Riversway Councillor's Consultation - The Save The Ribble Response
Save The Ribble welcomes the fact that some local councillors are asking local people their opinions in a consultation about proposed developments on the Docks. This is not an official Preston Council consultation but one organised by local Councillors in some wards of Preston only, in response to residents' concerns, and it is taking place above and beyond any consultation exercise Preston Council may engage in, should it do so at some point in the future...
We also welcome the principled stand of John Swindells, who has gone one step further and said that he will oppose the Riverworks Barrage proposal. We hope other councillors will soon start listening to and representing the interests of their electors by emulating Councillor Swindells.
In the Docks consultation exercise, we welcome that the individual aspects of the Riverworks proposals are being treated as individual proposals as some elements of the overall project may have some merit. As such, each needs to be presented to the public as individual consultation exercises.
However it is disappointing that we are not being consulted on the issues that most concern residents first: the ideas of a Barrage across the Ribble and 4000 houses in its green belt and floodplain... but it appears that the proposals which affect the Docks are on the agenda first...
The Docks consultation is to be welcomed, but unfortunately it is very limited as only a relatively small percentage of Preston households are being asked their opinion, the information it provides is rather sketchy, and it does not really explain what the proposals are in any detail, thus it raises more questions than it answers...
We will give the best response to the Councillors' Docks consultation we can, given the sketchiness of the consultation document's own information, alongside the lack of information about the development proposals from Preston Council officials and the Vision Board, or any details about what their plans actually are, other than "sound-bite" proposals. UPDATE: see comments section below for clarification about why the current Docks consultation is vague about the proposals, and Councillor Davenport's intentions to broaden the scope and depth of this consultation in the near future...
But first, in order to think about the future, we need to learn from the past - how did we get where we are today?
A huge development took place on the Docks in the 1980s. Many of us remember the brave promises that the council made at the time - many very similar to those that are supposed to be in the current Riverworks proposals where Sports Arenas, Entertainment Zones and great floating platforms all seem to be on the agenda.
The development we got in the 1980s, however, was mired in allegations of corruption and undemocratic practices. The Docks development we got was a pale shadow of what we were promised.
According to David Borrow, now an MP,
'There were major failings in the way the council handled aspects of the Riversway development and various building contracts and land deals."
The Operation Angel investigation into the allegations of corruption found
"inappropriate and, in some cases, criminal behaviour by a small number of officers and members."
None of those involved in the allegations of corruption and criminal behaviour were ever identified. Nobody was sacked, no councillors resigned from their seats. No apology was given to the people of Preston, who saw £millions of pounds in public money lost, and instead of the wonderful facilities they had been promised, got a few shed-like superstores and a housing development: the needs or wishes of local people had not been considered, and pedestrian and safe cycling access was (and remains) dire.
We hope that although no-one was ever convicted, no-one was sacked, no-one resigned and no apology was given, that Preston Council at least made an effort to learn the lessons of the scandal - procedures should have been put in place so that future developments, for example, should be run much more democratically and transparently, with clear lines of accountability to the public.
Two decades later however, we have Preston Council putting together multi-million pound proposals with an unelected 'Vision Board' and outside Consultancy agencies, with publications and proceedings kept away from the scrutiny of local people and even of elected councillors, queries from the public unanswered, requests for information refused, legitimate concerns dismissed as "scaremongering"...
One job for our local councillors then, is to challenge any secretive practices, to make sure that everything the Council and the Vision Board says and does is open to the public view.
We turn to the questions in the consultation itself:
The first question is related to the idea of building on floating platforms in the Dock basin itself:
This seems an attractive idea at first, particularly to those of us old enough to remember the 'Manxman'... and sounds like it has potential, although it does seem a shame to effectively reduce the size of the Dock basin itself rather than better utilise the land around it.
