As Bridgwater’s long promised Tidal Barrier edges its way towards reality, a major setback has been highlighted by the Inland Waterways Association who have criticised a decision by the Project Board who have refused to reserve land within the bypass channel to enable the future construction of a lock and approach channels for navigation. Bridgwater Town Council has now joined the IWA in calling for this decision to be reversed .
Town Councils portfolio holder for ‘Economy’ Cllr Mick Lerry (Victoria) said “Bridgwater Town Council, along with IWA, believed that there were no further concerns relating to this request and that the reservation of the land was fully achievable. It is very disappointing to hear that the Project Board has decided not to reserve the land needed for the future construction of a lock and approach channels as part of the Scheme. This decision will have a negative impact on our local area and goes against all our plans for future-proofing the region.”
The Need for a By-Pass Channel
The background to the current crisis stems from the plans for a bypass channel to be constructed to divert the flow of the River Parrett whilst the main tidal barrier structure is built on the existing river bed. More than three years ago, IWA requested that Sedgemoor District Council (SDC) and the Environment Agency (EA) retain some of the bypass channel land-take in public ownership to enable future construction of a lock and approach channels, intended for boats to use when the barrier is closed to navigation. A formal request for the land to be reserved as part of the Tidal Barrier Scheme was included in IWA’s response to the Preliminary Environmental Information Report, submitted to EA on 18 September 2017.
Whilst the number of occasions that the Tidal Barrier will be closed will be modest to begin with, EA’s own projections show that as sea levels rise over the lifetime of the barrier, the number of occasions that the barrier is closed to navigation is likely to exceed 60 times a year.
EA introduces ‘new factors’
In May 2018, EA responded to IWA’s request for the relevant land to be reserved, stating that this would not be possible due to their access, operational and craneage requirements on the west side of the barrier. Detailed consideration by an IWA consultant engineer showed that EA’s access requirements and a lock channel could co-exist and this has subsequently been discussed in detail by IWA, Bridgwater Town Council (on behalf of the community) and EA on three separate occasions, in September 2018, December 2018 and June 2019. At the latter of these meetings, EA raised – for the first time – its land acquisition policy which would have prevented part of the relevant land being acquired, but in conjunction with SDC a potential solution to this was found. The extra land area concerned is approximately 365m2.
IWA has now been informed that a recent meeting of the Project Board identified the following further impediments to reserving the land, leading to a decision not to include the reservation of the relevant land within the Scheme:
- Increased risk of challenge to the Transport and Works Act Order (TWAO) … on the grounds of using public funds to acquire land for a purpose that has no identified method or certainty of delivery.
- The land required … would exceed the permanent land footprint of the Barrier. This would increase risk of a challenge to the TWAO … and also increase cost.
- If the additional land were included in the TWAO, its impact would have to be fully assessed in the Environmental Impact Assessment and Environmental Statement, resulting in programme delay and increased cost.
Right of Navigation
IWA has a clear view that each of these issues could and should have been identified, addressed and resolved by EA over the last two years and that EA should now urgently rectify its failures to deal with these in a timely manner. No mention of these issues has previously been made by EA despite numerous opportunities to raise them at the various meetings that have been held. Thus, IWA and Bridgwater Town Council have assumed no other issues existed.
Ivor Caplan, IWA Chairman, comments: “As an organisation, IWA campaigns for all users of the waterways to receive the maximum benefit from our canals, rivers and linked tidal estuaries, both now and in the future. Operation of the proposed Bridgwater Tidal Barrier is expected to increase significantly over its lifetime and will have an increasing effect on the established right of navigation on the River Parrett. IWA believes that the decision to refuse the request to reserve land to enable the future construction of a lock within the Bypass Channel as part of the Tidal Barrier scheme is a short-sighted decision by the Project Board and should be reversed.”
Town Calls for Summit Meeting
Councillors Brian Smedley and Kathy Pearce, leader and deputy leader of Bridgwater Town Council and of the Labour Group on Sedgmoor District Council , have written to Sedgemoors Chief Executive Allison Griffin asking for this item to be on the agenda for a summit meeting on 7th October .
Cllr Smedley said “We had been told that ‘futureproofing’ would be the way forward so that we didn’t miss the great opportunities for this Barrier Project, and thereby whilst we wouldn’t get what we wanted immediately, future generations would have the opportunity to develop and benefit from technical decisions taken now. We are very concerned that this decision will have the opposite effect and prevent any future use of the tidal barrier other than that of flood prevention – which we accept as the primary reason for the thing being built, but our stated aim is the ongoing and enhanced navigation of the river Parret, the re-opening of the docks and the canal and the maximisation of Bridgwater’s waterways. To this end we have worked in partnership with the IWA which also supports the construction of the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier to protect the people, property and businesses of Bridgwater but has consistently lobbied for the design, construction and operation of the barrier to take into consideration the aspirations of the community to make better use of their local waterways, thus bringing leisure, recreation and tourism and hence economic gains to the town.”