid p.18/19).
Some South Ribble Borough Councillors have made it clear that they see the Green Belt as “sacrosanct”.
But the question is whether that opinion would hold sway in a unitary authority council chamber particularly in view of the stated support of the leadership of both South Ribble Borough Council and Preston City Council for the Riverworks Vision.


Economic viability?
According to PCC, without the barrage (which threatens the most important estuarine river in Britain, if not Europe) and massive housing development and business park (on South Ribble Green Belt), Preston and the surrounding area will enter a “spiral of decline” and become a centre “for the retired, the disadvantaged and the unemployed” (PCC Lottery Bid).

However, Preston and South Ribble are already economic growth areas:
- South Ribble is already “one of the most prosperous districts in Lancashire in terms of employment potential and wealth” (PCC Submission to Boundaries Committee for England: Proposal for a New City of Preston Council).

- Preston is already “experienc[ing] one of the fastest rates of employment growth across all NW districts in the last 4 years (+35%)… Economic forecasts for this …area suggest a growth rate over the next 10 years well in excess of the regional average” (Lancashire Economic Partnership and The Northern Way Central Lancashire City Region Development Programme p.7)
- and all without causing potentially disastrous consequences to the River Ribble and surrounding Green Belt.

Whilst it is recognised that continuing economic growth is important, economic development which is so detrimental to the environment is not sustainable development and will cost more in the long term trying to put right the damage caused (the environmental impacts of the Cardiff Bay Barrage currently costs the Welsh Assembly more than £20 million every year).

Economic wealth is also not the only determinant of quality of life, and it is increasingly recognised that quality of life is determined and measured by access to our natural and unspoilt environment (Government Quality of Life Counts Report).


Residents' Concerns:
In response to residents concerns about the proposed Ribble barrage and development on Green Belt/Floodplain:

- Preston City Council leaders and officers have dismissed concerns as “scaremongering”, and have dismissed requests for public consultation about their Riverworks "vision" before delivery strategies and business plans as “accusing the council of not following correct procedure”. Under their Local Development Framework (currently in progress) policies about Green Belt (Policy DC1) and internationally protected conservation sites (Policy DC5) are under Review. Whilst in some areas PCC does show a willingness to support and enhance green spaces (such as the Local Nature Reserve on Fishwick Bottoms), so far residents are still waiting for consultation, and answers to their concerns about Riverworks.

- South Ribble Borough Council leadership has expressed support for Riverworks, but has shown willingness to engage with residents concerns, and have stated aims in their Local Development Scheme (see p.25) to protect the Green Belt.

- Lancashire County Council policy emphasises the protection of the River Ribble, Green Belt and Floodplain (Joint Lancashire Structure Plan 2001-16, policy 21) – a view supported by Lancashire County Council officers.

Under the current local government structure Lancashire County Council may therefore have a moderating influence on development proposals for the River and adjoining green belt.
Unfortunately, this moderating influence will be lost if Preston and South Ribble merge as a unitary authority as Lancashire County Council will no longer have an influence on planning decisions in Preston and South Ribble.

Whilst South Ribble residents are still waiting to hear how South Ribble Borough Council will consult them regarding the merger with Preston and bid for unitary authority status, and Preston residents are still waiting to hear whether they will be consulted at all, residents both sides of the Ribble can register for consultation in the Local Development Framework process which will form the blueprint for development over the coming years.

Concerned residents can also raise the issue of the potential threat to our River and Green Belt posed by unitary authority status with their councillors.

contact savetheribble@tiscali.co.uk

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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Football Pitches Under Threat

Preston City Council argue that the River Ribble, and the area around it is 'bleak and underdeveloped', and that this justifies the ideas contained in the 'Riverworks' proposals to barrage the river, to create a water sports park, and to build over 4000 houses on the green areas that lie in the river's flood plain.

However, every time local people look at this map, a composite masterplan produced for the council by Taylor and Young they spot another popular and precious local resource that is threatened by these development proposals:


Anyone who knows the local area can see that several popular areas, currently used for sport and recreation are earmarked to be covered by a big area of 'quality' housing and businesses.

