Solent Protection Society ‘Away Day’ 2019

This year our ‘Away Day’ to Eling Tide Mill took place on 7th October, a month later than usual in order to fit in with the availability of the Mill for a private visit.

Eling is in the centre of our region, close to Totton, at the head of Southampton Water. There has been a tide mill at Eling for over 900 years and the current Mill is over 200 years old, having been rebuilt c.1785 after storm damage in the 1770s. It is one of only two tide mills still operating in the UK. It was re-opened in 2018 as a fully operational flour mill after a restoration funded by a Heritage Lottery grant, to provide “The Eling Experience”. This includes the Mill itself, the visitor centre and a walk around Bartley Water (the mill pond). The Mill is a Grade II* listed building. The visitor centre includes a café and a museum. At the entrance to the Mill there is a small gift shop. Using the same method as millers from days gone by, freshly milled wholemeal flour is available for sale in the gift shop. The wheat, which is milled at Eling, comes from a local farm – Manor of Cadland – and carries the New Forest Marque.

The Mill is located on the seaward side of the causeway across Eling Creek. When the tide comes in, it pushes open one-way gates and fills up the millpond. When the tide turns and starts to ebb, it slowly uncovers the waterwheel, but the sea gates are closed, trapping the water in the millpond so the level in the millpond stays at the high tide level. When the tide has dropped to well below the waterwheel axle, the sluice gate can be raised. Water from the millpond strikes the lower blades of the waterwheel, spinning it round and allowing the milling to begin.

The photograph is an aerial view of Eling Creek facing East. In the centre is the artificial causeway which was once the main road from Southampton to Hythe and Beaulieu. The Mill is the red-roofed building on the causeway and the visitor centre is the white-roofed building to the left. The lake in the foreground is Bartley Water, the tidal pond which stores the water to drive the mill. In the distance, top right of photo is Goatee beach, which faces Southampton docks across the River Test.

For much of the mill’s life it was owned by Winchester College. A lease survives from the year 1418, when the College leased the mill to Thomas Mydlington, requiring him to maintain the mill and the causeway. The causeway was prone to collapse, for example it washed away in 1887. This problem continued up until 1940 when modern engineering calculations revealed the cause to be the design of the sluices. This was then corrected.

The tenancy of the mill included the right to collect tolls from vehicles using the causeway. Four-wheeled vehicles were charged 6d (2.5p) and two-wheeled vehicles 4d. These rates remained unchanged until 1970. In 1967, the toll collector was Tom Mackrell who had been one of the last people to operate the mill when it closed in 1946. Tom was toll collector and mill foreman, working for his brother Raymond, master miller of Eling Tide Mill. Having been out of action since then, the mill reopened in 1980.

This visit provided an opportunity to see two sides of your Society’s work – protection of ancient sites such as the Tide Mill, and mitigation of the effects of near-by large-scale industry such as the mountain of containers stored by Associated British Ports at the entrance to Eling Creek, top left of the photograph.

A blot on the landscape at Eling – ABP’s unsightly storage for empty shipping containers.

Fawley New Town

View of the site from the west

In the Autumn 2018 issue of the Society’s Newsletter we reported on the proposal to build a new town at Fawley on Southampton Water. This article is an update of developments since then. This is perhaps the most important development on the shores of the Solent this century and as such it is receiving close scrutiny from The Solent Protection Society. The new small town would be built on the site of the Fawley Power Station, which was closed in 2013. This is a brown field site but it is surrounded by the New Forest National Park and a small part of the scheme would be on National Park land.

The developer, Fawley Waterside Ltd., applied to both New Forest District Council and to New Forest National Park in May 2019 for Outline Planning Approval. The two applications are being considered together. NFDC invited comments by 31 August. Full details of the Plans, responses by interested parties, and comments from official bodies including local authorities and government departments are to be found on the NFDC Planning department website: at the last count there were 406 documents. NFDC had originally hoped to make a determination by 31 August but need more time and have now agreed with the developers to an extension of the time to 15 January 2019. Even when NFDC have made their determination the scheme might need to be referred to the Secretary of State for a potential call-in.

Illustrative view of Fawley Waterside across Southampton Water

We, Solent Protection Society, submitted our response on 27 August. Of course we have concentrated on those aspects of the plan which directly affect the Solent, such as view from the sea, and possible effects of pollution of the sea and of the Solent air.  The full text of our response is reproduced here.

