Suffolk: Sailing clubs’ concerns at costly new licensing scheme

A CONFUSING and costly new stream of red tape was among concerns put to the country’s head of marine management at the annual meeting of a Suffolk waterways group.

Sir Bill Callaghan, chairman of the Marine Management Organisation (MMO), joined Suffolk MPs Therese Coffey and Peter Aldous, and former environment minister John Gummer, the Lord Deben, on the panel at Suffolk Coast Against Retreat’s AGM.

Dozens turned out at the Riverside Centre in Stratford St Andrew to hear more about the organisation’s approach to the management of marine resources along the coast.

Some took the opportunity to raise the issue of licensing fees and an apparent lack of awareness among seafarers and river users of the roles and responsibilities carried out by the MMO - a non-departmental public body set up with all-party support two years ago to contribute to sustainable development in the marine area.

Chris Gill, incoming commodore of Orford Sailing Club, said that despite planning permission being granted for a dinghy park extension, the club was recently charged for a licence it was unaware existed. Mr Gill added: “A man was passing on his day off from the office and produced a badge from the MMO before asking if we had a license.

“We had been through weeks of planning and at no stage were we told we needed something called a marine license.

“We were told it was £2,700 and that it would take two months to process. With £10,000 of work left, that was in excess of 25% of the project’s capital cost.

Most Read

“After some back and forth we were told we would only have to pay £450 and that the license would arrive in two weeks. That posed the question of whether these licenses were discretionary.

“If this remit extends to high water it means that every owner of every slipway or quay-heading will all need licences if they wish to repair or repaint them.

“The MMO seems to do exactly the same work as the local authority but charges almost 20 times the fee.”

Mr Gills concerns were shared by Roger McCombie, of Deben Yacht Club, which carries out minor dredging near its slipway every two to three years. He said: “We are facing the prospect of having to apply for numerous licences for relatively minor jobs. It would be helpful to do these with one overall license.”

Dr Coffey also pondered whether preventing minor dredging by small organisations was the best use of the MMO’s resources.

Sir Bill responded by saying he was aware of issues surrounding license fees but that the MMO was under instruction by the treasury to achieve “full cost recovery” from license fees. “We want to be proportionate,” he added. “This is in our remit and we are driven to uphold the principles of full cost recovery but I will go back and see what can be done.”

On the more general issue of the Suffolk’s long-term shoreline management, Sir Bill said: “I have an appreciation of the beauty – and sometimes fragile beauty – of the Suffolk coastline, where there are so many different activities taking place.

“The MMO was created to provide a one-stop-shop approach to managing our marine area.”

As part of a twenty-year inshore and offshore plan, Sir Bill said the MMO intended to safeguard the important habitats and ecosystems of the coast while utilising modern resources to achieve sustainable growth and improve global competitiveness.

“We want to be an enabling regulator,” he added. “We are acutely aware that we are responsible for some complex decisions. We are not here to be loved, but we are here to be respected.

“We are sometimes caught in the crossfire of conservationists and developers. In general, we meet that challenge.”