You join us at a tense stage in the long-running campaign to protect the unique and distinctive natural environment of the Dungeness peninsula from the threat of airport expansion.
Welcome to the Saving Special Places blog – do have a rummage through the posts of the last six months. You will find several stories about our work to ensure that the best and most important wildlife sites in the UK and overseas are protected from harm and placed at the heart of decisions that affect them. Thanks for visiting these pages – I hope you’ll become a regular.
Anyway – back to Lydd.
Just a few weeks ago on 3 March the local authority (Shepway District Council) took a decision to approve two planning applications, one for a runway extension, another for a new terminal building. Councillors took this decision in the face of a clear recommendation from their own officers and Natural England to refuse the applications, mainly on environmental grounds. You can find out more on the background of the case by clicking here.
The RSPB has been active at Dungeness for over 100 years – initially employing watchers to protect nesting seabirds. Our Dungeness nature reserve is our oldest existing site, though we had to give up an earlier one nearby because of damage caused by land drainage. The history of the peninsula is one of some success but also serious setbacks. Uncontrolled housing and leisure developments in the middle years of the 20th century saw the end of Dungeness as the last breeding location in the UK of Kentish plovers. Stone curlews, so sensitive to disturbance and housing development also deserted the area.
Add to the mix military training, gravel extraction and a couple of nuclear power stations and it’s remarkable that so much nature has survived. Travel to Dungeness and visit an other world. Vast skies, the wind-shaped landscape dotted with small bungalows black-painted to resist the salt spray, the looming bulk of the power stations and the coming and going of tiny trains on the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch light railway. And birds – everywhere. Packs of loafing gulls and flotillas of ducks catch the eye but time spent quietly and patiently reveals so much more. A wheatear might fly before you, one of the early migrants heralding a new spring. Your gaze may follow fingers pointing out a bittern flying low over the reads on cupped wings.
The arching shingle ridges built by the sea, create a miniature world of plants and creatures that is fragile even to an ill-judged footstep. A Lilliputian rainforest of lichens and mosses inhabited by rare insects, some found nowhere else in the UK. It’s a landscape of contrasts, of land and sea, of little and large of ancient and modern. It challenges our sense of scale and beguiles our senses. It’s open landscape means it bares the scars of its history visibly, some healing, some still raw.
Lydd airport is currently used by around 3000 passengers a year – plans would boost this to half a million, with an aspiration to go on up to 2 million passengers per year. The assessment of the impact of this development on the fragile nature of Dungeness – carried out by consultants for the local authority and backed by Natural England – led to the planning officers of Shepway District Council recommending refusal of the planning application. This is the backdrop to the councillor’s decision to approve the expansion.
The threat of a full-on airport goes beyond just the impact on the special nature of Dungeness – the quality of life of the people that live there and the inexorable cranking up of the contribution aviation makes to climate change are also significant issues.
The pursuit of economic development was the context that overwhelmed consideration of risks to the natural environment, and of course jobs matter and will be at the forefront of the mind of elected councillors. We believe that Dungeness’ natural environment should be placed at the heart of any economic renaissance in the area, not further sacrificed to establish a fundamentally unsustainable industry. Many communities have come to learn the hard way that airports make challenging neighbours. Shepway still has a choice.
This decision was disappointing – but is only a milestone on a longer journey. The RSPB believes that the decision by Shepway councillors potentially contravenes key elements of UK and EU laws. Additionally, the decision is both regionally and nationally controversial and will have significant impacts outside the immediate locality of the airport. Taken together, these factors means that the airport expansion plans should be called in by the Secretary of State for determination at a public inquiry:
Conflict with UK and EU law - When councillors decided to approve the airport expansion plans, they did not fulfill their legal requirement properly to consult Natural England.
Regional, national and international controversy - An expanded airport at Lydd risks adversely affecting internationally protected wildlife sites. Therefore, approving the plans to expand Lydd Airport would clearly be controversial regionally, nationally and in a European context.
Wider impacts - By its nature, the airport’s expansion is bound to have impacts outside the immediate locality. These will include the likely damage to both the SPA and SAC, increases in road traffic and noise, and the impact that the increased emission of greenhouse gases will have on climate change.Add your voice to the call for a public inquiry.
If you believe that the decision to develop a large airport next to an internationally important wildlife site is wrong, please write to the Government Office for the South East to request the plans for expanding Lydd Airport be called-in for a Public Inquiry. Please refer to the three reasons given above in your letter.