“Dear Sirs,

These comments are from the Solent Protection Society (SPS) which exists to protect the Solent and its tidal rivers and estuaries for future generations.  The comments are primarily directed at the element of the scheme within the control of NFDC however we have copied them to NFNP as that aspect of the scheme in the national park, while of less concern to SPS, is an integral part of the whole and does have some impact on the waterfront.

SPS is generally supportive of the planning policies laid down by both NFDC and NFNP, however, we are concerned that aspects of the proposals that front the waterside do not adequately meet some of those policies.

In particular:

  1. We consider that the size and scale of the buildings fronting the water, being much further forward than the former power station could be over dominant, with no landscape mitigation and will be unacceptable when viewed from Southampton Water. They do not sufficiently ‘scale down in density towards the water front’ as set out in policy ii a).
  2. We consider that the light pollution from these building will be to the detriment of the marine environment and have a far greater impact than the existing power station.
  3. We would expect to see the waterfront buildings set  further back with extensive tree planting in front to mitigate the impact and enhance the coastal margin, the coastal path and the proposed ‘Solent Promenade’.
  4. We would remind NFDC and NFNP that there is a real risk of storm water overflows from the proposed sewerage system and we would expect to see this fully mitigated with complete separation of storm and foul water and full storage capacity for foul water to prevent any storm discharge of foul water into Southampton Water or the Western Solent. Petrol interceptors to all roads and parking areas should be provided before discharge of storm water. Such storage capacity should not rely on Southern Water.
  5. We would expect to see regular monitoring reports on water quality adjoining outfalls and in the salt marshes as a legal condition of any approval with adequate penalties for any breach of EA standards and that this applies both during demolition and construction as well as in the future once the development is complete.
  6. We would expect any approval to condition by legal agreement any dredging activity and to ensure that there was beneficial use of dredging to replenish the salt marshes.
  7. While not of direct concern to SPS we note that the infrastructure of roads in particular will be seriously impacted by the size of this development and that more extensive works than those proposed will be needed if it is not to cause serious congestion and further pollution to the north.
  8. We would expect the scheme to include mitigation of climate change and for a substantial proportion of the development to be to Passive House standards.
  9. The proposal is likely to substantially increase the footfall on the coastal path and we would expect to see moneys from planning obligations directed to ensuring that the coastal margin and the many protected areas in the vicinity falling as spreading room, whether or not there is a Section 26 notice, are adequately protected by fencing to restrict both pedestrian and dog access in particular.
  10. We note the National Grid building on the waterfront is to remain which is a pity as it will assume a greater prominence and has no merit in the landscape. Planting in front of this would be of assistance in mitigating the impact.
  11. We have not been able to find a specific reference to the ‘view from the sea’ which is critical from the busy shipping lane of Southampton Water. It may be in the documents somewhere but we would expect to see a photomontage of the view from Southampton Water superimposed on the existing buildings and including the National Grid building and the landscape to the south. Only then will it be possible to really judge the scale and mass of the proposals.”

The Principal Development Management Officer of NFDC, Mr Ian Rayner, has written to Deloitte, the agent of Fawley Waterside Ltd, to set out the latest position of the Local Planning Authority on their application proposals, and has published his letter on the NFDC website. It is 12 pages long so we will not reproduce it here, but pick out the points which may be of most interest to SPS members:-

He says:

  1. we do need to have a clear understanding of the scheme’s viability”.
  2. “The south-east corner of block 11 extends very close to the harbour entrance and ought to have a greater setback.”
  3. “In my view, 3 of the landmark buildings are of particular concern. The 98 metre high tower would be a very significant building. It seems that the driver for the height of this landmark building is to provide a structure that is visible from both ends of the Solent. I don’t believe this should be the overriding driver for determining the height of this building. The key objective should be to design a landmark building of a scale that is appropriate to the new townscape and to its location on the edge of the National Park, which I think could be equally achieved by a lower building.”
  4. “The 49 metre high landmark building in the site’s north-west corner is set fairly close to the taller 98 metre high landmark building. We need to see clearer images of how this tower would work in proximity to the larger tower, but together I do feel that these 2 landmark buildings would present too dominant an edge to this part of the development.”
  5. “The 56 metre high crystal tower has been designed to reflect the glass end of the existing power station building. However, it has been confirmed that it would not be viable to rebuild the existing structure and that the proposed new building would therefore need to be built with new materials… I think this building, as proposed, is inappropriate.”
  6. “In the light of the Environment Agency’s response, we would ask you to clarify the detail behind the foul drainage proposals, and to confirm what discharge consents are being utilised for these works.”
  7. “As set out in Natural England’s response, you need to better demonstrate how nutrient neutrality will be secured. This a critical matter, and unless you can demonstrate that nutrient neutrality will be achieved, it will not be possible to grant planning permission.”
  8. “In their consultation response, our Environmental Health team have asked that you provide additional information in order to clarify the development’s potential impact on air quality, as well as to ensure that future occupants have an appropriate quality living environment. I would ask that you respond to the specific questions that have been raised.”
  9. Our Environmental Health team have also posed a number of questions relating to noise and lighting (aside from the noise concerns raised earlier in this letter). Again, I would ask that you provide additional information to address the concerns that have been raised.”

