Wednesday, 12 September 2007

The Gower SOS story so far by Richard Youle, Evening Post

Sand has been disappearing from Gower's beaches and many people suspect they know why. South Wales Evening Post Environment reporter RICHARD YOULE takes an in-depth three-part look at the row over dredging. Here's his report in the comments link below.


Anonymous said...

The story so far by Richard Youle, Evening Post

Sand has been disappearing from Gower's beaches and many people suspect they know why. South Wales Evening Post Environment reporter RICHARD YOULE takes an in-depth three-part look at the row over dredging. Here's part one and two of his report in the comments link below.

Sand has been disappearing from Gower's beaches and many people suspect they know why. South Wales Evening Post Environment reporter RICHARD YOULE takes an in-depth three-part look at the row over dredging. Here's part two of his report

09:00 - 10 September 2007

Sand has been disappearing from Gower's beaches and many people suspect they know why. Environment reporter RICHARD YOULE takes an in-depth three-part look at the row over dredging

"LOVELY beaches, highly recommend local beach Port Eynon which is fantastic for rock pool exploring."

The tourist who posted that website message after staying at a caravan park this summer in Horton, Gower, probably wasn't aware of the irony.

For Port Eynon beach has been suffering a decline for several years, losing sand and with old peat becoming exposed.

It's not the sort of place you would open a bucket and spade shop.
Many people are convinced dredging close by since the 1960s has helped cause the sand to disappear.

And they would rather have visitors talking about sandy beaches rather than rock pooling.

Others insist dredging has nothing to do with it. A third group takes the view that if there's any uncertainty, stop the dredgers and force them out further to sea.

The area of contention is Helwick Bank, a shallow sandbank nine miles long, three houses high and six football pitches wide, which begins just off Port Eynon point and stretches west.

Sand began to accumulate there at the end of the last Ice Age when vast glaciers scoured the land and rivers flushed the golden grains out towards the Bristol Channel.

Helwick Bank has provided hundreds of thousands of tonnes of high quality sand for the construction industry over the years.

Between 1993 and 2005 Llanelli Sand Dredging Ltd (LSDL) removed an average of 90,000 tonnes a year from there.

Their activities didn't go unnoticed.

In 1999, several people banded together to form Gower Save Our Sands (SOS), concerned about the increase in dredging and apparent loss of sand.

They urged the Government to reclassify Helwick Bank, already a Special Area of Conservation, to force an end to dredging there.

But it carried on. The Gower Society and National Trust began to muster their forces.

Tim Davies, who moved to Horton 12 years ago, is one of many local people who can testify to decline of Port Eynon beach.

"When I used to surf there I wouldn't see any rocks, but now I wouldn't dream of going there," he said. "It's in the past two years that the sand has dramatically dropped. That's when most of the changes have happened."

Tourist David Naylor, from Birmingham, became all misty-eyed when he visited Horton and Port Eynon this summer.

"When I visited the beach, I could not recognise it as the fine sandy beach that I have come to love," he said. "Where there was once golden sand with a few rocks protruding, there was just a jagged rocky surface that was very difficult to walk on."

He added: "I am unlikely to return in its present condition and will think carefully about any future visits to the area if other beaches are likely to suffer similar effects."

Words to strike fear into the tourist industry, a major breadwinner on Gower.

DREDGING at sea for sand and aggregates began early last century but did not become large scale until the 1970s, as markets grew and dredging technology improved.

In 2005, a total of 21.09 million tonnes of sand and gravel were dredged from the sea off England and Wales. In Wales, around 85 per cent of sand and gravel used in the construction industry comes from the sea, with land-based production very limited.

The group that owns the seabed mineral rights is The Crown Estate. It is managed independently, and isn't owned directly by the Queen or the Government. The Crown Estate awards dredging licences, but only after dredging companies gain planning permission from the Department for Communities and Local Government, or in Wales's case the Assembly. There are currently 71 licences around the UK, with 25 dredgers operating.