Football pitches under threat include:

Vernon's

Football at Vernons lower fields

Penwortham Holme

Penwortham Holme Football Pitches

and Frenchwood Recreation Ground

Frenchwood Recreation Ground

These pitches are used by hundreds of people, all year round, in all weathers - far more people than would use a 'water sports park' (Do you own a jet-ski? - Would you use a water sports park on a wet December morning?).

Preston is traditionally a football town, with a proud record of Preston North End going right back to the beginnings of the football league. Football is getting increasingly popular among young people - and in these days of childhood obesity, our football pitches are a precious resource. All these pitches are used by local youth teams from different Lancashire leagues, both for matches and training sessions.

Local people in the Broadgate area fought for years to prevent this development on the BAC Club's sports fields - eventually we lost the battle, and this is the consequence:

Development at BAC Club

Don't let this be a taste of things to come for the rest of the beautiful land around the River Ribble!

One thing people can do NOW is to register for the Local Area Development Framework Consultation.

Another is to join the Save The Ribble Campaign and build even more opposition to these ideas: contact savetheribble@tiscali.co.uk

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Sunday, October 08, 2006

New Ribble RSPB Reserve takes a mighty leap forward!

Excellent news for Ribblesiders as the RSPB announce work can now begin in earnest on their new wetland nature reserve on the Ribble, at Hesketh Out Marsh on the western side of the River Douglas.


Pink-Footed Geese arriving on the Ribble at Marshside (photo RSPB).

Tony Baker, RSPB Ribble sites manager, announced that the RSPB have recently purchased the land, and now excavation work can begin to recreate the creeks and pools the saltmarsh and mudflat habitat will need before this area can be returned to the sea.

The RSPB are working closely with the Environment Agency, English Nature, and Lancashire County Council on this project, which will help counteract the loss of areas of this vital habitat to rising sea levels, as well as contributing a valuable new reserve to the Ribble and the aims towards the creation of the Ribble Estuary Regional Park.

Hesketh Out Marsh Reserve:
The Hesketh Out Marsh Reserve will return 170 hectares of wetland habitat to the Ribble’s ecosystem, saltmarsh which was drained in the 1980s for farmland purposes, and once the excavations and new inner walls are completed, 4 breaches will be made in the old sea defences to allow the tides to wash into the area.


Confluence of the River Douglas with the Ribble near Hesketh Out Marsh.


Dow Brook mudflat creeks on the opposite shore to Hesketh Out Marsh at Freckleton.

Work should start in March next year, when the old creeks will be re-dug, with the soil removed from them being used to construct a new embankment to Hesketh Out Marsh East, and strengthening existing sea defences around Hesketh Out Marsh West.
This recreated habitat will be an important part of the Ribble’s wetland ecosystem, homing numerous bird species, including black-tailed godwits, dunlins, avocets, redshanks and wigeons.


Redshank on the Ribble floodplain (RSPB).

"This new reserve will be a mix of wetland habitats, including saltmarsh, saline lagoons and muddy creeks and will make a major contribution towards national targets for coastal saltmarsh creation,” said Tony Baker of the RSPB.
It will also include viewing points for visitors, and improved footpaths which will contribute to a rationalisation of the Lancashire Coastal Way, the Ribble Way being a famous contribution to this fantastic resource for local people and visitors alike.


"The seagulls and the sun make friends" by 'I': Children and adults enjoy the wildlife the Ribble brings.

Habitat restoration:
It is because of the threat of sea level rises that salt marsh and mudflats are protected habitats, included in the UK Priority Biodiversity Action Plan Habitats. The onus is on the Environment Agency to create 2,000 hectares of new habitat every year, at the same time as ensuring that no habitats are lost through flood risk management projects, and they have established the Regional Habitat Creation Programme to implement this. You can read more about Biodiversity Action Plan Habitats here.

As well as contributing a significant new area of wetland habitat to the Ribble, this new reserve will help to protect the Ribble area from flooding, and also adds an important contribution to the developing Ribble Estuary Regional Park.

