‘It would be the end of the fishing industry’: Views on Centre Port Plans for The Wash heard after meeting held in Hunstanton
A dazzling idea which could transform the region or a ruinous scheme with devastating consequences? Here is what Hunstanton residents feel about the very real proposals to build a tidal barrage across The Wash.
Those behind plans to create the world’s first tidal-powered deep-sea container port in The Wash say it will boost the economy, produce huge amounts of renewable energy and protect the area from flooding.
But those who live along the shores seem like they will need some convincing.
At a feisty meeting in Hunstanton last week, John Sutcliffe, the CEO of Centre Port, revealed details about the £3billion scheme, which would involve a tidal barrage stretching from the Norfolk town to Skegness in Lincolnshire.
It was likened to a ‘colander’ which would allow the huge tidal flow to go in and out, through about 40 turbines, producing power for 600,000 homes and businesses in the region.
It would also be able to hold back the flow of water as a flood prevention measure.
The container port would be located on the Lincolnshire side, as Norfolk’s roads are unsuitable for the volume of freight traffic it would produce.
Investors from the United States and the Middle East have already shown interest in the project, according to the CEO, who said the scheme would also create a new, four-mile long beach.
So what do locals make of the idea?
One of the industries which would be immediately affected by the barrage is fishing, which supports about 200 jobs in the Wash.
Gary Castleton, whose family has been fishing out of Lynn for more than a hundred years, said: “It would be the end of the fishing industry. [Mr Sutcliffe] isn’t thinking about the people, the tourists, he is just thinking about money.”
Fellow Lynn fisherman Paul Garnett shared these concerns.
He said: “This is a misguided project that will create an ecological disaster and destroy our industry. Tourism in Hunstanton will also be hit.
“By talking about it, it is causing uncertainty and worry among us working in the Wash.”
Sandra Squire, West Norfolk Council’s cabinet member for environment and coastal, was similarly unconvinced.
She said: “It was obvious that Mr Sutcliffe was trying to sell his plans as the panacea for coastal flooding and other issues such as dropping beach levels, but if he hoped that would win the hearts and minds of locals, he will have been sorely disappointed by the level of opposition.
“We all know how precious our coast is and about the habitats and designations in the Wash, so anything that will damage that is wholly unacceptable.”
After “trying to keep an open mind”, Cllr Rob Colwell, county councillor for Gaywood South, also left the meeting with concerns.
“Having heard the latest information, and from a range of experts, I now believe that it’s time to shelve these Wash barrage plans,” he said.
Environmental groups, including the RSPB, Norfolk Wildlife Trust and Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust, are adamant the barrage would be a disaster for The Wash, which is one of the most important wetland habitats in the UK. They have formed a united front against the plans.
They fear it would affect the tidal flow, which could have disastrous consequences for marine life, creating a “green, fetid lake”.
Evangelos Achilleos, East Winch RSPCA centre manager, fears it would greatly affect its work in seal rehabilitation and could harm the common seal population – a protected species.
Luke Douglass-Home, a chartered environmentalist, said: “This meeting was delayed weeks by James Sutcliffe, because of ‘new information’ he claimed. Was there any?
“None – just utterances of ‘new beaches’ funded by money from the Middle East. It all seems at this point an illusion or a developer’s dream.”
Eric Lange, who lives in Hunstanton and is retired, had his opinion changed by Lincolnshire farmer Stafford Proctor’s argument that a flood defence on this scale was needed to protect agricultural land and homes in the Fens from rising sea levels in the future.
“I came away from the meeting thinking I am rather more for it than when I went in. The argument put forward is irrefutable really,” he said.
Another audience member, Diana Hallard, said: “I came in with an open mind but you just don’t know if it is going to work.
There is no guarantee, which is just really worrying. We are no better off than when we walked in.”