Councillors vote to clear part of Hoylake beach

Wirral Council will look to clear three hectares of a beach after years of “gridlock” over the issue.

At an environment committee meeting on April 15, Labour, Conservative, and Liberal Democrat councillors voted to move forward an option that will seek to clear what was described as a “large stretch” of Hoylake beach, hoping this will resolve an issue that has divided opinion since 2019. The committee’s two Green councillors voted against the plans.

Council officers will now work with Natural England, an advisory and regulatory body, to get a beach management plan approved, though any work on the beach itself is not expected to take place until April 2025 at the earliest. Officers and councillors were keen to stress no work will take place on the beach unless Natural England approves it.

If the council went against Natural England advice and started clearing the beach without permission, this could mean they were breaking the law as the beach is an area under a number of different environmental protections. This could result in the local authority being sued by Natural England.

The issue has been controversial since beach management was paused following criticism over the use of the weedkiller glyphosate. People in the town of Hoylake have described it as divisive though a previous council consultation done in 2022 showed greater support for a cleared beach than in other parts of Wirral.

That consultation found 41.8% of those in Hoylake wanted “a balance between a natural beach and maintained beach” while 34.1% wanted it to “look managed and maintained.” Only 24.1% wanted the beach to stay completely natural and in a 2024 consultation, nearly 70% of Wirral residents supported the option ultimately passed by councillors.

Now the council faces a challenge to try and get the plans approved as Natural England has stated clearly they would not support the option due to the amount of vegetation that would be removed. However, it said it was willing to work with the council going forward and the council thinks clearing vegetation to help Hoylake’s RNLI could be a solution.

At the meeting, committee chair and Labour councillor Liz Grey echoed calls by Liberal Democrat councillor Allan Brame for a compromise pointing to comments she made in December 2019. Cllr Grey proposed in 2022 the council look to clear a smaller area of beach.

While Cllr Grey had publicly stated she is in favour of a natural beach, she said, “A compromise does involve listening to people and it does involve listening to people sometimes without necessarily agreeing completely with the people but meeting them halfway. It means conceding ground, in this case literally.”

The recommendation came under criticism from the committee’s two Green councillors. Those in favour said the plans were a solution to resolving the dispute and appeasing both sides with Labour councillor Steve Foulkes arguing the Green Party was “a group of people drafted from the extreme of politics”.

Green councillor Jason Walsh said he could not vote for it “in good faith,” arguing the council was “now trying to lay blame at Natural England’s door”. He said, “I do not believe either option is anybody’s ideal option and I don’t believe that either is the compromise many were looking for. The consultation was rushed through with next to no notice to anybody on this committee. Even if implemented the beach still remains inaccessible for many.”

He said Natural England and others have found “some of the rarest species on earth on these shores,” adding, “Our landscape evolves over time and what is happening at Hoylake is simply part of that evolution.

“I believe trying to recover an amenity beach at the site of the current green beach is picking a fight with nature and I believe it is a costly fight that we are likely to lose. “

Following the meeting, the decision was praised by the leaders of Wirral’s largest political parties. Labour council leader Cllr Paul Stuart said, “The beach has been one of those challenges which needed dealing with.

“All but essential maintenance and clearance has ceased on the beach and local residents have made it clear they want a compromised resolution. The decision tonight has been a long time coming and I believe the right decision. Natural England should not stand in the way of the fantastic life saving operations of the RNLI.”

He added, “I urge Natural England to listen to the people of Hoylake and Wirral when considering the option agreed at committee tonight. The decision tonight shows a pragmatic compromise supported by all but one party.”

Opposition Conservative leader Cllr Jeff Green said he had been working with Cllr Stuart to make it “a priority to try to make progress on Hoylake beach”. In May 2023, he told the LDRS the local authority should stop doing “bonkers stuff” referring to the beach issue.

He said, “Until then, there had been gridlock, causing much frustration and anger among many residents and visitors. The result of this gridlock was clear for everyone to see – a beach that is, quite frankly, an unsightly mess and which is also causing concerns regarding the ability of the RNLI to do their vital job.”

Like Cllr Stuart, Cllr Green called on Natural England to work with the local authority, adding, “While this national body which, whether we like it or not, has a say in what happens in our borough, I believe they are obliged to listen to what we have judged to be the best solution to this situation.”

Since 2019, Wirral Council has spent an estimated £244,000 developing future plans and expects to spend another £50,000 before any work can begin.

After that it expects to spend £230,000 clearing vegetation on beaches in West Kirby and Hoylake with ongoing annual costs of £30,000 for maintenance and monitoring of the area.

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