You gave the wildlife a voice.

St. Mary’s Seal Watch Statement

Tuesday November 21st was the day when a big decision on the future of our Local Nature Reserve and the wildlife it supports was decided and a message sent that it is worth speaking out for wildlife protection.

SMSW put its evidence to the Planning Committee and it voted 5 to 2 to reject the application on the grounds that it could not be demonstrated (due to the viewing platforms) that the benefits of the whole application outweighed its detrimental ecological impact.

St. Mary’s Seal Watch (SMSW) has always and will continue to support the restoration of the Lighthouse and sympathetic improvements to the Visitor Centre and we welcome better educational facilities. We have worked with North Tyneside Council since 2015 supporting their Heritage Lottery Fund bid in the hope that it would preserve a healthy balance between the wants of development and the needs of the ecology on this site and offer improved wildlife watching facilities, always stressing the need for these be fit for purpose.

Our role is primarily to safeguard the wildlife so precious to our Local Nature Reserve and it was worrying to see it becoming a victim of the economic model prescribed to wildlife protection today and urged decision makers to put the wellbeing of our local ecology at the heart of their decisions.

We repeatedly advised Council Officers to acknowledge site specific evidence and listen to the concerns of all those that care about and enjoy the wildlife on this Nature Reserve. We, other conservation groups and 400 plus members of the community raised concerns that the viewing platforms proposed as part of the Councils Sea Front Master Plan failed to meet a good standard as a wildlife watching facility and their use would be detrimental to the islands biodiversity. There is a big difference between roof top terraces and a wildlife watching hide that conceals the user from the wildlife thereby minimising disturbance.

The principle elements of this application, mainly the restoration of the Lighthouse and former Keepers Cottage and improvements to the Visitor Centre and education facilities, could be carried out without the platforms, providing all the benefits whilst ensuring no additional detrimental impact to the wildlife.

Had North Tyneside Council listened they would have walked away with a very different decision.

We had no alternative but to challenge this application. Something none of us wanted to do and had hoped that the many consultations we attended with Council Officers would have prevented such necessity.

We now hope to work with North Tyneside Council to move forward to achieve sympathetic restoration and improvements to this much-loved amenity in a way that is fitting to a development on a wildlife sensitive site. And who knows we might even get some much-needed fit for purpose wildlife watching facilities.

We would like to thank everyone who spoke up for the wildlife and gave it a voice.

You gave the wildlife a voice

Public Planning Meeting on 21st November

PUBLIC MEETING: The Planning Committee will meet at Quadrant, The Silverlink North, Cobalt Business Park, North Tyneside, NE27 0BY commencing at 10am on the 21 November 2017.  If you are able, we could do with your support! Unless granted speaker’s rights you will only have permission to observe, but although your presence will be noted (and much appreciated).

Time to say Enough is Enough – deadline Wednesday 8th November

If North Tyneside Council insist in pursuing this reckless and contemptuous attitude towards the wildlife, it will have devastating effects.

Upon receiving correspondence to say amendments had been made to the planning application to address some of the potential ecological impact we felt relieved. This reassurance was short lived, and the application remains the same as do our concerns.

The Environmental Statement October 2017 provided by North Tyneside Council (NTC)/Fairhurst states the causeway has been designed to retain existing tidal restrictions to the Island and therefore no increase in accessibility to the Island will occur, the Habitats Regulation Assessment states there will be will be no reduction in the duration that the causeway is flooded.

As over 97% of the causeway is to be increased in height it would see a considerable reduction in the duration the causeway is flooded.

Additionally, it should be noted that;

  • the section NTC intends to retain at the present height is not the section of the causeway that covers first and uncovers last. This point is some 15m from the point chosen by NTC. The documents fail to explain the rationale behind selecting this point to maintain at the present level vs maintaining the present covering and uncovering stretch at the existing levels.
  • If a new covering and uncovering point is to be created can it be guaranteed to retain existing tidal restrictions to the island.
  • although documents say a 5m section of the causeway will be kept at the existing level section drawings show that in actual fact there is to be a height increaase of between 200 and 250mm higher than at present and sit above the tide level on  small (neap) tides.
  • it is stated that the overlay thickness is a minimum of 200mm however section drawings show an increase in height of between 240 and 360mm.