These licences earn The Crown Estate income - £15.8 million in 2006/07 out of a total turnover of £262.2 million. The majority of the profits go straight into treasury coffers.

LSDL, the dredging company which operates from Burry Port, is a subsidiary of Westminster Dredging Company Ltd, which is part of the world's largest dredging contractor, the Dutch-owned Royal Boskalis Westminster Group.

In the first half of 2007, Royal Boskalis Westminster more than doubled its profits to £53.3 million from the same period in 2006. A business website reported that turnover rose to a record level of £511 million, with particular growth in dredging and earth-moving.

It quoted the company's chief executive officer Peter Berdowski saying: "

This year, there are a number of particularly strong projects that generate extra margins."

LSDL has said it needs to remove sand from Helwick Bank to help meet an annual target of two million tonnes of sand from Welsh waters, a target laid down by the Assembly.

In 1993 it was awarded a four-year licence at Helwick Bank for a maximum extraction rate of 100,000 tonnes a year, which was extended by a year. A five-year licence granted in 1998, was again extended by two years.

When that elapsed in 2005 the company sought further permission - 300,000 tonnes maximum a year for 15 years.

This was exactly the same amount it had applied to remove from Nobel Banks in Carmarthen Bay a year earlier.

Opposition mounted to the fresh Helwick Bank application, and in October 2005, the then Environment Minister Carwyn Jones announced a public inquiry.

Gower SOS, the Gower Society, National Trust, Countryside Council for Wales, and community councils in the area were galvanised.

Powerful forces were converging - big business, the needs of the construction industry, conservation and people power.

The date was for the inquiry was set, June 20, a couple of weeks after LSDL got the green light to dredge Nobel Banks.

All roads led to the Ramada Hotel in Llansamlet. . .

08:00 - 11 September 2007

Sand has been disappearing from Gower's beaches and many people suspect they know why. Environment reporter RICHARD YOULE takes an in-depth three-part look at the row over dredging. Here's part two of his report

An inquiry into a dredging licence that took two-and-a-half weeks might not sound like the stuff of TV dramas.But behind the doors of the Swansea's Ramada Jarvis hotel last summer was tension, intrigue, stress and confusion.

In the red corner was Llanelli Sand Dredging Ltd (LSDL).

It wanted to remove 300,000 tonnes of sand each year for 15 years from the Helwick Bank, a shallow sandbank nine miles long and six football pitches wide, which begins just off Port Eynon in Gower and stretches out west.

In the blue corner were objectors, the Countryside Council for Wales (CCW), Swansea Council, the Gower coalition, two local AMs and an MP.

They were worried dredging could be causing sand to disappear from Port Eynon beach, increasing its vulnerability to winter storms.

And they wanted it to stop within 10 miles of the coast.

Sue Kent, of campaign group Gower Save Our Sands, described what it was like putting her head above the parapet at the inquiry.

"It was one of the most stressful experiences of my life," she said.

"I was heavily cross-questioned, but I tried my best."

She said Assembly inspector Clive Nield allowed everyone to air their grievances.

But she felt much of the expert evidence was baffling.

She said: "They were trying to tie each other in knots. Everyone was confused at some stage."

The legal expert from dredging firm LSDL, which operates from Burry Port, said the licence was needed as Wales's construction industry needed two millions of tonnes annually, 85 per cent of which comes from the sea.

Current dredging capacity was low, he said, threatening the prosperity of the region.

LSDL said any decline in Port Eynon beach had been caused by changes to the sand dunes at the rear of the beach, not by dredging.

It labelled some of the objectors' evidence "exaggerated and alarmist".

Objectors CCW argued that sand supply to Gower beaches would be reduced if the top of Helwick Bank was dredged, and that other dredging licences could cope with any aggregate shortfall.

Swansea Council said there was scientific doubt about the effects of dredging beyond two years, and labelled existing monitoring unfit for purpose.

The Gower coalition, comprising among others, the Gower Society, Gower SOS, the National Trust, the region's community councils - plus a 25,000-strong petition - concluded there was too much risk of damage to a Special Area of Conservation and Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty if the licence was granted. It urged all dredging to stop at Helwick Bank.

