'BAY NEEDED FOR LAND SELL-OFF – MP CLAIMS'

Lymington Times – 14 December 2002

Associated British Ports wanted to use Dibden Bay as a "dumping ground" for activities taking place on much more valuable land in the Southampton Port area, which could then be exploited to the maximum for commercially profitable, property-based development, it was claimed at last week's hearing of the Inquiry into the company's £750,000,000 project.

The view was expressed by New Forest East MP, Julian Lewis, during the final submissions to the year-long Inquiry, which was expected to close yesterday (Friday). He said he did not blame ABP for doing the best it could for its shareholders, "to sweep away all those unhappy encumbrances which are preventing extraordinarily valuable land in the Southampton Container Port area from being fully exploited to the maximum ..."

However, he went on to tell Inquiry Inspector, Michael Hurley:

"But their priorities are not my priorities as the elected representative for the residents of New Forest East, and above all, I respectfully submit, they are certainly not the priorities either of the Secretary of State or for this Inquiry.”

Those priorities were to see whether there was an alternative and whether the project was necessary and viable.

"There are alternatives, the project is not necessary, it is not viable and it really ought to be rejected out of hand.”

There were alternatives at Bathside Bay in Harwich, Shell Haven/London Gateway in Essex, or Thamesport and, since the Inquiry began, there was the possibility of Hunterston on the Clyde.

"Dibden Bay, out of all these proposals, remains the only one that directly destroys a protected site."

Dr Lewis accused ABP of trying to buy a ten-year option to develop Dibden Bay for a port.

"They are not actually, as I understand it, seeking permission to develop a port and only a port, but to be able to carry out other activities pending the building of the port. That suggests a degree of uncertainty.

“It suggests to me that really what they are trying to do is to get a foot in the developmental door of Dibden Bay so that the site can effectively be ruined before regulations become tighter and tighter in future years.”

Dr Lewis had pointed out that 6,500 people had objected to the scheme and there was an on-going petition of over 13,000 signatures so far. There had only been 170 representations from organisations and individuals of which 122 were from outside the constituency, and many were from firms or individuals directly or indirectly linked to ABP.

Southampton's prosperity

The MP's assertion that the company wanted to benefit from the release of valuable land at Southampton Docks was endorsed by New Forest District Councillor Nick Smith, who represents Marchwood.

He recalled that a witness for Southampton City Council, which is backing ABP’s proposals, had de­clared: "It is part of the prosperity of the city to encourage redevelopment of Portland”.

“Nothing can be clearer,”

Councillor Smith told Mr Hurley.

“Southampton City Council want Dibden Bay so they can build more houses, have higher council tax band housing along the waterfront and increase income. Simple for them, hell for the New Forest.”

Councillor Smith said that 6,000 people would see a dramatic fall in their quality of life if the project went ahead. Voicing the wholehearted opposition of Marchwood residents to the development, he declared the village character would be destroyed, and residents’ lives would be blighted on a daily basis by increased pollu­tion, noise, danger and traffic conges­tion.

"If this port is granted permission it will condemn all the residents to ten years of disruption during the construction and then the ongoing hell of living next to a major industrial port. Not one piece of evidence from ABP can justify the destruction of a community the size of Marchwood.”

"This Inquiry will have cost the residents of Southampton, Hampshire and the New Forest over £2m",

Councillor Smith told the Inspector.

"Every resident of Southampton, Hampshire and the New Forest should know that next year you will receive higher council tax bills due to ABP. When the council tax bill drops on your mat, remember ABP are taking money out of your pockets, even the residents of Southampton."

Environment Agency

On Monday, barrister Robert Griffiths expressed the Environment Agency's concerns, recalling that in his original submission he had suggested the proposals had the potential to cause serious harm to the marine and aquatic environment.

"At the end of this Inquiry that is still the Agency's position."

A very careful scrutiny of the proposals’ likely impact on those interests led the Agency to conclude they remained unacceptable in relation to the discharge of its statutory functions of protecting or enhancing the environment as a whole.

“Both the process followed and the findings reached by ABP in its assessment of the impact have serious shortcomings. The Agency are far from satisfied that these proposals can go ahead without there remaining a very real likelihood that they will cause serious, and in many instances lasting and irreparable damage to Southampton Water, the Test and Itchen estuaries and their fisheries, and the ecological interests as­sociated with the Marchwood and Dibden streams."

Significant harm was going to be caused to the fisheries by the devel­opment if it did go ahead, and ABP should be required to pay proper compensation in the event of that happening.

"This, they have made clear, they are not now prepared to do. That fact, in my submission, should weigh heavy with the inspec­tors and the Secretary of State in considering this application."

New Forest Committee

Referring to the complex characteristics of the New Forest, the largest area of unenclosed wild or unsown vegetation in lowland Brit­ain, and an extremely rare habitat in lowland Western Europe, John Saulet said that once the balance was upset, the results may not be known until some years after, and its effects would be difficult to correct.

Mr Saulet, appearing for the Hampshire Ornithological Society, the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Naturalists' Trust and the New Forest Committee, declared that scien­tists were not able to say how if one part were endangered it would affect any other. Nor could they say if one part was damaged that it could be replaced; or if it was damaged that it would not matter and that the overall importance of the site would not diminish.

''What comes from this is that, until all the necessary information is prop­erly available, a development of this magnitude should not be allowed.

"If this development proceeds and the sort of problems highlighted by the evidence presented to the Inquiry occur, it will not be possible halfway through to dig it all up, remove it and reinstate the site.

“Once this development has started, the economic and political arguments to allow it to proceed to completion in any event will be overwhelming.

'"The Dibden Bay site represents the last extensive link between the New Forest and its eastern coastline. If developed, not only will this link be severed, but the New Forest will suffer from a wide range of impacts, felt across a wide area of the Forest which cumulatively will cause irrevocable damage to this unique area."

Mr Saulet urged the Inspector to send a clear signal that such major development was incompatible with the conservation of the New Forest, and recommend the Secretary of State to refuse the application.