Q: WHEN IS A PLAN NOT A PLAN?
A: WHEN IT’S A “KEY PROJECT PROPOSAL” IN THE PRESTON ECONOMIC REGENERATION STRATEGY AND PRIORITISED ACTION PLAN
It seems that whenever members of the public voice concerns over the prospect of a barrage on the Ribble and the urban development of Penwortham Green Belt (Riverworks Documents 01 "Quality Riverside" and 04 the “Central Park” Development), Preston City Council is always quick to respond with the claim that these are “ideas” only and that there are "no proposals" or "plans" to build a barrage on the river or build on our Green Belt and floodplain.
In response to the concerns raised by residents in the Fylde about the barrage scheme, a spokesperson for Preston City Council told the Lytham St Annes Express (April 19th) that the Ribble barrage is purely the “stuff of dreams at the moment” and that “it is not a proposal”. This is the mantra that Preston City Council has consistently repeated since it launched its Riverworks “dream” in an attempt to diffuse the widespread opposition from both local residents and environmental groups.
Responding to fears that a barrage would increase flood risk to communities along the Ribble corridor (see LEP 26/4/07), officials at Preston City Council claimed that Riverworks was at a “very early stage with funding not even secured to carry out a feasibility and environmental impact assessment for the area. “
However, while Council officials merely insist that there are “no plans” or “proposals” to build a barrage on the Ribble or build on our Green Belt, and that further “feasibility” studies need to be completed for their "ideas", they fail to address the real and legitimate concerns that are being raised by residents and environmental organisations.
Furthermore, their own documents also show that these schemes are indeed “proposals” and “plans”, and that the direction of PCC’s policy, through the Vision Board, is to actively pursue both the barrage construction, and the building developments on the Green Belt and floodplain.
From “Visionary Ideas” to “Key Project Proposals”:
In a recent article in the Lancashire Evening Post (10/5/07), Jim Carr, Chief Executive of Preston City Council, refers to the “visionary ideas” of Riverworks and suggests that the council has a duty to give them serious consideration. Mr Carr also insists that feasibility work will need to be completed if and when the council is in a position to develop the ideas.
Yet, while Preston City Council continues to insist that the barrage and Green Belt developments are only “ideas”, it has approved and adopted the Preston Economic Regeneration Strategy and Prioritised Action Plan which states that the barrage and ‘Central Park’ urban development are “key project proposals” (p.7) of the local development strategy:
“Instead of the city ‘turning its back’ on the river, the Ribble will form the heart of future planning of the Preston-South Ribble urban area. Key project proposals include the development of a barrage across the river providing a range of economic benefits and the development of a new ‘Central Park’ with associated residential development” (p.7).
Click on the picture to enlarge it. This Prioritised Action Plan also shows the Penwortham Green Belt with housing superimposed on the top.
The strategy also proposes a new “gateway” to the City in the form of a new River crossing, linked “to the proposed construction of the barrage” (p.8).
So while PCC claims it has no plans to build a barrage on the Ribble it has adopted an Action Plan which clearly places the “construction of the barrage” as a ‘Key project proposal’, therefore an essential component of its economic development strategy - as confirmed in the document itself which states: "Riverworks is an essential component of the overall Strategy" (click to enlarge the picture of p7 above).
“Plans are in the Pipeline”:
The Riverworks proposals for Riverside East (Riverworks: see Document 05) include more residential and "commercial office" developments (apparently on Frenchwood Rec and Fishwick Bottoms) and “An extension of the river walkway through Riverside East [East Preston] to link to the former Brockholes Quarry site which will become a major visitor destination”.
The Riverworks document also states that it will provide the “reprovision of sports facilities drawing people to the river front and encouraging its active use” where "it will offer water based recreation pursuits, enabled and supported by the barrage. Riverside East will link the communities of South Ribble and Preston by providing accessible and well utilised leisure resource centred around the River…establishing a major outdoor leisure resource” explicitly linked to “the former Brockholes Quarry site".
Clearly, PCC’s “plans for this site aim to provide open water areas” (Document 05, Riverside East) which they link to “nature conservation and fishing”...
But there is no need for a barrage to “enable and support” a fishing lake, and environmentalists and angling organisations are vociferously opposed to the barrage because of the enormous damage it will cause to fish and other wildlife.
The stated aim “that a 4km stretch of the River Ribble will be brought into active use through these proposals” strongly suggests therefore that the intention for Brockholes is that it will be part of their water sports facility.
PCC will maintain that this is ideas only, but this is contradicted by their own recent Press Release on page 6 of their magazine PubliCity: 25/4/07 Issue 6, which states that “plans are in the pipeline for a ‘major outdoor leisure resource’” at Brockholes and Fishwick.
