Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 600 - 619)

WEDNESDAY 28 MARCH 2001

DR ANDREW BROWN, MR ROGER MORRIS, DR MARK AVERY AND DR DUNCAN HUGGETT

  600. It slows it up quite dramatically.
  (Dr Avery) That is quite right in terms of the fact that we are dealing with sites of international importance. The United Kingdom and the United Kingdom coastline is of international importance. We have millions of wading birds and wildfowl moving between the Arctic and Africa. It is right that there are hurdles and proper procedures that have to be gone through before internationally important sites are destroyed.

  601. I will give you a specific, if I may. There is a farm that has been purchased in Kilnsea on the Humber, which was purchased by Associated British Ports in mitigation for the loss of habitats elsewhere and it seems that that project, on the basis of what we have been told, has been delayed.
  (Mr Morris) Firstly, I do not think that we are talking about a deliberate delay. We are talking about a change of situation. The regulation 16 agreement that was actually agreed over the purchase and management of Kilnsea was some two or three years ago. Since then, as a result of discussions with ABP, we have undertaken a review of the special protection area boundaries and, as a result of that, we concluded there was a need for a change to the boundaries. That has been a factor in the advice that we have given to DETR as to the way they handle the reconsenting of the proposals at Immingham.

Chairman

  602. The farm was designated. It was agreed something would be done and over the last three years all you have done is redesignate the boundaries?
  (Mr Morris) No. At Kilnsea, firstly, we were not required to retreat to the line to create new habitat there. What we did undertake to do was to create new wetland bird habitat. In that respect, we have spent that time destroying the field drains. The drainage is now impeded, which raises the water levels. We have established dip wells to monitor the water levels. We have established bird monitoring.

  603. You have built some hides?
  (Mr Morris) No, but we have maintained the monitoring so that we know what is going on there. I rang our local office this morning on that particular issue and they tell me that there is between knee length and three-quarters of a metre of water on the site at the moment. They also say that the site is used regularly by all bar one of the species for which it was originally designed. The one species that is not represented is the ringed plover. The highest bird counts have exceeded 2,500 birds.

Mr Donohoe

  604. You are quite happy with the development?
  (Mr Morris) We think at this stage that it is doing the job that it was originally set out to do, but it has a number of provisos. It is identified as an area which could be retreated over to create a new habitat.

  605. You do not believe that you require additional resources?
  (Mr Morris) If you revisited that agreement, there must be a very serious question as to whether we should be doing the monitoring and environmental enhancement work on a piece of land to offset the detrimental impacts—

Chairman

  606. You signed an agreement that is not workable?
  (Mr Morris) No, it is perfectly workable. It is a growing development and situation for us; it is a new experience, but should a government agency find itself in the position of actually doing the work to offset this development.

  607. Why did you agree to it in the first place?
  (Mr Morris) At that time, it was an attempt to try and find a solution.

Mr Donohoe

  608. What do you do now when you have a similar problem?
  (Mr Morris) In a similar situation today, we would require the developer to do it.

  609. Have you any other schemes?
  (Mr Morris) There are a number of other schemes that have been put into place. A very good example is on the Stour and Orwell estuaries where Harwich Haven Authority were required to create a new area of intertidal to offset the impacts of the Harwich capital dredge. That has been managed entirely by Harwich Haven Authority, all at their own expense. It has been a very expensive process and it comes back to one of the crucial issues about government guidance and strategic guidance. What we are saying is that, if you want to have port development that is absolutely essential to the wellbeing of our economy, there needs to be the strategic guidance to make it possible to streamline the consents processes. We are ready and willing to help but we can only do so much. We are tied to certain points where, if we go into discussions with the port, we cannot make cast iron guarantees to that port that what we say will be accepted by the consenting authority, which is the Secretary of State.

Chairman

  610. In fact, you would expect the port to enter into an agreement which you probably could not keep?
  (Mr Morris) That is the whole point. We cannot guarantee to make an agreement. Therefore, we need a degree of higher government involvement and strategic guidance so that, if we are required to actually undertake the negotiations, we can do so with the good faith that what we say to a developer will be accepted.