They were backed up by MP Martin Caton, and AMs Edwina Hart and Alun Cairns.

So, the 64,000 question - what did Mr Nield, the inspector, think?

His conclusions included the following:

Beaches varied seasonally and over longer periods of time.

- Beach surveys in the area showed no long-term sand deterioration, except at Port Eynon.

There was little doubt the reason for Port Eynon's decline since the 1960s and 1970s has been loss of sand to the dunes behind the beach rather than dredging at sea.

But there was also little doubt sand could be transported between the Helwick Bank and the nearby beaches.

The evidence showed no relationship between sand levels on nearby beaches and dredging that had taken place since 1993 (when LSDL began removing sand from Helwick Bank).

It would not be wise to increase dredging to significantly higher rates than before.

So he therefore recommended a 10-year licence with a maximum extraction rate of 150,000 tonnes a year, a third of what LSDL had applied for.

It was now over to Jane Davidson, Minister for Environment and Sustainability, to make the final decision.

On August 1 this year she wrote to LSDL's general manager saying she accepted Mr Nield's recommendations, but reduced the 10-year licence to seven.

She also set out 21 monitoring conditions.

Reaction to the news was, as expected, mixed.

A spokesman for LSDL said he was relieved to hear the decision.

"It has been more than a year since the inquiry finished, and we have been in no man's land," he said.

"We are very pleased to get a decision."

Other groups weren't happy.

Malcolm Ridge, chairman of the Gower Society, said: "How ironic that the minister for sustainability in an Assembly concerned about global warming and rising sea levels should approve the removal of 150,000 tonnes of a non-renewable resource from a sand bank that is a sea defence for Gower."

Mrs Kent, of Gower SOS, maintained there was a lack of scientific research into the link between Port Eynon beach and dredging Helwick Bank.

And she claimed Swansea Council should have done more research over the years.

The council said it had opposed the application, and hired a barrister to make its objections clear at the inquiry.

Council Leader Chris Holley, said: "I would emphasise the council is very unhappy with the granting of the licence, and feels strongly no further applications should be considered until the impact of dredging is fully understood."

But H R Wallingford technical director Alan Brampton, who appeared for LSDL at the inquiry, told the Post Gower beaches had nothing to fear from dredging.

There was simply no link between dredging and sand disappearance, he said.

That prompted a phone call to the Post from Derwen Aggregates, of Neath Abbey Wharf.

We can provide your 150,000 tonnes of sand a year, they claimed.

The company recycles masses of rubble and earth to produce sand fit for construction.

The long-term consequences of taking sand from the Bristol Channel were outlined by dredging expert Tim Deere-Jones.

"It's a finite resource. Until we have another Ice Age we have no more sand coming.

"Although the lorries are coming, the depot is empty."

But once the minister's mind had been made up, what could anyone do? Surely there had to be something?


08:00 - 12 September 2007

Sand has been disappearing from Gower's beaches and many people suspect they know why. Environment reporter RICHARD YOULE takes an in-depth three-part look at the row over dredging. Here's the final part of his report.

When a dredging company was given a licence to remove sand from near the Gower coast last month, it triggered a tide of resentment.

Politicians are now coming up with plans to help, as well as the more customary words of support.

Llanelli Sand Dredging Ltd (LSDL) was given the go-ahead by Jane Davidson, Minister for Environment and Sustainability, following a lengthy public inquiry.
Both she, and the inspector, slashed the amount of sand LSDL could suck up from Helwick Bank, which lies south and west of Port Eynon Point.

But it was nevertheless the decision campaigners least wanted to hear.

They feared dredging was fuelling sand loss in nearby beaches, particularly Port Eynon - a claim firmly denied by LSDL, and rejected by Assembly inspector Clive Nield.

And days later came news of another, bigger application - this time further out in the Bristol Channel - by a separate consortium, to help feed South Wales's construction boom.