We believe that, if approved, this project is likely to take about 10 years to complete. We intend to keep members up to date by reporting on progress in future SPS newsletters and on the SPS website.

Fawley Waterside and Calshot development plans

A major development is being planned on the site of the Fawley Power Station by a new company, Fawley Waterside Ltd. The company has ambitious plans to create a new small model town, with echoes of Poundbury, the prettiest New Forest Villages, and Old Lymington, with about 1500 homes. There will be a marina accessible from the Solent 24/7. They also plan to build an Hotel, a Yacht Club, shops and restaurants and marine industries, with the objective of creating more than 2000 jobs in the new community.

Proposed site plan for Fawley Waterside and Calshot Village

Work has already started on demolition of the old power station structures and the iconic chimney, which can be seen from most of the Solent, is to be removed. In its place, Fawley Waterside propose to construct a glass tower 100m high, subject to grant of approval for an outline planning application yet to be submitted. We will bring you details of this application when available.

Artist impression of the ‘canal side’ development and glass tower

The same development company are also planning to build 30 new homes in nearby Calshot village. Both projects are described in brochures published by Fawley Waterside Ltd., all of which can be accessed and downloaded by selecting this link. The link will take you to an index page for all documents published by the developer. Their recently published Calshot Village Exhibition brochure provides a high level summary of both projects.

Solent Protection Society is keeping a very close eye on these projects: we aim to influence the plans to help to achieve a development of which the Solent community can be proud and which enhances our environment.

Solent Protection Society Celebrates 50 Years

Posted on 23 May 2006

Solent Protection Society celebrated its 50th anniversary with a lunch for over 140 people at the Royal Yacht Squadron in Cowes on 19th May.

Members and guests including Chris Huhne, MP for Eastleigh and Peter Viggers, MP for Gosport, heard the Society’s former President, Maldwin Drummond, a founder member of Solent Protection, talk about the Society’s work since its inception in 1956, including the successful opposition to an oil refinery in the Hamble River, a nuclear power station at Newtown River and an oil fired power station at Fawley.

More recently Solent Protection Society worked with other organisations and associations to oppose successfully the Container Ship Port at Dibden Bay and larger ferries on the route between Lymington and Yarmouth.

The Society continually monitors planning, development and pollution matters in the Solent area and, as a result of a successful campaign in 2004/05, reached an understanding with oil companies operating in Solent waters that they will use only double hull tankers, significantly diminishing the possibility of an oil spill in the Solent.

Mr Peter Nicholson, who became Solent Protection Society’s President last November, said that there were even more challenges for the Society in the future including the pressure for more development, the demand for more marina space, the importance of developing sustainable energy programmes and, in particular the Society is keeping a close eye on developments with the Government’s Marine Bill which is now pending.

Solent Protection has put forward a proposal for a Marine National Park in the Western Solent and has recently commissioned a research project on the subject, the results of which will be available later this year.

Referring to the proposed Marine National Park, Mr Nicholson said: “If properly set up this must make sense  although many people will be afraid that it will simply bring with it increasing levels of bureaucracy and management by civil servants with no relevant local experience. It will need careful planning to be successful and existing harbour authorities will probably be reluctant to support any proposal like this, but the Department of the Environment has reacted quite favourably so far to our paper on the matter and we expect to hear more in the autumn.”

Call for West Solent Marine National Park

Posted on 09 Mar 2006

The West Solent, a beautiful and busy waterway which stretches from Lepe Beach to The Needles, is under ever growing and conflicting pressures.

Popular with tourists, walkers, boating and watersport enthusiasts and fishermen, the Western Solent is also used by some commercial shipping, as well as the ferry service from Lymington to Yarmouth.

The Solent Protection Society is mounting a campaign to make the West Solent a Marine National Park, balancing its use for recreation with the conservation of its setting, its wildlife, fisheries and archaeological remains.