Please write to: Jennie Gilks Sustainable Communities Directorate Planning Casework Manager (Surrey and Kent) Government Office for the South East Bridge House 1 Walnut Tree Close Guildford GU1 4GA
Do visit our new reserves web pages, they’ve been given a new treatment and look great. Here’s the link to the Dungeness page – for no better reason than our oldest reserve has been featuring a lot in this blog recently!
With spring bursting all around us, a visit to the countryside can’t fail to lift the spirts.
The House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee has published its report today on the proposed national policy statements (NPSs) for major energy infrastructure. The MPs have rightly delivered a ‘withering critique’ of the NPSs in their current form, and proposed many very sensible revisions.
The report contains one very significant disappointment, however. We are alarmed to see the Committee has recommended re-opening the idea of allowing a new nuclear power station at Dungeness. Ruling this out was one of the few clear recommendations in the draft NPSs we actually agreed with.
It would be virtually impossible to compensate for any loss to the rare shingle beach habitat at Dungeness, which is already under threat from plans to expand nearby Lydd Airport. It is quite simply the wrong place for a new power station.
In other respects the report’s recommendations, if followed, would make the energy NPSs much more acceptable. For example it says there are ways of bringing the spatial dimension back in for each NPS, so they “would provide valuable guidance and an incentive to bring applications forward in the most appropriate locations".
Linking all the NPSs together, they say, would be assisted by development of an ‘English national spatial strategy’. The Conservatives have promised to develop such a strategy if they win the election.
The Committee notes the 'lack of consideration of policy alternatives' within the environmental assessments for five out of the six NPSs. That's something we were strongly critical of. The report recommends Government should develop new guidance on how to do ‘appraisals of sustainability’ for NPSs - to ensure ‘consistency of approach’ and better assessment of cumulative environmental impacts.
The report also criticises the statements on the need for infrastructure of various kinds, particularly for conventional fossil fuel power stations. It goes as far as to suggest policy should ‘take a holistic view of the energy sector’ and that Government should consider introducing a ‘hierarchy of preferred generation technologies’.
Moreover, because of the ‘risk of locking the UK into a high carbon energy mix’, applicants should conduct a ‘full life cycle carbon assessment’ of their proposals. As a further safeguard against carbon lock-in, the Committee on Climate Change should be made a statutory consultee for relevant planning applications. So in all a very helpful report, but potentially bad news for one very special place – Dungeness.
The Scottish Parliament has sent a very clear signal to the developers, Peel Energy, that plans to develop a coal-fired power station at Hunterston on the Clyde should not even be on the agenda for Scotland. The Scottish Government will make the final decision on the application – but the view of Parliament was clear in the results of this vote. A majority of MSPs, including MSPs from the Greens, Labour, Liberals and SNP, voted against the Hunterston proposals, prompted by an amendment by Scottish Greens to a Labour motion, here's the amendment in full: "... and also opposes new unabated coal power capacity, and therefore calls on the Scottish Government to reject plans to build a new coal-fired power station at Hunterston given that large-scale CCS at existing coal or gas plants has never been successfully demonstrated." This is a great end to the first week of the campaign since the application was lodged – but this is most certainly not the end of the campaign.
Get ready for another three-letter acronym!
Sounds like the latest club sensation? Well no. MCZs are Marine Conservation Zones. They sound good don’t they?
They should be, they are one of the key outcomes from all the lobbying we (and that more than likely includes you) put into getting the Marine Act into law. Well we’ve been seriously short changed.
The criteria for the proposed MCZs don’t include seabirds. And here's a puffin making it's views clear.
The actual job of identifying MCZs rests with regional panels which will take decisions based on guidance. RSPB colleagues from around the country have stepped up to the job of sitting on these panels – they will all be starting from a distinct disadvantage. Here's a bit more on this story.
We now have a recipe for MCZs which is the equivalent of tomato-less pizza, hole without the toad, egg and chips without … you get the point!
One explanation might be that the Government is expecting the international designations of marine Special Protection Areas to do the job for birds. When we have one – it will be of great importance, but in the thirty-one years since the legislation was passed we’ve got but one (with two more in the pipeline). For nationally important places for birds at sea there is a real risk that they will be left out completely. However, this is still only draft guidance and we will pushing hard to get seabirds back on the list of criteria.