While we fully support the need to refurbish the Lighthouse and associated buildings and welcome improved educational facilities and interpretation of the islands biodiversity and understand the causeway does need repairing we do not support the insensitive, unnecessary and by many unwanted additions of the two open top viewing platforms and the overall increase in level to the causeway.

However, two inappropriately built open top viewing platforms are still to be constructed with a convoluted management plan has been offered to circumnavigate the real issue which is that no attempt has been made to design these viewing platforms to avoid causing a disturbance what-should-i-do-with-my-letter/ and proposed repairs and improvements to the causeway will STILL result in an unspecified height increase.

Additionally, all reference to restricting access to the sensitive areas where disturbance occurs has been removed from the application.

As there has been no ecological benefits resulting from the amended and additional documents, with the viewing platforms, new level of the causeway and lack of mitigation to address increased footfall all potentially resulting in significant threat to biodiversity through loss, fragmentation and degradation of habitat we must once again urge you to lodge your objection  how-to-object/ to the application and urge the competent authority , in the absence of suitably designed wildlife friendly viewing platforms, to limit this development to the refurbishment of the Lighthouse and surrounding buildings and repairs to the causeway which will see no increase in its overall level.

Do not let this be a thing of the past.

What should I do with my letter?

Any of you that made a comment/representation/objection to the Planning Office regarding the development will have received a letter informing you of additional and amended documents to application 17/01146/FUL dated 17 Oct 2017

A second period of consultation is open until Wed 08 Nov 2017 to which you are invited to submit a new objection.

Look at the new information and provide a representation to North Tyneside Council (if you wish to do so). You will need to read through the documents carefully to understand the amendments/additional information and to form a view as to whether your concerns have been addressed or not and then submit a further representation if you feel this is necessary.

SMSW will be submitting further representation making sure we do everything we can to protect the wildlife on St. Mary’s Island. While changes to the causeway design are reassuring (subject to further review) we will be highlighting our two remaining concerns.

1.      Because the design fails to provide the basic and fundamental requirement of a purpose-built wildlife viewing area thereby avoiding most of their likely residual impact a Viewing Deck Management Plan has been added to the application.

Considering that visual related disturbance could be avoided through design the convoluted and cumbersome management plan seems an unacceptable compromise.

The desired outcome for the applicant will be to maximise the usage of the platforms therefore it will be necessary for the applicant to show that there is no significant disturbance caused as a result of the operational use of the platforms in order for them to remain in use.  SMSW recommends concealing visitors upon the platforms with high sided intelligent glass (that would become opaque when viewing platforms were in use but remain transparent when platforms were not in use) providing an exemplary educational experience for visitors young and old, while minimising the detrimental impact upon the birds and seals throughout the year. It is inconceivable that these no doubt costly additions to the visitor centre could have such limited access they would effectively be useless for most of the year. Designing out the visual impact of visitors upon the viewing decks would ensure the facility remains open and guarantee their future use. The educational gain derived from the two new viewing platforms could be greatly enhanced by showing the importance of inspiring, creative and innovative design to minimise the human footprint on our natural environs.

The applicant (North Tyneside Council) appears to disregard information provided by SMSW as to the potential impact and plays down the potential for and significance of disturbance upon the birds and seals. As the responsibility of recording disturbance is upon the applicant (who will need evidence to show that the use of these viewing decks does not result in disturbance) how can it be ensured that monitoring and results are objective.

This ongoing problem is simple to resolve – If fit for purpose wildlife viewing platforms cannot be provided the only responsible thing to do is not build the platforms at all.

2.      It can be assumed that the increase in footfall within the walls of the lighthouse and, potentially, on the rocky outcrops which surrounds the island following the completion of the project in addition to the 25% (18,750 per annum) increase in visitation to the lighthouse/ visitor centre facility will likely result in an increase in disturbance events to the wildlife. Yet all reference to increased disturbance across the site as a result of increased visitor numbers has now been removed from the application.

You can help by urging NTC, to design fit for purpose viewing areas and increase their commitment to preventing wildlife disturbance caused by visitors.

Golden Plover flocking
Golden Plover flocking