Professor Gerald Smart, representing the Society, says “We have drawn up a report that looks at the problems, and how the multitude of interests might best be co-ordinated by a partnership of mainly local organisations, in line with Marine National Parks in other parts of the world. We hope that our ideas will get a lot of support”.

There is a huge growth of interest in conservation of sea areas, and the Society hope that the Government’s proposed Marine Bill may allow Marine National Parks to be officially designated and funded.

Solent Protection Society is consulting widely on the report.

West Solent Marine National Park Report

Posted on 07 Jan 2006

Introduction and Summary

A ‘Solent National Waterpark’ was proposed by the Society fifty years ago, at the instigation of leading members Sir Hugh Casson and Maldwin Drummond. Unfortunately the time was not right for this imaginative idea to take shape, but there has recently been a massive renewal of interest, internationally and nationally, in the conservation of sea areas. This, and the likelihood of a Marine Bill being published by the Government next autumn, presents a new opportunity.

Furthermore, the National Park concept, the purpose of which is to integrate open air recreation and conservation in countryside areas of national importance for both, has received a new lease of life. The New Forest has now been designated as a National Park; a similar proposal is under consideration for the South Downs; and two National Parks have recently been established in Scotland.

For sea areas, Marine National Parks already exist in many parts of the world, and are now under consideration in Scotland. In this report which we hope will be read by members of the general public as well as coastal experts we therefore look again at the idea, focussing our attention on the West Solent rather than the Solent as a whole, for reasons that are explained.

The report’s major points, in summary, are:

  • The West Solent’s outstanding qualities are widely recognised and are different from those of the East Solent, Southampton Water and Portsmouth Harbour. It is a coastal waterway with few equals in England and Wales (paras 1.2, 1.3, 1.4). The main pressures impacting on it arise from recreation, but to a lesser extent from shipping, fishing, climate change and pollution (paras 2.1 to 2.6).
  • Although the number of craft moorings in the West Solent is small compared with the Solent as a whole, there is a significant user influx from outside, the implications of which need consideration (para 2.2).
  • The maintenance of a fishing industry would be helped by a study of the ecology, health and exploitation of the stock (para 2.4).
  • Difficult decisions will have to be made on how to deal with the impact of climate change on the West Solent, and there is likely to be some re-thinking of pollution control strategy for the area as a result of the Water Framework Directive (paras 2.5, 2.6).
  • There is no marine planning system in the West Solent (as indeed is the case in other sea areas) comparable to the comprehensive systems on land (para 3.4).
  • Ideally, the multitude of users and their interests in the West Solent might well be best co-ordinated, represented, managed and strategically developed through a Marine National Park, covering an area from the Needles/Hurst Spit (in the west) to Lepe/Gurnard (in the east), bounded by mean low water mark and the harbour limits of Lymington and Yarmouth (para3.5)
  • The ‘pluses’ of an established Marine National Park outweigh the ‘minuses’ (para 3.6).
  • It is important, therefore, that the proposed Marine Bill, to be published in the autumn of 2006, should provide for the establishment of Marine National Parks generally (para 4.2).
  • Pursuit of the above issues through the Bill would more effectively be achieved by the Society in conjunction with other organisations, particularly with the help of a debate in the Solent Forum (para 4.3).
  • The aim, in principle, should be to have the West Solent designated a Marine National Park, planned and managed through an appropriate partnership of statutory and non-statutory bodies concerned with the area (para 5.2).
  • In preparation for this, there is a need to develop in more detail the aims, administration and funding of such a partnership, and to enlist the support of local MPs and other interested parties (paras 5.1, 5.3 to 5.5).
  • An appendix to the report gives brief particulars of 11 Marine National Parks overseas, proposals for at least one in Scotland, and the Chichester Harbour Conservancy

1. The character of the West Solent

1.1 Stretching from the Needles to Lepe, the West Solent is a very special part of the Solent waters. On the mainland side, bounded by the coastal plain, estuaries and woodlands of the New Forest, its outstanding features include the remote shingle ridge of Hurst Spit and its castle, the contrasting beauty of the Keyhaven and Beaulieu Rivers, and the busy Lymington River. On the Island side it is contained by the dramatic cliffs of the Needles promontory, low lying cliffs, pasture and woodland further east, chalk hills and, notably, the historic harbour of Yarmouth and sheltered Newtown Creek. Over 13 miles long and about 3 miles wide, the West Solent is a very popular waterway for recreational sailing and a tourist attraction, and is used to a limited extent by shipping. It is a prime habitat for birds, summer and winter, an important oyster fishery, and contains a wealth of marine archaeological sites. All these attributes, natural and cultural, combine to make it an economic resource of importance to the area.

