Inevitably, the Port of Southampton has a massive influence on the way the Solent works. So SPS were delighted to take the opportunity of a conversation with Doug Morrison, the Port Director, Ray Blair ,the deputy Harbourmaster, and Sue Simmonite, the Environment manager. We ranged over several topics, and what follows is a short summary of the main ones.
Local Enterprise Partnership
The LEP is a government sponsored arrangement that was created to replace the Regional Development Associations. In the Hampshire area, the board is well balanced between local authorities and industrial partners. Doug Morrison is the Chairman for the first three year period. So far, the LEP has been able to channel significant grant support to Small and Medium sized companies (SMEs) to enable them to expand, but Douglas indicated that quality of many applications for start-up funding had been disappointing. Overall, however, he felt that excellent progress had been made, with more to come. It was clear that the nature of the developments supported by the LEP would be unlikely to affect the Solent.
The City Deal
Both the LEP and ABP have worked closely with Southampton and Portsmouth City Councils to make a successful application for regeneration funding for the area that could amount to £1.5billion. Only by combining could the two cities compete with the major conurbations in the north, so, as Douglas put it, “Rivalry is best left on the football field”. The City Deal is being fast tracked with a view to completion in July. Almost certainly, development on such a scale will impact on the Solent, if only on the skyline, but details have yet to emerge.
Closely related to this project is yet another attempt to redevelop the area around the old Royal Pier site in Southampton. Almost certainly, the road network will be improved, but it remains to be seen whether a fully viable redevelopment scheme will emerge.
All this is good for jobs, but there has to be some concern about the extra pressures on the Solent.
After a very frustrating period of more than 5 years, ABP has been granted a consent to widen and deepen much of the approach channel to the port. Work above Dock Head has already started, with dredging to widen the channel past the New Docks almost complete. This will enable the new very large container ships to safely pass the newer and larger cruise ships moored at the Mayflower cruise terminal. This work has involved relaying some of the Marchwood YC moorings. There is a long history of cooperation between the club and the Port, so it is no surprise that the operation has gone smoothly. However, ABP were surprised by the problems caused by the piling for a new quay at 201/2 berth (the cross-berth at the head of the Western Docks). An unexpected quirk of the underground strata has resulted in a ground ‘echo’ being very noticeable in houses in the Marchwood and Millbrook areas. ABP and its contractors have made strenuous efforts to mask the vibration, and to keep local residents informed of when piling operations will take place. Fortunately the works will shortly be coming to an end.
The main dredge of several key areas from Dock Head all the way to the Nab tower to the east of the Isle of Wight should start toward the end of this year. At present, the only place where large ships can pass between the docks in Southampton and Cowes is opposite the Fawley oil terminal. This requires very close coordination of ship movements, and any delaying factor can disrupt the operation of the port. Once complete, ships will be able to pass over much of the channel between Dock Head and Calshot, allowing more flexibility and safety.
But despite the best efforts of ABP, supported, they say, by the Environment Agency, no beneficial uses of the millions of tonnes of dredged material are under development. It seems to be just too difficult to create projects for habitat restoration or flood defence that utilise the available material.
Obstacles include suitability (particle size); cost; time/cost for obtaining consents; pedantic interpretation of environmental law. SPS continue to find the lack of progress in this area extremely disappointing, but are satisfied that ABP have genuinely tried to find solutions. Any change in the situation lies firmly with the environmental arms of government.
Many years ago, ABP unsuccessfully sought to extend its harbour limits down the West Solent, and SPS was an objector. Now the situation is reversed. SPS is concerned about the lack of control over shipping operations, such as the transfer of wastes and cargo between ships at anchor in the West Solent; but ABP no longer has any aspiration to take over the management of the area. Nor does ABP believe that the creation of the Navitus windfarm south of Poole Bay will have any significant effect on shipping patterns through the West Solent. SPS therefore continues to remain concerned about the potential pollution risk from shipping operations in the area.
Both SPS and ABP expressed concern about the development of Marine Planning for the Solent area. Both believe that the Marine Management Organisation has yet to grasp the sheer complexity of the Solent, and the extent to which successful operation of port, shipping and leisure activity depends on the application of common sense and goodwill. Unlike the rest of the south coast, Solent activity impinges directly on the fortunes of UK PLC; the port and the local maritime industries face international competition. Laborious, slow and expensive consent procedures will drive investment elsewhere. Balancing that need against environmental protection for the benefit of the local community requires a sensitivity to local aspirations. While SPS and ABP may from time to time disagree on where that balance lies, the concern that the local situation needs to be properly understood is common ground.