The West Solent – Looking For Balance

Posted on 04 Apr 2007

Since the last Newsletter appeared, the Society has been engaged on an preliminary round of consultations in relation to its proposals for the management of the West Solent. Consultees have included a wide range of mainly public organisations, including harbour authorities, yachting associations and conservation bodies. Undertaken with the valuable assistance of Kate Pike, a researcher from the Southampton Solent University, the consultations were enormously useful in enable the Society to refine its views.

As a result, the Society has concluded that its original suggestion for a Marine National Park in the West Solent is not at present achievable, even though the National Parks (Scotland) Act 2000 provides for such Parks in Scotland and there are many overseas. Our consultations revealed strong opposition to the concept in this region, possibly as a result of continuing ill-feeling locally about the background to the designation of the New Forest National Park. In addition, the Society felt that, in view of the vital importance of navigational, recreational and other economic uses of the West Solent, the over-riding precedence given to conservation interests inherent in the Sandford Principle applicable in National Parks may be inappropriate, to say nothing of the difficulties of applying it in the near offshore. What is really required in an area like the West Solent is a management regime in which each of the various interests in the area impinges on the other to the minimum extent possible. Otherwise, some interests are bound to be prejudiced, but such a regime is unlikely to be achieved without some organisation to deliver it – and there’s the rub!

The Society’s Parliamentary Panel argued very forcibly that the Society’s objectives for the West Solent should (if at all possible) be targeted on the forthcoming Marine Bill and the MPs offered to lend what legislative assistance they can to ensure that the Bill provides an avenue to achieve our goal for the West Solent. The Bill does not provide at present for the kind of regime we have in mind, but (for the moment) the Society is proposing the following structure:-

  • That the West Solent should become a Marine Conservation Area (MCA) (The Consultation Document issued by DEFRA on the Bill sees MCAs as the areas which require the most sophisticated degree of management).
  • That Marine Spatial Planning should recognise the Solent’s importance for recreation and that such planning should be introduced for the whole of the Solent as a matter of priority. (SPS understands that Hampshire County Council is inclined to favour this approach).

The legal framework for each of these elements is likely to be provided for in the Bill. Our third proposal, however, is not. It is that:-

  • That the West Solent management agency must balance conservation, recreation and other economic issues and that should therefore represent a mixture of public and private interests, including Public bodies (such as the County, Unitary and District Councils, New Forest National Park Authority, the harbour authorities, Natural England, Environment Agency, English Heritage, the Crown Estate, Southern Sea Fisheries Committee and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency) and Private sector stakeholders in the local economy (including representatives of local landowners, sailing, tourism, conservation and other interests).

Ideally, the public and private elements in composition of the authority ought to be approximately equal in weight.

The Society sees such a model as striking a balance between conservation and other interests in the West Solent and its vision of a management body which is truly representative of all those interests and not simply another ‘off-the-peg’ quango is central to securing the support of local interests.

The Society will continue to promote this vision during the consideration of the Government’s White Paper on the Bill.

Report by Professor M. Forster