Wildlife charities are today calling for a major development to be stopped. The proposal is to locate 4000 new houses and a 1 million sq ft marine hub on the western edge of Portsea Island at Tipner West.
The RSPB and Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust (HIWWT) say that the development will destroy parts of the harbour that are vital for nature and valuable for the city’s long-term sustainability.
However, despite very clear environmental impacts, the city council has recently given the green light to spend approximately £8m to move forward to the planning application stage.
Nick Bruce-White, RSPB Operations Director for Southern England said, “This is one of the most significant threats to wildlife from a development we have seen in recent times, not just locally, but nationally. Portsmouth Harbour is of international importance, especially for its wintering waterbirds, such as brent geese, black tailed godwits and other wading birds. The development will utterly destroy vital feeding and roosting grounds as well as causing long-term disturbance to any wildlife that remains.
“The site is of huge value not just for the birds, but for the people of Portsmouth who appreciate the richness and value of the wildlife on their doorstep. It’s the nature equivalent of a developer proposing to demolish the city’s historic dockyard and sink the HMS Victory. We are not arguing here about the need for housing and development. We know how difficult it is for Portsmouth to satisfy the housing targets it has been set and this is perhaps forcing it to consider this outlandish idea. But this is totally the wrong place for this proposal.
“We find it difficult to believe, in the current climate and ecological emergency, that a proposal to drain and concrete over an area with the highest level of protection for wildlife is even being considered at all by the planners. We also question whether the £8m proposed to merely prepare the planning application is best use of money right now”.
The development will claim approximately 67 acres of mudflat from Portsmouth Harbour’s Special Protection Area and Ramsar site. This will almost double the existing land footprint.
The area is given protection because of its importance to populations of dark bellied brent goose, black-tailed godwit, dunlin and red-breasted merganser. The brent-goose, in particular, is something of a local celebrity – with Portsmouth proudly hosting 30% of the UK’s population. The mudflats are also home to a thriving ecosystem of micro-organisms and invertebrates and provide an important nursery ground for fish such as bass.
The wildlife charities point out in addition to the effects on wildlife, disturbance of the mudflats will release carbon currently locked away and reduce the ability to store more. They add that the loss of natural habitat will also increase the danger of erosion, while additional housing here will inevitably increase the strain on water treatment infrastructure, limited water supplies and increase recreational pressure on Portsmouth’s few green patches and the unique nature of the Solent coastline.
Even more fundamentally, the charities say, the plan to build a defended new urban area in this location is highly unsustainable, given the predicted rises in sea-level.
Commenting on the planned development, Debbie Tann, Chief Executive of Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, said: “This proposal beggars belief. In a time of crisis for the environment, health and the economy, spending millions of pounds of public money pursuing plans to destroy internationally important natural assets and undermine the city’s long-term sustainability is crazy.
“These vital natural resources, once lost, can’t be replaced or compensated for. We urgently need to re-think development at a local and national level. In the drive to ‘build, build, build’, we can’t just ride roughshod over legal safeguards and turn our back on commitments to avert an ecological catastophe.
“If we don’t start prioritising nature’s recovery, our cities will quickly become uninhabitable for both wildlife and people”.
The RSPB’s recent Greenspace Report detailed the public support for nature, with eight out of ten people agreeing that the number of nature-rich areas should be increased. Similarly Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust conducted a survey during the first lockdown which showed almost unanimous support (99%) for governments’ role in making sure there is more accessible green space in urban environments.