Such platforms would, however, bring the public into much closer proximity to the water and therefore to the toxic Blue Green Algae that infests the area, so questions need to be asked concerning the safety of these proposals, and the eradication of the Algae. The persistence of the Docks' Blue Green Algae infestation (which has now been present for many years) is evidence of the difficulty in eradicating this toxic substance from impounded water. If Preston City Council cannot manage to eradicate it from this stretch of water after many years, we wonder how they expect to be able to manage, prevent, and treat Blue Green Algae blooms and other water quality issues that would affect the River Ribble if this is also impounded by a barrage... ?
The second question is about the lack of true public leisure facilities in the Dock area - which is dominated by retail outlets: This is an area where we hope our Councillors will strongly argue for better leisure resources, for local people and visitors - BUT THIS MUST NOT BE AT THE EXPENSE OF EXISTING LEISURE FACILITIES - such as our local football pitches at Penwortham Holme, Vernons and Frenchwood Rec, which must NOT be built over in return for the promise of facilities on the Docks. By all means provide extra facilities, but not at the expense of our existing ones!
Question three relates to the very poor pedestrian access to the Docks: Anything that the council can do to improve pedestrian - and safer cycling - access to this area will be more than welcomed.
Question four relates to environmental issues: - Our key environmental point is that any development on the Docks must not affect the River Ribble in any way. The Ribble is a very precious, environmentally-sensitive habitat for a huge range of local and international bird and fish species, and also offers local people a beautiful 'breathing space'. This needs to be protected at all costs.
It is difficult to comment on any other environmental aspects of the docks' development proposals (other than the Blue Green Algae discussed above) as the details of what is being proposed have not been presented...
Question five is about any other issues we wish to raise - but only about the development of the Docks: Improving the Docks as a leisure facility is generally to be welcomed - with the proviso that none of the proposed developments impact in any way on the River Ribble itself, or our green belt and flood plain areas, or existing local sports pitches... and improving access to the Docks for pedestrians and cyclists is also very much to be welcomed.
Further questions would inevitably be raised if we had been given details of what the proposed 'leisure and entertainment uses' might be; the proposed 'attractions for visitors'; or the 'indoor and outdoor events', but as these are only concepts without detail, it is difficult to comment... we can only reiterate our concerns that ANY developments, events, facilities, uses, or attractions, on the Docks should not impact on the River Ribble or our green belt and flood plain areas...
... If, for example, any of these developments are dependent upon a Ribble Barrage, or involve development on our green belt and floodplain, or involve the loss of other local sports facilities, then we would reject them;
If, for example, there were to be water-based activities involving speedboats or jetskis on the Docks, we would not want this to spill out onto the River to disrupt the peace and quiet of the River itself - with or without a Barrage...
Any other issues we would wish to raise about the central concerns we have regarding certain aspects of the Riverworks proposals are that:
- Any barrier to spate water flowing downriver (such as the proposed barrage) will also increase the risk of flooding all along the Ribble corridor, particularly those communities local to the proposed water sports park such as Riversway, Middleforth, Penwortham, Frenchwood, and Walton le Dale Residents. Our councillors should openly oppose this. To represent local peoples' interests properly, they should be pressing council leaders to make a clear statement that they no longer intend to build the Ribble Barrage or any new housing in its floodplain.
- Other parts of the Riverworks proposals are also causing concern, such as concreting the riverbanks from Frenchwood through to Brockholes for boat moorings, which would destroy vital riverbank habitat for the Ribble's wildlife inhabitants, and ruin one of the many aesthetic attractions of the riverbank for visitors and local people alike. This would also cause changes to the rivers' flow as water flows much faster past concrete than riverbank muds and vegetation.
- We want to point out that building 4000 houses on greenbelt land next to the Ribble would destroy a beautiful green area which is not only home to our local sports pitches, but our allotments, woodlands, meadows, and our beautiful countryside - and also happens to protect us from flooding. More of our councillors should openly and energetically oppose any developments which threaten this irreplaceable local resource.
Update: We welcome Councillor Davenport's comments in the Comments section below. Read what he has to say and email him with your views about what you would and would not like to see in these development proposals at firstname.lastname@example.org