Flood Defences.
As you can read in our Mudflats and Salt Marsh article, mudflats and saltmarsh are also effective and cost-efficient flood defences, and this recreation of wetland habitats formerly claimed from the sea is the Environment Agency and Defra’s preferred flood risk management strategy (called “managed realignment”) as it is the most sustainable and beneficial means of protecting land from rising sea levels and river plain flooding.

Ribble Estuary Regional Park:
Work is underway to designate the Ribble Estuary a Regional Park, offering a massive 30 km2 wildlife haven and tourist destination on the Ribble Estuary.
The Ribble is the UK’s most important river estuary for birds, and a steering group led by key partners Lancashire County Council, Sefton Borough Council, RSPB, English Nature and the Environment Agency is taking forward the Regional Park idea.
The North West Development Agency (NWDA), who have assisted the RSPB and the Environment Agency with the creation of the new reserve at Hesketh Out Marsh, are the body who would make the final decision on the creation of the Ribble Estuary Regional Park.


The Ribble Estuary.

A positive decision from the NWDA would allow the focus of the Ribble Estuary Regional Park to be on sustainable leisure and environmental projects which would open the Ribble to better public access, allowing locals and visitors alike to experience its internationally important wildlife and habitats. This would boost the local economy at the same time as protecting this vital habitat for the future.
In case any readers might consider a Ribble barrage to be a positive contribution to the Ribble Estuary Regional Park, it is worth reiterating here that a barrage would interfere with the free-flow of water and the nutrient-rich silts and thereby put this delicately-balanced ecosystem at risk. You can read more on the damage barrages cause here.

Laurence Rose, North West Regional Director of the RSPB, said of the Ribble Estuary Regional Park project:
"It is vital that we conserve our natural heritage, not only for the wildlife dependent on these areas, but also to benefit local businesses and economies. Studies have shown that visitors to RSPB reserves spent an estimated £11 million in local economies. With an increasing number of people enjoying our natural heritage and wildlife, places like the Ribble Estuary will become even more important in the future."

County Councillor Brian Johnson, Lancashire County Council's cabinet member for Urban and Rural Regeneration, said:
"The Ribble Estuary is one of Lancashire and the North West's most valuable natural assets and at the moment its potential is untapped. We see the NWDA's decision on Regional Parks as a possible springboard that could draw in funding for a range of projects. Regeneration is not just about tidying up urban grot spots - it's also about using our expertise to create sustainable economies for rural areas. Projects like this often lead to improvements in the image and environmental quality of the area, which in turn help to attract new investment. That is why we have joined with the RSPB and other organisations in the area to give our support, should the NWDA go for the Regional Park idea."

To read more about the Ribble Estuary Regional Park, click here and here.

If you haven't been keeping in touch with some of our local wildlife through AutumnWatch, you can catch up here!

Phil Widdows recently noted the Hesketh Out Marsh scheme on his blog, believing this is a boost to Preston City Council's Riverworks barrage!!! He says:
"Save The Ribble are outraged by the [barrage] scheme, saying that the birdies which currently enjoy nothing more than a good root and a rummage on the mudflats exposed every low tide will all starve to death if the barrage effectively stops that stretch of the river from being tidal.Well, with a brand new 170 hectare nature reserve on their doorstep, courtesy of the RSPB, the birdies can jolly well move downstream a bit and have a root and rummage there, can't they?You know, if I was a cynical man, I might just suspect that someone in Preston Council is rubbing their hands with glee and laughing a Machiavellian guffaw right now. Save The Ribble's ecological objections to the barrage scheme have been holed below the waterline - and all thanks to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds."

Phil Widdows' article unfortunately misses the little matter that the barrage would not only drown the upriver mudflats under permanently raised water levels, but would also risk starving the vast majority of the Ribble's mudflats and salt marsh out on the Estuary - including the newly created Hesketh Out Marsh Reserve!!!
As pointed out above, because of the risk to these habitats from sea level rises, the Environment Agency have to create new habitats every year, just to maintain the status quo.

Unfortunately for Preston City Council, they can't say "it's ok to drown the upriver mudflats as there are new mudflats at Hesketh Out Marsh to make up for it", just like one person can't say it's ok to burn down another person's house because someone has built them another house somewhere else!
(But as Phil says, they may well try!)

Contact savetheribble@tiscali.co.uk

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