BRIDGWATER TIDAL BARRIER SCHEME: IWA Expresses its Concerns at the Refusal of the Project Board to Reserve Land within the Bypass Channel to Enable the Future Construction of a Lock and Approach Channels

The Inland Waterways Association (IWA) has made clear its serious concerns that a formal request to reserve land within the bypass channel as part of the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier Scheme has been refused by the Project Board

A bypass channel is 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.

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.

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.”

Mick Lerry, Bridgwater Town Councillor, comments: “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. 

ENDS

For further media requests, please contact:

Ray Alexander, Chairman, IWA West Country Branch, email rayalexander01@gmail.com or phone: 07786 176875

Jo Henderson, Campaigns & Media Officer, IWA, email: jo.henderson@waterways.org.uk or phone: 01494 783453 ext 618

Bridgwater with boat

  NOTE FOR EDITORS

- IWA is a consultee under Schedule 5, categories 3 and 4 of the Transport and Works (Applications and Objections) Procedure (England and Wales) Rules 2006 and thus should be consulted on any proposals that will affect the right of navigation on a UK river.

- IWA sees its role as striving to protect existing rights of navigation, whether established by way of a Navigation Act or by public right of navigation as enshrined in common law, and as necessary taking a stance on issues of concern to boaters and others when the existing rights are under threat.

- IWA supports in principle 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.