Threat to eelgrass cited by objectors to pontoon

Thursday 23rd April 2015 10:00 pm
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SALCOMBE councillors have renewed their objection to plans for a pontoon in front of the town's Harbour Hotel.

The hotel, which occupies a prime waterfront location on Cliff Road, has long wanted to improve the mooring facilities for its visitors.

The latest application submitted to South Hams Council revises a scheme granted ­permission in 2013, in which the pontoon was to be fixed to the sea wall below the hotel.

The pontoon is now to be secured with pilings after engineers raised concerns over the strength of the wall.

Salcombe's estuary, which is in fact a ria, is home to large beds of seagrass, particularly zostera marina, known as ­eelgrass, which is a rare and protected habitat for a wide range of sea life.

Opponents to the pontoon fear that boats using it may damage the grass.

Town councillors discussed the plans at a recent meeting, with Salcombe mayor Mike Fice saying: 'We dealt with this in 2013 – we raised an objection. But planning permission was granted.

'What they're asking for now is to sink piles against the sea wall. The width of the pontoon will increase, so it will be closer to the eelgrass.'

He urged planners to consult South Hams Council's estuaries officer before coming to any decision, adding: 'Nothing's changed. I think they should definitely get input from Nigel Mortimer.'

Cllr Richard Whitfield, who runs a marine business in Salcombe, referred to the 11 objections and one comment received so far by South Hams Council.

He said: 'The people who have written are all making really valid points. This will stop people walking up and down the foreshore. There's

no way it can be managed in

any way, shape or form. Most ­people don't even know the draught of their own boat.

'This will severely limit the amount of space in the estuary, especially when there are boats against the pontoon.'

The hotel argues that ­removing existing running and swinging moorings, and ­replacing them with the pontoon, will reduce the total number of boats moored.

A 'pontoon management plan', said the hotel, will put restrictions on its use, so potential impacts on the seagrass are 'not increased and may be reduced' by the new structure.

The application includes detailed calculations of the necessary clearance to avoid damaging the grass, and the maximum draught of boats allowed to use the pontoon will be set at 0.8 metres.

It is also proposed to install tide gauges to show green when the pontoon can be accessed and red when it cannot.

Salcombe Harbour Authority is supporting the application, subject to conditions: the pontoon must only remain as long as it is in commercial use and there is an element of public access; it must be removable; and tide gauges should show only the tide height, rather than red or green as proposed.

Salcombe harbourmaster Adam Parnell said: 'The Harbour Board absolutely wants there to be public access, and it's required by our licences. That requirement is satisfied by saying people can moor there and visit, even if they're not staying.

'In effect, it's a bit like a hotel saying, "if you want to park in our car park, you have to use our facilities".

'I don't think there's any ­danger of the eelgrass being affected. At that point the ­eelgrass is around 20 metres out, and we've said you can't use

the pontoon at low tide. And ­actually, I don't think people are likely to try to use it at low tide.'

In its objection, the town council said the pontoon would compromise the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the Kingsbridge and Salcombe estuary site of special scientific interest. It argued that it would block the foreshore and was essentially going to be for private rather than public use.

The council accepted that the eelgrass would be monitored to make sure it was not being affected, but it was concerned that the sensitive area should be protected now, and did not want to set a precedent for further pontoons further down the estuary.

Referring to the modern design of the new Tides Reach Hotel that was recently granted planning permission, Cllr Rob Wheeler joked: 'How about a pontoon network down at South Sands for the new cruise ship?'

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