Dredging plan sparks erosion fears
EROSION of the Suffolk coast may get worse if plans for a huge seabed dredging operation get the go-ahead, it was claimed last night.The fears have been voiced in the wake of a bid being lodged to extract 15 million tonnes of sand and gravel from the seabed off the coast at Felixstowe.
EROSION of the Suffolk coast may get worse if plans for a huge seabed dredging operation get the go-ahead, it was claimed last night.
The fears have been voiced in the wake of a bid being lodged to extract 15 million tonnes of sand and gravel from the seabed off the coast at Felixstowe.
Some believe the dredging could increase coastal erosion - threatening homes, villages and whole communities over time.
But the companies behind the bid have insisted environmental studies show the dredging will not affect the shoreline.
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United Marine Dredging Limited, Hanson Aggregates Marine Limited and RMC Marine Limited lodged the application, which relates to an area of nine square kilometres off Felixstowe coast.
The scheme would see 15 million tonnes of sand and gravel extracted from the seabed over 15 years at an area known as “Cut Line”, around ten miles off Felixstowe.
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In a letter to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) - which will ultimately decide on the application - Bawdsey Parish Council spoke of the community's fears.
It reads: “There is a strong body of opinion, much of it supported by scientific study, that the offshore sediment, sand and shingle banks have formed a protective barrier to the waves arriving on our coastline and have been instrumental in retarding the rate of erosion of the beaches and cliffs.
“Reliable independent studies on the coastal impact should be undertaken by oceanography and environmental departments of a university.
“Until such an independent report is available no further licenses for dredging should be issued.”
Andy Smith, a member of Felixstowe Town Council, and cabinet member for coastal protection on Suffolk Coastal District Council, also called for an independent report.
“There's clearly a lot of public concern,” he said.
“It seems to me that it's incumbent on the applicant to commission a further study, using the very latest modeling technology, to demonstrate that there's not going to be a problem.”
John Gummer, MP for the Suffolk Coastal area, said he had already been in touch with the companies involved.
He added: “The companies themselves are supposed to provide the most detailed of environmental cases to counteract the natural feeling we all have that this isn't a good idea on a coast which is also severely eroding.
“It seems to me that we really have to look at these proposals extremely carefully. They have to prove that our fears are unjustified.”
Dr Andrew Bellamy, resources manager for United Marine Dredging, said the sand and gravel would be used in the construction of houses and other buildings in London and the South East.
“The Cut Line area is needed to replace resources that are in decline elsewhere,” he explained.
Dr Bellamy continued: “We don't get permission to dredge unless we've demonstrated that it's environmentally acceptable.
“We've carried out an environmental report and analysis and the work which we've done is now being scrutinised by various bodies.
“We specifically address coastal erosion in all applications and this is no different.
“We've carried out studies that show the sand and gravel we want to dredge is in no way linked to the coast.
“They are basically fossil deposits, so taking them will not have any impact on the sediment needed on the coastline.
“We've also been looking at the effect of deepening the sea bed and again, there's no impact on waves or changes to currents and tides.
“We've been extremely responsible about this whole thing. We are a responsible industry and the regulators have very high standards.”
John Brien, harbour engineer for the Harwich Haven Authority, which covers Felixstowe port, believed the planned dredging was “too far off the coast to have an impact on coastal erosion.”
He added: “We were consulted because it's close to our areas of interest. We had a number of questions for them, largely relating to navigation, in that the areas were close to, and some cases came right into, busy shipping areas.
“We had meetings with them and they took some areas of the application out all together. We also agreed with them some way in which we could know where their vessels will be.
“All our initial concerns have now been addressed and we are happy about things as they stand.”
A spokesman for the ODPM said the plans were currently out to consultation, which comes to an end on July 2.
“The length of time then for us to either issue a favourable or unfavourable Government view is very much dependent on the level of response to that consultation, but we're looking at probably three months or more,” he said.
“If we issue an unfavourable view then no further action would be taken, with no right to appeal.
“But, if it was favourable then we are looking at another three months before Crown Estates would issue the license.”