PRESTON CITY COUNCIL TAKES NEXT STEP TOWARDS BUILDING RIBBLE BARRAGE
It emerged yesterday during a Preston City Council committee meeting to discuss the Preston Vision Board that a bid for a £235,000 grant from the North West Development Agency to complete a feasibility study into the building of a barrage on the Ribble will be made this municipal year 2007/8, with the study carried out the following year, 2008/9.
It was made clear this will go ahead despite the concerns expressed by the Environment Agency, the RSPB, Michael Jack MP for Fylde, and many others.
In making this decision Preston City Council is intent on ignoring the advice of the Environment Agency, the RSPB and other environmental organisations, and the opposition of local residents, some local councillors and neighbouring councils.
The decision also makes a mockery of Preston City Council's repeated assertions that the barrage scheme is "ideas" only and reveals their true intention to pursue the barrage at all costs.
Council officials revealed that, in discussions on the proposed sites for the barrage, they have ruled out sites towards the Estuary and the River Douglas, and the sites to be assessed are at the Ribble Link and nearer the city centre. The intention is clear: the Council wants the barrage to provide a permanently high water level between the canal and the proposed 'major outdoor leisure facility' which is to be constructed at Lower Brockholes Farm, once the new quarry is exhausted.
We have long suspected that the Planning Application to quarry at Lower Brockholes Farm was linked to Riverworks, but, despite denials even at yesterday's Preston City Council Committee meeting that this is a Vision Board scheme, it is nonetheless INCLUDED in recent Press Releases for 'An £800 million vision for the Riverworks scheme' which came from Preston City Council over the last few days.
The Press Release is published in Preston City Council's "PubliCity" Preston City Newsletter Issue No 6 April 25th 2007), and the Lancashire Economic Partnership Newsletter, 30th April 2007 .
The full text of this Press Release is as follows:
An £800 million vision for the Riverworks scheme, a 20 year plan to create jobs, homes, leisure facilities and a city park, centred on the river and canal, is being developed. Amongst the proposals are a landmark building and a performance arena at the marina end of Preston Dock. On the East side of the city, centred on Fishwick and Brockholes Brow, plans are in the pipeline for a 'major outdoor leisure resource'.
A large number of local residents, the Wildlife Trust, and local Fisheries organisations, were just some of those who objected to last summer's Planning Application to quarry at Lower Brockholes Farm. This last remaining section of the historic Brockholes farm lies just to the West of M6 and the new Brockholes Wetland Nature Reserve which local residents helped the Wildlife Trust to save from development following its own extensive quarrying (and WHAT development it might have been is a very interesting question...)
We were concerned about the loss of this last piece of ancient Brockholes farmland and about the potential impacts that quarrying and changes to its wetland ecosystem would have on adjacent Biological Heritage Sites such as Brockholes Wood and Brockholes Meadow, but we were also concerned that this quarry (which rather controversially stated the aggregate is needed for Riverworks in the application!) looked suspiciously like the much-denied but persistently rumoured marina to be built near the Tickled Trout... Yet this scheme was denied as being a part of Riverworks at the time, is STILL being denied as being a Vision Board scheme, yet clearly plays a significant part in Preston City Council's Riverworks 'PLANS... in the pipeline'.
Questions which need to be asked of Preston City Counil and the North West Development Agency regarding this bid include:
- How can they justify blatantly ignoring legitimate concerns expressed by numerous environmental bodies including the Environment Agency, RSPB, Wildlife Trust, the Ribble and Lancashire Fisheries Consultative Organisations, and Natural England to pursue the Ribble barrage scheme?
- How can they justify blatantly ignoring and potentially breaching International, European, and National Law regarding the Special Protection Area Status of the Ribble to pursue their barrage scheme?
- How can they justify blatantly ignoring the concerns raised by local residents and Councillors in Preston and South Ribble, as well as neighbouring residents and Councils all along the Ribble, including Fylde and Sefton, to pursue their barrage scheme?
- How can they justify committing huge economic resources to the barrage scheme, knowing full well that:
a) The previous Ribble Weir Appraisal study into the idea of barraging the Ribble HAS ALREADY pointed out that:
- it regards the increased floodrisk to Penwortham and Preston as of 'major concern';
- it identifies the need for not ONE barrage but 2 or 4 such structures to even potentially enable navigation between the Bullnose (Docks) and the Tickled Trout (Brockholes), and even then some sections would remain un-navigable;
- the weirs would need gates, which would need to be left open for long periods (even months at a time) to prevent flooding;
- it regards the potential changes to siltation downriver to be 'a matter of serious concern';
- it identifies the risk of the impounded water becoming of such poor quality 'that fish life cannot be supported'.
b) The current Ribble Shoreline Management Plan identifies:
- the need to create further intertidal wetland areas to protect communities from floodrisk and wildlife from habitat loss due to climate change over the next 50-100 years;
- NO NEED for a tidal barrage;
- the need to ensure no major changes occur in the flow and deposition of silts in the Ribble Estuary.
c) The onus for any major project has to be on SUSTAINABLE development in both economic and environmental terms;
d) The HUGE Environmental damage and HUGE economic drain caused by barrages which ties in current and future generations to spending literally £MILLIONS every year, year after year, to try to reduce the impact on floodrisk, water quality, fisheries, and wildlife.
Preston has, according to figures released in the Local Development Framework documents, some of the most deprived areas IN ENGLAND, ranking 59th out of 354 local authorities in England in the 2004 Indices of Deprivation (compared to 172 for Chorley and 229 for South Ribble).
So what are they doing about it? Putting in an outrageous and absurd application which seeks to bid for £235,000 in order to progress a £multi-million scheme - so much money which could be so usefully spent elsewhere - which will damage an Internationally important wetland ecosystem, be detrimental to our much-valued local environment, and increase floodrisk to communities all along the Ribble corridor.
It will also be detrimental to the new Ribble Coast & Wetlands Regional Park, launched just weeks ago with exciting and innovative ideas to create environmentally and economically SUSTAINABLE tourism and jobs, and which, according to the NWDA's own figures, will bring in an extra £115 million in new visitors every year to Ribbleside communities.
Preston City Council's Ribble barrage scheme is neither environmentally nor economically justifiable, is an outrageous waste of resources, and will be detrimental to our environment, to the economic viability of all Ribbleside communities, and to the Internationally-significant River Ribble.
If Preston Council's leaders, and their developer friends on the Vision Board imagine local residents, and environmentalists across the country will meekly accept this irresponsible and dangerous scheme, they badly need to think again.