SPS calls for additional investigations in Lymington River

Posted on 11 Jan 2009

There are two key factors relating to the introduction of the new ferries on the Yarmouth-Lymington route.

  • A licence is required for the completion of terminal modifications at Lymington.
  • Vessels are entitled to use the port of Lymington without any consent from the   Harbourmaster, provided that they comply with the reasonable requirements of the Harbourmaster.

The Harbourmaster is under a duty to operate the harbour safely and also to have regard to the environmental impact of port operations, specifically on the Special Area of Conservation (SAC).

Since the new ferries’ arrival, safety trials have been conducted under the auspices of the Lymington Harbour Commissioners, but have not been completed because the full range of weather and tidal conditions have not occurred.  Wightlink proposes introducing the new ships into service in January in order to achieve a phased withdrawal of the C Class vessels, whose passenger certificates expire in the first quarter of the year, and has confirmed that this is possible without completing the terminal works at Lymington.  SPS considers that the LHC response of developing an Interim Ship Operating Profile is an appropriate and proportionate response with respect to safety matters.  The Society is aware that there are some unresolved safety issues, but these are being dealt with by LHC and monitored by other local groups.

The Society believes that there are unresolved environmental issues relating to vessel operations which must be properly addressed.  This cannot be done without the formal advice from Natural England (NE), the government environmental adviser, on which the regulators, including MFA and LHC, must base their decisions.  The advice will form the basis of the Maritime and Fisheries Agency’s Appropriate Assessment of the impact of the terminal works on the SAC.  This formal advice is an essential part of the licensing process for the terminal works, but has no direct effect on the decision to operate the ships, contrary to the views expressed by some objectors.

We understand that Natural England wished to defer this advice until the completion of the ferry trials.  In these circumstances, we were disappointed to learn that Natural England did not request any additional investigations to be undertaken during the trials to measure the environmental effect of the ferries, as opposed to those required for safety issues.

We believe that the publication of the NE advice is imminent and will indicate a high probability of a small adverse impact from the present ferries, that over the years has had a significant cumulative effect.  It is believed that the new ferries will continue to have a similar effect. SPS was pleased to hear that it is LHC’s intention to take this advice into account and, where appropriate, modify the Interim Ship Operating Profile.  SPS acknowledges that the Harbourmaster and the other Commissioners will have to achieve the difficult balance between the environmental, social and economic needs (as envisaged by the Habitats Directive), and that it regrettably seems to be inevitable that the judgement is likely to be based on imperfect information.  Experience of operating the new ships is limited and SPS would expect LHC to institute a monitoring programme to quantify the environmental impacts so that the Ship Operating Profile can be modified to minimise, or even eliminate, any significant adverse effects.

The urgent decisions about the introduction of the new ships are a matter for the LHC/Harbourmaster. The licence for the terminal works, including implementing the Habitats Regulations, can only be addressed when the NE advice is available and the MFA makes its Appropriate Assessment as part of the consent process.

It is important to recognise that there are two strands to this complex problem, the licence for the terminal, and the Harbourmaster’s decisions about how best to have care for the environment. Natural England have called for “an outcomes based approach”, the SPS calls for more detailed investigations to enable the parties to continue the movement towards decisions based on sound observations.

The principal interest of SPS in this matter is the environmental aspect, but the Society is strongly of the view that it is unhelpful to attempt to deploy environmental legislation inappropriately as a proxy for addressing safety matters.