Brightlingsea town councillors have opted to remain neutral over a £2m plan to expand marina facilities on the town's creek – saying that they did not have enough information to make a firm decision.
After hearing from Morgan Marine, the company behind the Colne Marina plan (click for our previous story with more detail), members of the public and organisations both for and against, a majority of the planning committee decided that the information on the impact of the development on navigation, wildlife and the environment supplied by the company was not detailed enough to make a recommendation of refusal or approval to Tendring District Council.
At last night's meeting (June 10) chairman Ben Smith suggested that the committee take the neutral stance, saying that there was "no independent verification of navigation concerns" and "environmental impact assessments were lacking" and "lightweight". "There's a lot of good things going for this proposal but you're not there yet," he said.
Councillor Mick Barry urged refusal and warned the committee that the neutral stance could lead TDC planners to believe that the town council had no issues with the project, which includes 90 new pontoon-based berths and land-based improvements. "Clearly the environmental issue is contentious," he said. "There will be an impact and it's been underplayed."
Concerns about the impact on wildlife were raised by Suzie Jenkins of the Brightlingsea Nature Network, who said the applicant's proposal's "dismissed the importance of the site for wildlife", and Roger Tabor, president of the British Naturalists' Association. "It will inevitably cause more disturbance to birds in the creek'" said Mr Tabor.
However, the most contentious part of the application was the proposal to extend the pontoons in Morgan Marine's East Basin 17.5m further out in to the creek. Peter Hickman, who owns Underwood's Hard, located next to Morgan Marine, said that the expansion would "effectively block access for my customers at low tide". He added: "To take the deepest water in the channel for their own convenience and thereby deprive its enjoyment to all other is simply wrong." Underwood's customer Andy Conroy said that the reduction in the width of the channel would make tacking a sailing boat past the pontoons "almost impossible".
Andy Harman, of St Osyth Boatyard, showed diagrams to the committee, which he claimed showed that "if you have a boat of any size at all you'll be out of the channel". He said that towing the engineless sailing barge Edme, which is berthed at the St Osyth, past the pontoons safely would be "impossible" and pointed out that the width of the remaining channel wouldn't be enough for two of the local rowing gigs to pass side-by-side. Former barge skipper Jim Lawrence "strongly advised" against the expansion, and said that it was "of particular importance to keep the channel open for the future" should aggregate transport by barge start up again from the St Martin's Farm site further up the creek.
Most of those who spoke had no issues with the land-based developments, which Graham Miller of Morgan Marine told the committee would create 10 jobs, improve facilities for customers and generate additional business for the town. The move to include a new ramp for a larger boat hoist was welcomed by boatowner Chris Bailey, who said that currently there was nowhere on the East Coast that could lift his 7m wide catamaran out of the water for maintenance. He also said claimed that most Essex boatyards were full, and as the county's population is increasing, there will be a strong demand for additional berths.
• At the meeting, mention was made about the absence of any comment from Brightlingsea Harbour Commissioners (BHC) about the proposal, particularly in the light of concerns raised regarding the proximity of some of the planned marina berths to the Wharf. In reply to a query by Brightlingsea Info, BHC said: "We are a statutory consultee for all such submissions to local planning authorities and the Marine Management Organisation. As such, it is our duty to respond, once we have consulted widely and finalised our view. The timetable set for us to do so is different from the public consultation. Finally, all formal Brightlingsea Harbour Commissioners’ responses will be published, once they have been submitted".
Brightlingsea Info understands that while the much of the proposal can be decided upon by Tendring Council, the Marine Management Organisation will have the final say on whether or not the additional pontoons can be built in the creek and the risk or otherwise to shipping.