  611. Forgive me, Mr Morris. I can see one or two holes in this argument. What you are really saying is that I own a port; I have a problem. I say to you, "Well, all right, there will be loss of habitat here but I offer you somewhere else and it will be done." You are then saying, "Only if you pay for it, mate", or do I paraphrase too roughly?
  (Mr Morris) It is not just us saying, "Only if you pay for it."

  Chairman: There may be a chorus of voices saying that but is this the attitude that has come to you because you did an agreement which you cannot maintain? In this particular instance, you have flooded the land; you have monitored the birds. What else have you done? You have grown some reeds.

Mr Bennett

  612. You pinched the site off Yorkshire Wildlife as well.
  (Mr Morris) I do not believe that is the case. The land is owned by ABP. The land is leased to English Nature.

Chairman

  613. On the basis that you were going to create a new wetland habitat.
  (Mr Morris) Yes, and we have undertaken to create fresh water wetland habitat which is meeting the requirements.

Mr Bennett

  614. I understood that the original suggestion was that Yorkshire Wildlife would do it and presumably as a charity they would have a bit more money to spend than you have.
  (Mr Morris) I think that is a reason why we ultimately agreed that we would do it because we felt that the costs involved were so high that they could not be met.

Mr Donohoe

  615. How much have you paid?
  (Mr Morris) I cannot give you quotes on that.

Chairman

  616. But you can give us a note, Mr Morris, explaining to us what you have actually done, how much it has cost you, why it does not appear to be part of the agreement that you originally entered into and why you do not intend to do this again.
  (Dr Brown) Yes, we can.

Mr Bennett

  617. We have talked about the Habitats Directive; what about the Ports Directive coming from Europe? Is it a good idea or not?
  (Dr Huggett) I have had a look at the proposed Port Services Directive. I have heard what the ports industry says with respect to it potentially reducing the efficiency of their operations. I have yet to see any evidence in support of that but if indeed the Directive did reduce their efficiency that would be a concern to us. I have also heard what the shipping lines have to say about it. They are broadly in favour of the Directive because they say it will make short sea shipping in particular a more attractive proposition. Again, if it does, we would be in favour of it for the very reason that you have mentioned, it being an environmentally friendlier form of transport. At the moment, we have heard plenty of arguments for and against but have not seen any hard evidence to support those arguments and we have seen nothing to form a firm opinion on the Directive.

  618. Has English Nature got a view?
  (Mr Morris) At the moment, I do not think we can offer a view other than, if the Directive has a detrimental impact on the efficiency of the port industry that means that there will be a demand for more port capacity for the same level of service, then we would have concerns, but we cannot make any more comment.

  619. This is for the RSPB. You have a choice. You can campaign to make life difficult to develop ports by arguing is it necessary? Is it the right place? Or, you can try and discourage the amount of trade that goes on in this country. When the Committee went up to Humberside, we saw a substantial number of cars being brought in from Europe and parked in one part of the port and a substantial number of cars that were being produced in this country parked in another part of the port. These two lots of cars were going past each other amid empty transport carriers. Ought we to be encouraging that sort of trade? The other example is the large quantities of Danish lager which were coming into Goole. Is this a good idea or would it be better to encourage people to buy locally? If people bought locally, that might reduce the demand for extra ports. Would it not be fair as a campaigning organisation to try and change public opinion, rather than merely to make life difficult for the port operators?
  (Dr Avery) It would and that is what we in the RSPB do. I would agree with you that quite a lot of international trade is pretty low grade stuff, probably not contributing hugely to the quality of anybody's life, but in the medium term an awful lot of that international trade will continue. We would agree with your earlier point that if we are going to go in for international trade sea routes have a lot to offer in environmental terms. That is a reason for supporting ports, but when it comes down to an actual site there are still questions about how should a development occur, should it occur and what is the best way that it could occur. Our general support for using the seas more is at a strategic level which we think government has missed out on. You still have to ask really difficult questions if you are risking losing habitats of international importance that cannot be replaced. We would like to see government looking more at the existing capacity and the future capacity of ports. That is a strategic question which ought to be looked at. Assuming that there is future demand, which we think is the most likely case, then government ought to be looking at the best way of meeting that demand and it ought to be taking a view of the strategic overview: is short sea shipping, for example, a good way of reducing CO2 emissions through transport in this country? The answer is quite probably yes, but that work needs to be done rather than us all assuming that we know the answer.


 
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