New Forest East



Fawley Parish Council Online – 15 May 2004

Now that the celebrations are dying down, let us spend a few minutes examining why we won on Dibden Bay. After all, when we started over six years ago, the odds were about 4 to 1 against us.

Of course, we were a united community. Party politics were put aside as County Councillors, District Councillors, Town and Parish Councillors and their staff, English Nature, the Environment Agency, Friends of the Earth and – above all – Residents Against Dibden Bay Port rallied to the cause.

Yet, if I had to choose two words, which should be included in every toast to the saving of Dibden Bay, I would choose those first mentioned to me by the Residents’ Group Chairman Paul Vickers long before the public inquiry began: Shell Haven.

It was the prospect of a major port on the bank of the brownfield site at Shell Haven which showed there to be an alternative to Dibden Bay. It was also the prospect of Shell Haven that destroyed the credibility of key arguments previously used by Associated British Ports. And it was the prospect of Shell Haven, in my view, which showed the Government that it would be unnecessary, and untenable to insist on Dibden Bay.

First, the importance of an alternative: a Dibden Bay Port would have destroyed wetlands, which had been granted the highest level of environmental protection. This could only have been justified on the basis of an overriding national economic interest. With an alternative available, national need could be met without having to do this.

Secondly, ABP had originally claimed that the container companies would use only one port of entry to the UK. However, when it seemed likely that Shell Haven, Felixstowe and Harwich might be developed or expanded, ABP changed its tune and asserted that there would be enough business for all these ports to be profitable. ABP lost it completely when they added – absurdly – that the M25 would not be able to cope with container traffic for Shell Haven, whilst continuing to argue that the A326 would merrily absorb that from Dibden Bay.

Thirdly, although the Dibden Bay public inquiry could not express a view about the viability of other potential sides for a major container port, I always felt it significant that the government waited more than six months after receiving the Dibden Inquiry report before coming to a decision. What happened during that period? The answer is: a much shorter public inquiry into the much less controversial Shell Haven alternative.

At the time of writing the Shell Haven Inquiry report has not yet been published. I am not a betting man, but if I were I would wager a tidy sum that Shell Haven will probably be approved soon.

I do not often praise this Labour Government, but it does deserve credit for holding back the decision on Dibden Bay until at least one of the alternative schemes could be evaluated.

The fact that the excellent Paul Vickers and his team together with environmental and other bodies, were gearing up for a lengthy legal challenge may well have influenced the Transport Minister.

It has been a privilege for me to work on this campaign with so many first-rate people and organisations. It has been a delight that all our efforts have been crowned with success.