Natural England does not support Hoylake Beach plans

The government body which would need to approve clearing Hoylake beach does not support plans being moved forward.

Natural England which advises on government environment policy has set out its “clear” position on two options put forward by Wirral Council for the beach which has been controversial since management was paused in 2019.

The issue has become divisive with one group wanting to see vegetation on the beach cleared while others want to see it develop naturally.

After two options were put forward to clear areas of the beach for public feedback, Natural England wrote to Wirral Council on 22 March instructing it “could not support either of these two options in their current state” and “would not be able to support” the second option to clear a larger area of beach “due to the extent of vegetation loss outlined”.

It said it also needed more evidence 10m cleared strips were needed by the RNLI “to justify this scale of clearance”.

A Wirral Council report published ahead of a key meeting on 15 April said “no beach management will be implemented without Natural England’s assent” but officers are still recommending councillors approve moving forward with Option 2 or “amenity beach” which would see three hectares of vegetation cleared.

Despite not supporting this option, Natural England said it would continue to work with the council “to get a good outcome for nature and people at Hoylake Beach” and suggested some changes that could be made to the first option or “Access for All” put forward for public feedback.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) in England have also criticised the council calling the second option “more damaging and unjustified”.

However, this second option was overwhelmingly supported by over 1,000 Wirral residents with 69.4% in support while 25.1% supported option one which would have cleared nearly two hectares of land.

However, no option was given to the public to “work with natural processes along the entire beach but with a focus on greatly improved access for all” which was approved by councillors at a heated meeting in November 2022.

Out of the two options put forward, the RSPB said they supported the first option due to the requirements of the RNLI to clear some of the beach but remained concerned this has not been properly developed, adding, “We should be celebrating situations such as this where new priority habitats are forming and developing naturally, helping in some small degree to offset ongoing losses elsewhere.” It said clearing vegetation could also lead to more sand being blown into Hoylake.

Explaining the recommendation, the council report said, “Either option would need refinement to secure assent from Natural England as the basis for a beach management plan.

“The Director of Neighbourhood Services now needs authority from the committee to use one of these options as the basis for developing a beach management plan, with Natural England assent.

“The question put plainly is, should officers be seeking to secure as much or as little raking on the beach as Natural England will permit? The preference of the majority of consultees is clear from the recent exercise.”

The local authority said it does not expect Natural England to give permission for this amount of vegetation removal to go ahead but may decide to do so anyway. The council report said, “There are precedents where Natural England have not given assent in full but where the applicant has still undertaken the work as they were of the opinion it needed to be undertaken because of overriding reasons relating to public interest.”

It added, “The lifesaving operations of the RNLI, as set out in the Access for All option, could be considered as overriding reasons relating to public interest for undertaking work without assent from Natural England.

“However, the Committee would need to consider whether provision of an Amenity Beach met the same parameters for overriding reasons relating to public interest.

“There is a risk that if works are undertaken without assent that do not meet requirements for overriding reasons relating to public interest, then legal action could be taken by Natural England. The recommendation before members in this report seeks a preferred option for officers to pursue, not permission to implement a plan without NE assent.”

Wirral Council estimates it has spent over £244,000 since 2019 developing options for Hoylake beach and will spend another £50,000 before it has finished developing its future beach management plan.

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

Councillors will debate the report and the recommendation by council officers at a meeting on 15 April.

It is considered unlikely any beach management plan would be approved by Natural England before September 2024.

Image credit: Ed Barnes

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