1.2 The West Solent’s excellent qualities are recognised by various official designations of national and international importance: the New Forest National Park; the Island’s Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Heritage Coast; eight Sites of Special Scientific Interest; two National Nature Reserves (North Solent and Newtown Creek); an extensive Ramsar site (which includes a European Special Protection Area and Special Area of Conservation), and a further Special Area of Conservation, all with European legal obligations; designated shellfish waters; and several protected monuments and wrecks.

1.3 By comparison, the East Solent, Southampton Water and Portsmouth Harbour are more urbanised, and their national economic and defence importance is reflected in the navigational controls exercised by Associated British Ports as a Harbour Authority, and the Queen’s Harbour Master. Like the West Solent, however, they, together with Langstone and Chichester Harbours, are valuable sites for wildlife. These are the busiest parts of the Solent’s renowned sailing waters, but the West Solent’s setting, comparable in quality to Chichester Harbour, though more diverse, make this part of the Solent a uniquely attractive environment, deserving special treatment.

1.4 Indeed, in England and Wales as a whole, we believe that the West Solent has a quality of landscape, marshy, wooded and hilly, and of seascape, partially enclosed but extensive and oceanic, with magnificent bird life, that makes it a waterway with few equals. Like Milford Haven in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, and the Menai Strait at Anglesey (which is partly an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty), it is a unique bit of coast.

2. Pressures on the West Solent: recreation, shipping, fishing, global warming, pollution

2.1 The Solent region is home for over 1million people and is within 2 hour’s travel time for some 20 million. With the increases in economic activity and housing planned for SE England (for example, possibly 120,000 new houses in Hampshire alone in the next 20 years), recreation pressures on the Solent’s shores, waters, viewpoints and other visitor attractions will burgeon. Over the same period the ownership and use of cars is expected to increase substantially. For sailing, the RYA is quoted as foreseeing a doubling of present levels, nationally. Undoubtedly the amount of water-based recreation will grow well beyond what may be seen by some as acceptable limits, whatever steps are taken to control it, short and long term. During the last 20 years moorings in the Solent increased by about 30%, but there are lengthy waiting lists and it is likely that the planning and capacity constraints which currently make it difficult to meet such levels of demand may be seriously challenged.

2.2 In the West Solent, only about 2900 of the 24000 craft on moorings or in marinas in the whole Solent area are found there (350 at Yarmouth, 550 Keyhaven, 1600 Lymington, and 400 Beaulieu)*, but a look at any radar scan will show a notable influx from outside, especially during Cowes Week and at times of other major events. Undoubtedly the pressures mentioned above can impact upon the West Solent’s qualities. There are severe constraints on development through the Local Authority Development Plans and Coastal Management Plans, and the harbour management measures in the Lymingon, Keyhaven and Beaulieu Rivers and greater use of trailer boats will increase noticeably despite a severe shortage of .These totals do not include sailing dinghies. There are, for example, at least 250 in dinghy parks at Keyhaven parking space and ever-growing weekend queues at launch points, as will the huge increase in power-boating, water-skiing, jet-skiing, kite-surfing and other ‘extreme’ sports. The situation could become chaotic in the course of time, the impacts being greatest in terms of congestion, but increasingly in terms of noise and safety on land and water. They will be felt in harbour areas, but more and more on the open water beyond the limits of Harbour Authority and Local Authority jurisdiction, where they can and do now cause disturbance and safety risk. They will also affect wildlife, especially the ‘key risk areas’ listed for monitoring in the Solent European Marine Sites study: vegetation and physical features such as saltmarsh, inter-tidal mudflats and sandflats. There will be cost implications, and the question arises as to whether further recreation management should also be considered outside the Harbour Authority areas.

2.3 In terms of commercial shipping, although there are some 75000 shipping movements in Southampton Water annually, the West Solent with only 3000 of these (plus a small number of naval vessels) is not a busy route, its main use being by the frequent car ferry services from Lymington to Yarmouth. There being no pilotage service available, only a few smaller tankers, container ships and ro-ro vessels pass through the area. The bid by Associated British Ports for Harbour Authority powers in the West Solent might have resulted in an increase, but this was turned down for a number of reasons by the Secretary of State for Transport in 1996. Nevertheless, although incident rates in the Solent as a whole are very low, safety concerns over possible groundings, collisions and oil-spills in the West Solent are still being expressed as a result of a recent report by the Marine Accidents Investigation Board into what was in effect an isolated case.

