Public Meeting Opposes Ribble Barrage and Ribbleside Urban Developments
First pictures from the packed meeting
Full report below
At the first Public Meeting about the Riverworks scheme - co-organised by Riversway Councillors and Save The Ribble Campaign - a number of experts gave their views on the Ribble barrage and Green Belt/Floodplain development proposals, and the packed meeting was able to listen to the issues first hand and ASK QUESTIONS.
Meeting Rooms A and B at Preston Town Hall were filled to capacity as over 80 local residents attended the public meeting about the Riverworks Scheme and took the opportunity to express their views about the proposals to build a barrage across the River Ribble and houses and businesses on our Green Belt.
Public interest in the meeting was so great that a number of residents were turned away at the door because the meeting room was full.
The meeting was chaired by Councillor Bhikhu Patel, and members of the public had the opportunity to question City Councillors and listen to presentations from Leader of Preston City Council Cllr Ken Hudson, Cllr John Swindells, ex-cabinet member for the Environment, Save the Ribble Campaign, the RSPB, the Lancashire Wildlife Trust and the Ribble Fisheries Consultative Association.
In summary, the first half of the meeting involved a number of presentations from the panel of experts, explaining the key issues for and against the Riverworks scheme – although particular emphasis was placed, as expected, on the Ribble barrage and the Green Belt development proposals.
The presentations covered a number of aspects from the specific Riverworks proposals themselves through the environmental impacts on wildlife, biodiversity, protected species and habitats, flooding and siltation issues, and economic costs, to the specific nature of the River Ribble, how it functions, and exactly how the barrage would interfere with these functions.
Many of the presentations were reinforced by scientific, professional, and legal evidence, and provided a comprehensive examination of the issues.
The rest of the meeting was devoted to questions and issues raised by the members of the public, and covered a number of concerns, the most prominent being:
Demands that the Ribble ecosystem, Green Belt and floodplains, sports pitches and allotments, their diverse wildlife habitats and much-valued green spaces be ‘left natural’, ‘unspoilt’, and ‘undeveloped’;
Concerns about the potential flood risks of both schemes, and the impact on communities, house-prices, and insurance;
Concerns about over-development, unsustainable development, and insensitive development which ruined Preston’s character and assets, and concerns that riverside developments cause local residents to be priced out of their own community;
Concerns that the canal development has not been made clear, nor residents consulted, and that the pieces of information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act contradict one another;
Concerns about the conflicting statements made by different council officials, and about the role of the Vision Board, and the question of whether or not the barrage is “dead in the water” or merely “put on the back-burner for the time being”;
Overwhelming demands that the barrage and building development schemes be officially and publicly consigned to the dustbin for good.
Further details about the presentations and the issues raised by the public are published below… but rest assured that until the barrage and associated building development schemes ARE finally and publicly and unequivocally consigned to the dustbin, the campaign to Save The Ribble and our Ribbleside green spaces goes on…
Cllr Patel opened the meeting by saying it was an opportunity to hear different views about Riverworks and for residents to have their say, before inviting Councillor John Swindells to begin the presentations.
Councillor Swindells presented his position that Ribble Barrage would be a costly scheme that will damage the River forever.
Councillor Swindells was the City Council Cabinet member for the Environment when the Riverworks proposal was first developed.
He accepted that there were some positive aspects of the Riverworks project such as the ideas to improve the dock area. However, from the outset of Riverworks he has always been sceptical about the idea of a barrage. His scepticism was confirmed when he visited the Cardiff Bay Barrage and found that it has caused siltation problems, plagues of mosquitoes and the loss of important bird species.
He also pointed out that managing the environmental problems caused by the barrage continues to cost £20 million a year whilst the barrage itself cost £360 million more to build than the original estimate of £40 million.
Councillor Swindells became convinced a barrage on the Ribble was a bad idea and should never be built when he spoke to Cardiff organisations and local environmentalists who highlighted the environmental damage and increased flood risk that has occurred as a result of the Cardiff Barrage.
The Leader of Preston City Council, Cllr Hudson, was then given opportunity to explain the current position of the Riverworks proposals.
Cllr Hudson said that the Riverworks debate had become dominated by the issue of the barrage. However, while he believed that the River did look better with water at a permanently high level, he admitted that there was a lot of opposition to the barrage. He claimed that the Council had listened to members of the public and campaigners (presumably including Save the Ribble) and as a result had decided to split the Riverworks proposals into three different schemes: Riverside (the Barrage and associated riverside building developments); Quayside (the Docks), and Canalside (the Lancaster canal scheme).