"No-one disputes the need for aggregate for the building industry, but there has to be a balance between the need for aggregate and the needs of the tourism industry," said Rene Kinzett, leader of the Swansea Conservatives.

"Gower was Britain's first area of outstanding natural beauty. The reason for that was its coastline, which is characterised by wide, sandy beaches."

But what could the campaigners, who had handed in a 25,000-strong petition opposing LSDL's application, do?

They feared that now the company has a licence to dredge on Helwick Bank, it might simply ask for an extension to the licence at some stage down the line.

"That's what we are worried about," said Mike Jenkins, of protest group Gower Save Our Sands (SOS). "It happened last time but we can't change the law. All we can do is carry on lobbying, and putting information into the public domain."

What they wanted was independent monitoring of the dredgers taking the highly valued sand from the seabed.

Step forward members of the Gower Conservatives.

AM for South West Wales Alun Cairns had lambasted the Helwick Bank decision and called for a moratorium on all dredging within 25 kilometres of the coastline.

"The Assembly Government has treated the people of Swansea and Gower with nothing but contempt," he raged.

So he, along with Conservative councillors from Swansea Council, have launched a petition calling for independent monitoring of LSDL's dredging by the Assembly or Environment Agency.

This is not to suggest LSDL's own monitoring, which comes as a condition with any licence and has to satisfy the Assembly, was not up to scratch.

But those behind the petition felt it was the safeguard needed.

"The challenge is that the independently commissioned monitoring is financed by the dredging firm," said Mr Cairns.

"This means they pay the piper, but we call the tune.

"Obviously they are professionals with standards and integrity, but there'll often be grey areas which come down to interpretation."

Mr Cairns said thousands had already signed their petition backing the move.

"At the recent Pontarddulais Show we had people coming up to us saying they didn't vote Conservative, but that we were right on this one.

"The response has been very enthusiastic."

The plan is to hand the petition to the Assembly's new Petitions Committee.

This group will looks at it to see if it's worth a formal investigation.

If it is, the Assembly's environment committee will ask to hear evidence.

In theory, it's a chance for people power to influence the system after a decision has been made.

Mr Cairns vowed to put Ms Davidson, the minister, under the spotlight at the reconvened Assembly.

"I'm calling for the moratorium on dredging, and I want it to be an oral question because written ones can end up buried," he said.

"I want to know what the First Minister, and Deputy First Minister think about dredging."

The Conservatives are also demanding answers from Swansea Council to see what action it will take.

Liberal Democrat AM Peter Black has weighed in to the saga, vowing to press the Assembly Government into funding a study of the mechanism that deposits sand on Gower beaches.

Gower AM and Minister for Health Edwina Hart, and MP Martin Caton, have also voiced their concerns about dredging off Gower for years.

Both attended last summer's inquiry, along with Mr Cairns.

Mrs Hart has been in contact with ministerial colleague Ms Davidson since she announced her decision last month.

She said she wanted to know more about why the Helwick Bank dredging application, although watered down, was given the green light.

"Was the Assembly worried about a legal challenge?" she asked.

"I think we need to know this.

"Unless the science is proven, I don't think we should carry on."

Euphoria Sailing Ltd said...

What gets me most is the lack of work on alternative resourcing by the WAG. Lazy and focussed only on retaining power. They have spent no time researching alternatives like Derwyn construction and importing. Shame on the WAG leaders. Wales deserves much better, everyone else is working hard..

Anonymous said...

Ms Reena Owen
Director of Environment
County Hall,
Oystermouth Road,

17th September 2007

Dear Ms Owen

Application by Llanelli Sand dredging in Area 373

I am writing in response to the Government View and the report by the Inspector for the above application.