Preston City Council’s full press release reads:
“Riverside Re-vamp: An £800 million vision for the Riverworks scheme, a 20 year plan to create jobs, homes, leisure facilities and a city park [Central Park building development] 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 docks. On the East side of the City, centred on Fishwick and Brockholes Brow plans are in the pipeline for a ‘major outdoor leisure resource’”.
In other words they maintain that the barrage is only an idea but have “plans… in the pipeline” for a “major outdoor leisure resource” which Preston City Council have explicitly linked to the “construction of a barrage” to “enable and support” it.
Preston City Council are Pressing Ahead With Barrage Proposals - Despite Environmental Concerns:
In a recent Council meeting Cllr John Swindells, an opponent of the barrage, asked what this major outdoor leisure resource was referring to and was told “The major leisure facility is the afteruse of the gravel workings at lower brockholes.”
In response to Cllr Swindell’s questions about the pursuit of the barrage scheme it was confirmed that PCC will be applying to the NWDA for £235k for the barrage feasibility study. They confirmed to Cllr Swindells their intention to continue pursuing their “plans”, and their determination to “go ahead” despite “the concerns expressed by RSPB, Environment Agency, Michael Jack and many others”.
The question is, WHY do they need to spend £235,000 investigating the "feasability" of a barrage on the Ribble when Environmental experts have enough knowledge about the impacts of such a scheme to oppose it NOW, whether an "idea" or a "proposal"?
- Laurence Rose, Regional Director of the RSPB said:
‘the barrage could destroy one of Britain’s most delicate ecosystems’ and “we are extremely concerned about a barrage across a protected estuary because anything that interferes with the hydrology of the estuary is prima facie bad news.”
(The Kirkham and Fylde Express, April 19th 2007);
- Dave Dunlop, from the Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester & North Merseyside, said:
The Wildlife Trust "shares the concerns of the RSPB… any development that would further constrain its natural functioning is a bad idea, and would presumably be in breach of the UK Government’s obligations under international convention and law."
(See comments on our blog Fylde community speaks out against the barrage)
- David Hinks, Chairman of the Ribble Fisheries Consultative Association, told us:
"The history of barrages placed across rivers shows that they impede migratory fish. The Ribble, thanks to the great efforts of anglers…, the habitat work of the Ribble Catchment Conservation Trust and Environment Agency, is just beginning to meet its spawning deposition target. Anything that puts this development back will put the Ribble at risk as a major salmon river. The whole ecosystem of the Ribble is delicately balanced yet Preston City Council refuse to speak to angling representatives."
- According to the Environment Agency, ‘the presence of a barrage structure across the [river’s] main water body automatically places it at high risk of not achieving the WFD [EU WaterFramework Directive] objectives’.
The River Ribble is the UK’s Pilot WFD River.
- Fylde MP Michael Jack said:
“Mankind has an enormous responsibility to look after the estuary and its wildlife and I don’t think we should be monkeying around with that for the sake of making money. You play around with nature at your peril. I remain deeply sceptical about this proposal.”
(The Lytham St Annes Express, on April 19th 2007);
It is also the case that the many Legislations which protect the Ribble because of its International, and European and National importance to the environment presume AGAINST any project which might impact on this delicate inter-tidal ecosystem - unless there is no alternative - WHICH THERE IS!
Read more about why a barrage would be so damaging to the Ribble's environment.
PCC have justified their pursuit of a Ribble barrage by claiming that it will create “many new opportunities for river usage ranging from angling, boating and general water-based recreational activities to birdwatching, walking , horse riding and cycling.”
This is patent nonsense. Thousands of us already engage in all of these activities along the Ribble as NONE OF THESE ACTIVITIES NEED A BARRAGE.
It is the height of stupidity to claim that leisure resources will be increased by plans that will destroy our Green Belt, our allotments, football pitches, the biodiversity and tranquillity of the River and riverside areas, and the very environment which hundreds of thousands of birds and fish and other wildlife depend on.
The barrage would be environmentally and economically disastrous for the whole Ribble corridor since a barrage on the River Ribble:
- would put so many of our communities at increased risk of flooding;
- would undermine the Ribble’s ecosystem upon which both nature and our communities depend;
- and thereby also undermine the very thing which forms the basis of the Ribble Coast & Wetlands Regional Park, and the £115 million this will generate every year from new visitors.
Preston City Council should start publicly engaging with the concerns that local residents and Environmental organisations have about their “plans” for the Ribble and its Green Belt instead of trying to diffuse opposition by denying that they have “plans” at all.
If Preston City Council listened to local residents, Environmental organisations, and other communities and their representatives along the Ribble corridor, they would stop pursuing these irresponsible “plans” or “key project proposals” or whatever they want to call them once and for all, for the sake of the environment, local communities, and the future of the most important estuary River in Britain.