2.4 The West Solent is a mixed sea fishery, its most significant resource being the inshore shellfishery for native oyster which is carefully regulated and is of international conservation importance. The West Solent’s fishing waters are probably more ‘natural’ than other parts of the Solent, due to less disturbance. The harbours of Keyhaven, Yarmouth and Lymington support about 50 fishing vessels out of a total of some 170 in the Solent as a whole, a total that has declined seriously, although there has probably been an increase in recreational fishing. Information is notably lacking about fisheries in the whole area, ie the ecology, health and exploitation of fish stocks, though it is known that oyster catch rates have declined recently to very low levels. Fisheries legislation is a very complex and contentious matter, but it is clear that the economic future of this local industry is a cause for concern, and that every effort to maintain fish stocks should be supported. This would be considerably helped by a study of the ecological context within which the industry operates, the need for which is becoming essential

2.5 Pressures on the West Solent include those thought likely to result from climate change: rising sea levels, greater frequency of storms, the effect of greater rainfall on river flows, and by changes in temperature affecting marine species but also producing warmer summers for recreation and tourism. Critical lengths of the shoreline are physically protected by various means, but substantial stretches are not. The most immediate effect of these pressures is their impact on features such as Hurst Spit, the salt marshes and, behind them, the sea walls, and the Island’s cliffs. This will result in ‘coastal squeeze’ (eg off Lymington and Keyhaven) , flooding risk, habitat loss, and disturbance to mooring areas, including marinas. The Local Authorities, Environment Agency and English Nature have done much work to monitor change and prepare wide-ranging coastal defence strategies, but Shoreline Management Plans will increasingly require tough decisions with serious financial implications, such as whether to ‘hold the line’ or encourage ‘managed retreat’. It is essential that these plans and others needed in future under the far-reaching Water Framework Directive are closely integrated with land use controls and harbour management measures.

2.6 Pollution levels in air, water and on coastal land in the West Solent are on the whole low, and tidal flushing helps keep this so. Though standards are complicated, controls exercised by the Environment Agency, Local Authorities, Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, are exacting. There have been huge investments by Southern Water in water treatment schemes on the mainland and the Island and great efforts have been made to ensure that the area’s three beaches (Lepe, Colwell and Totland) comply with European bathing water standards. Concern continues, however, about the increasing level of beach litter, about agricultural run-off of into rivers, and about the possible residual effects of tri-butyl-tin anti-fouling paints, now banned for use on small boats. Furthermore, since little is known about the ecology of the open waters, as noted above, the effects of pollution there, if any, is uncertain. The Water Framework Directive is likely to result in some re-thinking of pollution control strategies, and its effect on management of the Solent area can only be beneficial.

2.7 Minerals, oil extraction and dredging might be thought to threaten the West Solent, but these are not current issues. Despite the underlying gravel base, no mineral licences are in force from the Crown Estate (gravel extraction even outside the area might affect the stability of Hurst Spit), and oil prospecting has apparently not revealed reserves that are commercially viable. Dredging is only occasional, and for harbour maintenance rather than for capital purposes. Energy policy, on the other hand, may result in significant developments such as wind turbines visible from the water, and, in due course, possibly the use of tidal flows.

3. Benefits of a comprehensive approach

3.1 This brief review of the West Solent’s character, and the recreational, shipping, fishing, climatic, pollution and other problems that may affect it, suggests that although the amount of water-based activity in the East Solent is undoubtedly greater, the natural resources of the West Solent, particularly its landscape and seascape, being of a higher quality, are more sensitive to adverse change. We believe that by their very nature they need special protection. The question arises as to whether their protection is currently adequate, and, if not, how it could be improved.

3.2 On land, the protective measures amount to local planning policies and controls in line with the National Park and Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty designations. These are comprehensive and, despite the occasional failure, are well attuned to protecting the landscape from inappropriate development. They apply down to low water mark, ie the local government boundaries. When supported by positive action through environmental and recreational management, they can to an extent safeguard against unacceptable daily pressures onshore.

