Historic lighthouses face closure

Thursday, August 4, 2005
8.05 AM

FOR hundreds of years, they have stood guard on Suffolk's coastline, guiding sailors safely through stormy seas.

But the flashing beams from lighthouses in Southwold and Lowestoft could be switched off forever under a major review of Britain's navigational aids, it has emerged.

FOR hundreds of years, they have stood guard on Suffolk's coastline, guiding sailors safely through stormy seas.

But the flashing beams from lighthouses in Southwold and Lowestoft could be switched off forever under a major review of Britain's navigational aids, it has emerged.

Trinity House, the lighthouse authority for England and Wales, is proposing to close the two Suffolk lighthouses within five years.

It said advances in GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) technology was behind the planned changes.

The authority, which is conducting an overall review of its 71 lighthouses, has earmarked 11 sites nationwide for closure.

Trinity House's plans include discontinuing the lighthouses at Lowestoft and Southwold by 2010, assuming there is alternative terrestrial radio navigation to back up GNSS.

Jeremy de Halpert, executive chairman of Trinity House, said its 2005 Aids to Navigation Review identified both Southwold and Lowestoft as lighthouses that would be discontinued in line with the principles of the General Lighthouse Authorities' long-term strategy.

Harbour authorities and user groups in Southwold and Lowestoft had been told of the plans, he said.

There are certain conditions under which the lighthouses would be switched off, including the introduction of back-up radio navigation that could be used by all mariners.

"I can confirm that Trinity House has contacted local authorities on several occasions to check that there are no objections or comments so as we understand it there are no maritime user objections to these two closures under these conditions," said Mr de Halpert.

Because no such radio navigation system is in operation yet, it was too early to estimate the timing of the closures, he added.

Trinity House, which is funded by maritime users, undertakes a major review of its facilities every five years. Consultation is under way on the proposed changes.

"If the consultation finds that mariners do not rely on the light from the lighthouse for their navigation then the lighthouse may be switched off," said a spokeswoman.

"In this case the buildings will remain a prominent part of the coastline as they are listed buildings."

Southwold Lighthouse, a coastal mark for passing ships and guide for vessels entering the town's harbour, was established in 1889.

The building, in the town's Stradbroke Road, was fully automated in 1938 and stands 31ft high, sending a white beam 18 miles out to sea.

Its red light, visible for 15 miles out to sea, serves as a warning of the sand banks to the north of Southwold and to Sizewell bank to the south.

Peter Austin, a Southwold town councillor who helps organise public tours of the lighthouse, said: "It will be a very sad day indeed if the lighthouse ceases to be operational.

"There is no doubt that something will be lost if the lighthouse is not working as it has been part of the town's history for so long."

Lowestoft Lighthouse was first established in 1609, but has undergone several rebuilds, the most recent in 1874.

It was electrified in 1936, automated in 1975 and stands 16 metres high, with a light beam range of 23 miles out to sea.

The other lighthouse on the Suffolk coast, at Orfordness, is not under threat in the ongoing review and is earmarked for new Automatic Identification System technology by 2010.