He said the Council would now be concentrating priorities on schemes to improve the dock and canalside. He claimed that the Barrage scheme was now “out of the window”, and that future developments around the barrage and green belt development depended on the priorities of South Ribble Borough Council.
At this point a number of members of the audience demanded clarification of the Council’s position.
Was the Council now saying the barrage would never be built?
Councillor Bhikhu Patel intervened at this point and said that Preston City Council had issued a statement from the Chief Executive saying that the issue of the barrage had now been placed under the auspices of the LDF. This did not mean that the barrage was now “out of the window”, merely that it was now subject to the outcomes of the Local Development Framework. (editorial note: Ribblesiders will also remember that the recent Riverworks Position statement also shows that the barrage has merely slipped below the Docks in terms of immediate funding applications, and has not been dropped at all…)
Bhikhu then introduced Jane Brunning from Save the Ribble Campaign.
Jane thanked Bhikhu for the clarification and said that as the barrage is still on the agenda, the campaign to oppose the barrage and green belt development would continue until the scheme is dropped altogether.
Jane began with the Green Belt and floodplain urban development proposals: the “Central Park” development. She said that the largest area which would be affected by the proposals is the Penwortham to Walton le Dale Green Belt and Floodplain, but that Penwortham Holme and the sports pitches and allotments in that area, Frenchwood Rec, and Fishwick Bottoms, would also be affected.
Jane pointed out that, contrary to claims made in the Riverworks documents that building on these areas would “create a new sustainable community” and “create an open space and leisure resource for local communities in South Ribble and Preston”, all of these areas already ARE quality open spaces, including biodiverse wildlife habitats, wetlands, meadows and woodlands, football pitches and allotments, therefore building on any of these areas DEPLETES rather than “creates” quality open spaces.
She also pointed out that loss of quality open spaces and building on the floodplain which currently protects a large number of communities from greater flooding risks actually makes existing communities LESS sustainable.
Jane then moved on to the barrage proposal. She emphasised that, contrary to the Riverworks claim that the benefits of a barrage would be to create leisure and tourism opportunities, cover unsightly mudflats, and enhance flood defences, the benefits of protecting the Ribble’s free-flowing intertidal habitat includes not only the wildlife, but is a great benefit to our flood defences, and creates unique opportunities for sustainable tourism.
Jane explained the delicate and dynamic balance of an intertidal habitat, and why it depends upon the uninterrupted flow of fresh water, silts, and nutrients from upriver mixing with the salt waters and silts on the estuary. She also explained that interfering with this free-flowing intertidal ecosystem not only damages a range of wildlife and habitats, both upriver and downriver, but could also increase floodrisk.
Jane pointed out that the Ribble is the most important river estuary in the UK for wildlife, and that it is protected under UK and International law, as well as being the UK’s pilot river basin for the implementation of the European Water Framework Directive – aiming for sustainable water management – and she pointed out that the Environment Agency have raised concerns that “a barrage across a main water body places it at high risk of not achieving the WFD objectives”.
Jane said that the Ribble has ongoing management strategies which aim to protect its wildlife and also its flood defences. She pointed out that none of these official strategies have identified the need for a barrage to protect our communities from flooding but they HAVE identified the need to create more Ribble wetlands as effective and sustainable flood defences.
Jane said that the Conservation Regs 1994 legislate against any development taking place which “might” impact on the Ribble’s Special Protection Area unless there is “no alternative” – and she pointed out that there IS an alternative: don’t build one.
She explained that by not barraging the Ribble, and by not building on the Green Belt and floodplain, we will not only be protecting unique wildlife and habitats and our flood defences, but will be protecting the most important asset of the UK’s newest Regional Park – Ribble Coast & Wetlands – and that we can also contribute new tourist destinations to the Regional Park by designating the River Ribble and Green Belt areas which run through South Ribble and Preston a new countryside park.
Tony Baker, RSPB Ribble Site Manager, spoke next.
Tony Baker said that the River Ribble is the single most important river in Britain and should be cherished, and placed it in the top 3 attractions in the North West.
He said that building a barrage on the Ribble would be the equivalent of landscaping Scafell Pike to make it easier to climb.
He said the Ribble is of international importance, supporting a quarter of a million birds on the estuary every day in winter and forms a vital link for many millions of migratory birds from all over the world. These birds rely on the Ribble mud for survival and this mud would be lost if the Ribble was barraged – directly putting the survival of these birds at risk.
Tony also explained the importance of salt marsh for flood protection. Tony said that Preston City Council was right to make the most of its natural resources but that this should not be at the expense of damaging the Ribble - the “jewel in our wildlife crown”.