3.3 On the water, controls in sea areas around Britain generally have rightly been described as a ‘minefield’. Within the harbour authority areas of Lymington and Yarmouth there are navigational and other measures, exercised through Harbour Authority powers and local byelaws. Such controls apply in a less statutory sense at Beaulieu, and Keyhaven through ownership of the river beds, and at Newtown through the National Trust. Beyond this, where the right of navigation exists but is governed, especially for safety, by statute and codes of practice, other controls tend to be specific, none being clearly focussed on the ever-growing pressures of recreational use. These controls include ones over dredging and disposal of spoil, land claim from the sea, laying of moorings, effluent discharge, and even commercial fishing. Subject to some procedures for consultation, they are exercised under various provisions, including European Directives, by a range of separate organisations. These include government departments (eg Defra and Department of Transport), and organisations such as the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, the Environment Agency, the Crown Estate (owners of the sea-bed) and the Southern Sea Fisheries Committee.

3.4 Thus there is no marine planning system in the West Solent as comprehensive as that for the mainland and Island, and no formally co-ordinated approach to matters such as the relationship between the environmental ‘carrying capacity’ of sea areas and of the local shore bases from which recreational and other pressures are derived. This is, of course, far from unique to the area, and may not be everyone’s immediate concern. Nevertheless, the sensitivity of the West Solent’s natural resources, the likely future growth of water recreation and other pressures, and the lack of thorough knowledge of its marine ecology, could, despite the ‘precautionary principle’, well reveal long term weaknesses in protection. It remains to be seen to what extent the Government’s commitment to set up a coherent network of marine protected areas and to restore fishing stocks, and the proposed Marine Bill (see section 4 below) will tackle some of these general issues. Meanwhile we think that the case for a close look at the implications for the management of the West Solent is a convincing one.

3.5 Arising from this, and having regard to the main pressures outlined above, we suggest that the following should be considered as general aims for the area:

  • There should be two essential purposes in future policy for the West Solent – conservation of its natural and cultural resources, and improvement of the enjoyment of recreation, controlled to sustainable levels;
  • Priority should be given to the former of these two purposes where there is any serious conflict between them.

Within these general aims:

  • The area’s seascape, coastal landscape, wildlife and archaeological heritage should be conserved and enhanced in a coherent way;
  • Opportunities for recreation should be maintained and where possible increased, with the purpose of providing an enjoyable experience for all at a level that is compatible with the landward access arrangements;
  • Shipping should remain a minor activity, with enhanced safety, and, if possible, some limit on the size of ships;
  • Commercial fishing should be encouraged, to an extent that does not damage biodiversity;
  • The extraction of minerals or oil should not be allowed;
  • Steps should be taken urgently to gain a better understanding of the marine ecology of the area.

Ideally, implementation of these aims would require an overseeing body that can take a strategic view of the area and its needs, exercising control on such matters where appropriate, can give guidance to organisations responsible for day-to-day control, can monitor progress, and can promote research and education in the qualities of the area. Its role would be broadly similar to that of the National Park Authorities that exist in countryside areas of national importance for both landscape and recreation, though with the addition of powers resembling in some respects those of a Harbour Authority. Initially it might take the form of a partnership of Local Authorities, Harbour Authorities and other main stakeholding interests, constituted in such a way as to be able to make authoritative decisions. If, in due course, the area were to be designated as a Marine National Park, the partnership approach should become more formalised and finite boundaries would need to be set. These might include: in the west a line from the Needles to Hurst Spit, in the east between Lepe and Gurnard adjoining the Port of Southampton Harbour Authority area, and in the north and south mean low water mark, the Harbour limits of Lymington and Yarmouth and the mouth of Newtown Creek. Effective cross-boundary co-ordination with adjoining planning and harbour authorities would be essential.

3.6 If one were to work out a ‘balance sheet’ of the advantages and disadvantages of this, one would find on the ‘plus’ side:

  • Social, economic and environmental benefits, due to more attractive recreation, more input to the local economy, and better protection for natural resources

and on the ‘minus’ side:

  • Administrative and financial costs, due to a new level of local control and cross-boundary liaison, and the cost thereof, although in the case of existing National Parks the additional cost is in practice met from central funds.

In our view, provided the new arrangements add value and do not duplicate, the advantages will outweigh the disadvantages. We believe that in the long term more comprehensive management of the West Solent will be required in any case and it would be preferable to set this up in a way that meets conservation and recreational needs, rather than aim it specifically at navigation.

