Minister backs fight to clear Broads

STEPHEN PULLINGER A minister has signalled that the government might lend further assistance in the battle to clear the Broads waterways of silt and safeguard the region as a haven for pleasure boaters and sailors.

STEPHEN PULLINGER

A minister yesterday signalled that the government might lend further assistance in the battle to clear the Broads waterways of silt and safeguard the region as a haven for pleasure boaters and sailors.

Rural affairs minister Barry Gardiner was visiting the Suffolk Wildlife Trust site, Carlton Marshes, near Lowestoft, to see how the disposal of dredging material - currently restricted by EU law - might actually enhance areas as wildlife habitats.

His visit, at the invitation of Broads Authority chief executive John Packman, came only days after it was revealed that a massive bill of up to £30m was needed to unclog the waterways of silt that had been building up for decades.

The authority has been pressing the Department for Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), with support from MPs, including Lowestoft's Bob Blizzard, partially to exempt dredging material from European directives designed to stop harmful waste being tipped anywhere other that on licensed sites.

These have been a key factor in the cost of dredging rocketing 15-fold in the past 20 years.

Most Read

The Authority has also been calling for a £1.5m government grant initially given over three years to be built permanently in to its budget, providing an extra £500,000 a year.

Mr Gardiner, who was shown on his visit how dredged material can be used in flood defences and to transform poor quality agricultural land into good wildlife habitats, stressed that the £1.5m was given as a three-year commitment and that his department was facing a tight financial settlement next year.

However he said: “It is absolutely clear that what has been done with the £1.5m so far is tremendous. It is clear that the Broads has a very real need and I am as keen to meet it as anyone.”

With regard to offering exemptions from the European directives, he said:

“It is absolutely something we are on top of, working with the Broads Authority.

“We want to have a common-sense solution and that is what we are working towards.”

Mr Blizzard, who has expressed his concern at the progressive silting of Oulton Broad, threatening its important tourism economy, said: “The Broads is an area of huge economic importance and the key to that is keeping the waterways navigable as well as maintaining a high-quality natural environment.”

He said European directives concerning waste were never intended to cover dredged material and exemptions would make it far easier and cheaper to find disposal sites.

“It seems to me the minister is determined to solve the problem but I will continue lobbying if I need to,” he said.

Mr Packman said the continuation of the extra £500,000 a year would be a key to achieving real progress in clearing the dredging backlog.

By spending £250,000 of the extra cash this year on dredging they had managed to clear about twice as much material as had entered the system - without it they would have just broken even.