Dave Dunlop, Conservation Officer for the Lancashire Wildlife Trust, explained that the Ribble is important not just for birdlife but also other wildlife, including marine species. The Ribble is an important breeding ground for fish such as sea bass, crab species and harbour porpoises.
The silt from the River is contributing to the development of the important sand dunes in Sefton and St Annes which are significant and protected areas for a number of species. He explained that the Ribble estuary is already much smaller than 150 years ago due to land reclamation and channelling the river for the docks.
He emphasised that a barrage would put further strain on the estuary and would cause increased flood risk.
Dave urged Preston City Council to lead rather than follow the mistakes of other cities such as Cardiff, Belfast and Salford, and help Preston become a green City.
In a robust and rousing demolition of the Barrage scheme, Dr Mike Horner of the Ribble fisheries Consultative Association explained how a barrage would irrevocably damage the River, the fish who depend on it and the whole angling industry which contributes millions to the local economy.
Dr. Horner said that the Ribble is unlike other Rivers because it produces more sediment and siltation than many other Rivers in Britain.
All barrages have siltation problems but it would be much worse for the Ribble because of the amount of silt which flows down from the Pennines.
A barrage on the Ribble would mean that the river would require constant dredging behind the barrage at great financial cost and posing the question of where all the dredged silt would be put. He pointed out that the River is a spate river and that its level depended on rainfall much further upriver in the Pennines.
Increased rainfall and higher sea levels as a result of global warming will happen, and this would inevitably result in flooding in Preston if a barrage was built.
Because the Ribble is so nutrient rich it is also more likely to support blue green algae which would be a significant risk if a barrage was built – and make water-based activities impossible.
He pointed out that the Ribble is one of the top 6 rivers in the country for Atlantic Salmon - which is the 10th most threatened species in Europe.
Anglers work closely with the EA to improve the River habitat and Salmon population in the Ribble, which is recovering from serious depletion. Mike also pointed out the importance of the Ribble for coarse fishing.
Mike urged residents to enjoy the Ribble because it is an asset to Preston and the surrounding area. He said “We should contribute to it rather than ruin it”.
Residents Views and Questions:
(Editorial note: A number of issues were raised, and we apologise if some speakers are not mentioned individually).
One local resident said that, over many years, Preston planners had damaged Preston and said that the Ribble was the last unspoilt area – so it should be left alone.
Max, local resident and Save The Ribble campaigner, said that the Ribble barrage and building development proposals would damage the environment, and destroy valuable local amenities including the football pitches his own children and many others from Broadgate and Penwortham and other teams from all over Lancashire play on week in and week out.
He passionately urged that the barrage should be taken off Preston City Council’s shopping list rather than just put to the bottom, and he demanded an apology to all local residents for even considering the schemes.
The next local resident said it’s about time the council started listening to local people rather than the Vision Board and business interests.
One resident questioned the motivation for the plan and what need the barrage was addressing: he just didn’t see the point of it at all.
This was followed by a number of comments about commercial interests and property developers.
John Weedon, from the Lancashire Fisheries Consultative Association, criticised the Chief Executive of PCC for comparing the River Dee in Chester with the Ribble: he has known both rivers for decades and said it is not comparing like with like as the Dee does not have the same geography or hydrology as the Ribble.
Cllr Jim Hothersall of Penwortham said that whilst he was not speaking for SRBC, he stated that there would be no house-building on the area South of the Ribble, and there would be no development at all, including a barrage, if it would have ANY environmental impact.
Greg, a Broadgate resident, said the barrage idea had been well and truly demolished tonight.
He said that whilst he supported work to improve the Dock area, he warned that waterside developments always increase property prices and squeeze local residents out of their own communities. He also emphasised the importance of the Green Belt in South Ribble for wildlife and biodiversity as he didn’t feel this issue had been raised enough, as well as providing a fantastic amenity for local people from local communities.
Local resident Juliet asked Councillor Hudson, in the light of all the evidence that had been heard this evening, will the council will be scrapping the barrage idea?
Cllr Hudson replied that it had been a balanced debate tonight, but they still needed the facts that the feasibility study would provide, causing general uproar in the room.
He then said that he was convinced that nobody wanted a barrage, “therefore we won’t find the money for a feasibility study”.
There was then some debate about the issue of the feasibility study, and whether the barrage is or is not still on the agenda, and Jane Brunning asked why spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on a feasability study when the evidence already exists that the barrage is a bad idea?
At this point, Bhikhu Patel asked the SRBC Cllrs present whether they were in support of the feasibility study. Cllr Hothersall replied that South Ribble recognises that there is a siltation problem in the river, and therefore any study would be addressing that issue alone and not the issue of a barrage.