It concerns me that the Inspector acknowledges that there is little evidence to show what relationship there is between the Helwick sand bank and the beach at Port Eynon (3.3.1). This lack of evidence, as he points out, is due to a lack of research. Because of this the Inspector recognises the difficulty in anticipating the affects of increased rates of dredging, he is not confident that it would not effect sand levels on the beach, and therefore does not recommend an increase in the annual rate of dredging. The Inspector uses the lack of evidence, and the supposition by the dredging company with regard to the sand dunes, as a basis for allowing dredging to continue. (3.3.1) This appears to be a compromise of the interpretation of the phrase “lack of evidence”

A lack of evidence due to a lack of research is a decision based on ignorance.
The research into the interaction of sand between Port Eynon Horton and the Helwick Bank and the role of the bank in coastal defence must be carried out by a company not associated with the dredging companies and paid for by the Welsh Assembly Government before dredging is allowed.

It is interesting to see Swansea City Council are seemly up in arms about the decision to allow dredging of the Helwick Bank. They did not join the Gower SOS in calling for a 10 mile ban from dredging off the Gower coast, nor did they recommend the Helwick Bank to be given Category 3 status in their consultation submission to the Marine Aggregate Dredging Policy six years ago. This would have given the bank the same protection as all other inshore waters around Gower. They have had several years to conduct their own research into the relationship between the bank and the beach. They have a major University on their doorstep to involve in developing a research project. In their failure to initiate the independent research necessary they are guilty of a failure to protect one of their biggest natural assets.

The dredging company is part of a multi million pound conglomerate; they employed the best lawyer in the country at the Public Inquiry. If the monitoring conditions are not completely watertight the dredging company’s lawyer will yet again run rings around the CCW, Swansea Council and the Welsh Assembly and circumvent any unfavourable monitoring results. The Inspector has dismissed the advice of DEFRA in the monitoring conditions, the WAG would be wise not to take the Inspector’s advice on face value, but listen to the environmental specialists at their disposal.

The people of South Wales and their Government and Councils also need to decide where they want their sand on the beaches, or used in the construction of innumerable shopping centres and second home apartments.

Yours Sincerely

Susan Kent
Gower SOS Co-ordinator

cc John Hague
cc Evening Post

Anonymous said...

AMS WIN EARLY DATE FOR DREDGING PROBE - Report from the South Wales Evening Post
09:00 - 19 October 2007

Pressure from Swansea AMs has helped secure an earlier than expected review into sand dredging in the Bristol Channel.Environment Minister Jane Davidson has agreed to bring forward an independent study to next year.

The move follows representations by Gower AM Edwina Hart and Swansea AMs Andrew Davies and Val Lloyd.

Grave concerns have been voiced across Swansea and Gower over the effects of dredging.

Many claim dredging operations in the channel are having an impact on the area's beaches, saying there is now less sand on them.

The minister has already placed strict conditions on the current dredging licence in the Helwick Bank area, halving the amount of sand that can be dredged each year and limiting the licence to a seven-year period instead of the 15 years originally proposed.

Welcoming a decision to bring forward the review to 2008, the Swansea AMs said it was an important issue for local people.

In a joint statement, they said: "We also support the strict conditions that the Assembly has placed on the current dredging licence.

"The minister has rejected proposals for a licence to dredge 300,000 tonnes of sand per year over 15 years in favour of a 150,000 tonne annual limit over seven years, subject to tough environmental conditions and regular monitoring by the relevant environmental authorities and Swansea Council.

"Protecting the local environment and the local tourism industry is our priority, and we welcome the Assembly's support and positive approach towards the issues we have raised."

Swansea-based Plaid AM Dai Lloyd said: "I am delighted the minister has agreed to conduct an independent study into the effects of sand dredging next year.

"There is real concern the impact of dredging in the Bristol Channel is having an adverse effect on Gower beaches."

Demands for an independent study of sediment flows have been made more loudly recently following news that dredging consortium Resource Management Association is seeking a licence to remove up to 1.8 million tonnes of sand a year for 15 years.

The area it is targeting is the size of Gower and lies southwest of the peninsula.

Part of that area approaches to within six miles of the Gower coast.

Building Materials Supplies said...

The Gower SOS story so far by Richard Youle, Evening Post

Thanks for sharing