3.7 We note from the summaries of Marine National Parks overseas and in Scotland attached to this report that these aims and their implementation, on the sea and under it, would not be out of line with world-wide practice. Much can be learnt from these areas, for example on the involvement of stakeholders. They do however differ considerably in character from the West Solent in location, size, character, administration (which is sometimes draconian and not without conflict), and finance (though this is usually subsidised by central government). The summaries include a brief description of the Chichester Harbour Conservancy which, though not a National Park Authority, is of particular relevance in its harbour management and conservation role to the type of partnership authority that may be required in the West Solent.

4. The implications of the Marine Bill

4.1 The question arises as to how such aims might be affected by the Government’s proposed Marine Bill, due to be published probably in November 2006 after a consultation period. A London conference on the Bill on October 25th, a fascinating event at which two of members of our Council were present, included addresses by Defra officials who described the Bill’s purpose as: to manage the conflicting demands of recreation, aggregates, shipping, energy and fishing, whilst maintaining conservation objectives. The emphasis in the latter was on biodiversity, especially under the water. We were told that the Bill has all-party support and could include:

  • Introducing a statutory system for Marine Spatial Planning (MSP);
  • Streamlining some of the regulations for development consent (see paragraph 3.3 above);
  • Establishing a possible new marine management organisation (MMO) for planning, consenting and advising. (This might be an executive agency, or a non-departmental public body, and would need special funding);
  • Establishing a framework for protecting important marine areas, species and habitats (referred to in discussion as a Marine Protection Area, MPA);
  • Introducing revised inshore fisheries management measures.

The conference saw this as a fundamental change in such control as there is of sea areas, equivalent to the setting up in 1947 of the post-war town and country planning system on land.

4.2 Little more is known about the detailed contents of the Bill at this stage, but the consultations mentioned above are expected to begin early next year, and will include ‘stakeholder events’. We have already written to Defra putting the case for the Bill to provide for Marine National Parks generally, there was no specific mention of the concept from the conference speakers, although we made the point in the discussion period. We now think that the protection of the West Solent as a Marine National Park in accordance with the aims in paragraph 3.5 above, rather than as a MPA (which seems to be primarily an ecological safeguard), or controlled solely by MSP, should be pursued as soon as possible. By this means the idea could be used to influence the general contents of the Bill as it is being prepared. To await its eventual publication would be to miss a golden opportunity.

4.3 We could not go further than this as effectively by ourselves as would be possible with the help of other organisations, and we think the Solent Forum, of which we are one of the main funding members, might be asked initially to provide a platform for a balanced and authoritative debate to take place. We understand that the Forum may shortly be sponsoring a workshop on the implications of MSP for the whole Solent, and this may be the occasion to introduce the issue, it being important to do so while Defra is still engaged on consultations before publication of the Bill. To expect the Forum to go further and undertake a detailed study, however, would go beyond their current work programme. It might nevertheless be possible, with their help, to initiate an academic research project for this purpose, but to do so would require special funding, for which we would need to find sponsorship. Even if the Bill, as published, did not specifically provide for Marine National Parks, the study would highlight the problems and opportunities of the West Solent and thus provide a base for further consideration of its future.

5. Conclusions: the essential points for action arising from this report

5.1 The need for provision in the Bill for Marine National Parks should continue to be impressed on Defra

5.2 In our opinion the West Solent should, in principle, be designated as a Marine National Park, planned and managed by a partnership of statutory and non-statutory bodies concerned with the area

5.3 In preparation for this we ask the Solent Forum to consider hosting the debate referred to in paragraph 4.3 above and to approach academic institutions in the region, on our behalf, to see whether the related research project can be undertaken. The terms of reference for the project should include defining aims for conservation and management of the area, the boundaries to be adopted, and ways in which it might be administered and funded as a partnership, both in the short and longer term. We should urgently investigate possible sources of funding for the project.

5.4 We should make a suitable press release and inform local MPs, asking for their support

5.5 At an appropriate time we should send copies of this report, for comments, to organisations who might be interested in the idea but are not represented on the Forum’s working party.

6. Acknowledgements

In preparing this paper we have made grateful use of information in the following documents: Strategic Guidance for the Solent (Solent Forum, 1997) Marine Consents Guide (Solent Forum, 2002) State of the Solent, Edition 2, 2004 (Solent Forum) Report of Solent Coastal Management Conference, 2004 (Solent Forum) Planning Guide for Boating facilities (RYA and BMF) Conference Papers for Towards a Marine Bill (CMS, 2005) Websites on overseas and Scottish Marine National Parks The legal structure of marine parks (paper by Christian du Saussay, University of Nice).

Report by Professor A.D.G. Smart, CBE