A Cllr for the Priory Ward in Penwortham said she would be concerned if the regional plan for the area resulted in an expansion of housing in the Penwortham area, when existing development is already unsustainable.
Someone asked why the Vision Board was not present, and Bhikhu pointed out that they had been invited but were busy.
Cllr Hudson said that the council is going to have increased input on the Vision Board, and that the Board was important for attracting money for Preston.
At this point, Bhikhu asked for a show of hands of all those who are against the idea of a feasibility study.
The overwhelming majority of people in the room were opposed to the study going ahead.
The overwhelming majority in the room also voted against housing on the South Ribble Green Belt and Floodplain.
At this point Jack Davenport questioned Preston Council’s current position on the barrage. He stated that the recent breaking down of Riverworks into 3 sections was not a recent development as it used to split into 5 anyway, and pointed out that the statement that the barrage was now “on the back-burner” had been made by Cllr Hudson just days after a council officer had given a robust defence of the barrage at the Ribble Forum. He accused Cllr Hudson of spin, and said that “the barrage is still on the cards, make no mistake”.
Cllr Davenport criticised the lack of democratic accountability on the Vision Board, and said that the Chair, Malcom McVicar, had said that his job was to ensure that the presence of Councillors on the Board would not be allowed to slow the process down.
Cllr Hudson pointed out that the Labour group were the leading administration on PCC when the Riverworks scheme was first developed, and a bit of political banter ensued…
Cllr Hudson then said “the barrage is dead in the water… at this moment in time, but that it could be resurrected in the future” – to much uproar.
There were a number of points made concerning the conflicting positions outlined by Cllr Hudson, Chief Exec Jim Carr in his recent Riverworks position statement, and council officers, which emphasise that Cllr Hudson’s comments do not amount to an unequivocal statement that the barrage has been abandoned.
A local resident in the Maudland Bank area raised the concerns of a number of residents who will be affected by the canal scheme, and complained about the persistent lack of information and consultation about the canal proposals. He said he has had to resort to the FOI act to get any information at all, and the information which does arrive contradict one another…
Another local resident, John, raised the issue of flooding, and had with him on a disk a picture of Broadgate in the 1920s, under several feet of water – and pointed out that the picture was taken the day after the flood when the level had fallen by 3 feet. Unfortunately the powerpoint system was unable to take a disk to enable the picture to be seen at the meeting, but he kindly lent it to Save The Ribble so here it is…
Thanks John, a perfect illustration...
In common with other residents, he expressed concerns that increased floodrisk would result in residents being unable to insure or sell their houses.
A local resident from Higher Walton raised concerns about the impacts of being classed as living on the floodplain, and the impacts this will have on insurance.
Another resident asked Matt Crump from the Environment Agency his opinion on the issues raised, and Matt Crump said that the Environment Agency had no definite information that would enable them to formulate a clear position as there had been no clear proposals put before them. As a regulatory organisation, they would have to be involved in looking at the impact of a barrage but he could not say whether the EA would oppose the scheme because they had not seen any plan.
He did, however, emphasise that everything that had been said tonight about the significant impacts that barrages cause was absolutely correct, and definitely would occur.
A spokesperson from Preston Marina said that many years ago, he had been a proponent of a barrage, and had commissioned studies into the scheme, and addressed the issue of siltation as a barrage could incorporate engineering to move the silts. However, he said he no longer supported a barrage, and emphasised that Preston Marina operated perfectly well without one.
Unfortunately the meeting had to finish at this point, despite several members of the public wishing to ask questions and raise issues, as the building had to be vacated at 9pm.
Bhikhu Patel said that when anything further occurs with the Riverworks schemes, he will ensure another public meeting is held, and he thanked the public and the speakers for their contributions to the meeting.
Save The Ribble Campaign would like to thank everyone who came to the meeting, and apologise to those people who were turned away due to the rooms being full to capacity so were unable to get in and contribute to the debate themselves.
We would particularly like to thank our panel of experts:
Dave Dunlop, Conservation Officer for the Wildlife Trust;
Tony Baker, Ribble Site Manager and Andrew Gouldstone for the RSPB;
Dr Mike Horner and John Witham from the Ribble Fisheries Consultative Association;
Matt Crump from the Environment Agency;
Cllr John Swindells, and Cllr Ken Hudson from Preston City Council;
and Jane Brunning of Save The Ribble Campaign;
as well as sincere thanks to Councillor Bhikhu Patel for co-organising and Chairing the meeting, and Cllr Jack Davenport from PCC and Cllr Jim Hothersall of South Ribble for their contributions.
You can read the Action Ribble Estuary blog for their summary of the meeting.
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