Dungeness was recently rejected by the government as a site for a new nuclear power facility. The Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) stated in their report on nuclear energy that "if shingle had to be sourced from Dungeness for sea defense purposes then this could impact this nationally and internationally important conservation site". The current planning application would see great swathes of the local coastline churned up and removed by 30 foot-long, 10 foot-wide articulated dump trucks.
It's not just the government's advisors that have told us that the quarry will affect the local environment and take away the special character of this unique and precious place – the planning application even states that it will have a significant and adverse effect on the Dungeness Special Area of Conservation and surrounding internationally designated nature conservation sites.
The planning application lists numerous alternatives for sourcing shingle. While these may not be favoured by the applicants they are nonetheless alternatives.
The benefit of a quarry at Dungeness is, in the applicants' words, reduced cost. However, it cannot be reasonably argued that reducing cost by sourcing shingle from Dungeness, rather than from one of our local commercial quarries, is a benefit that outweighs the conservation value of this precious site. Nor can it be argued that reducing cost for a privately trading company (as one of the applicants is) is in the "overriding public interest". This could even be seen as a private company being given a commercial advantage by the State that other businesses — including our local quarries — cannot compete with.
(A paper from The University of Sussex also challenges the applicants' view that shingle recycling using an onshore quarry — such as the one proposed at Dungeness — is cheaper than the alternatives. DEFRA also states that flood protection investment plans must not be constrained by national budgets.)
Dungeness is also a Special Protection Area. This classification helps protect and manage areas which are important for rare and vulnerable birds. DECC noted in their report on Dungeness that the trampling of the shingle banks is a key threat to these bird species. The proposed excavation works will do more than just trample the shingle banks — they will dig them up and ship them out, just as they are starting to form.
Just last year (in 2010) the Environment Agency issued a document which stated that beach recycling works are "expensive" and provide only "a low standard of protection against flooding which can lead to failure of the defences".
The University of Sussex also notes criticism for beach recycling. In their assessment of Beach Recharge in Sussex and East Kent they state that "it reduces the natural supply of sand and shingle to beaches downdrift of the point of extraction". Their report also states that "this interference with the natural replenishment of the beaches can, if carried to excess, lead to shoreline retreat and flooding problems"... In other words, it can make the problem worse.
Natural England explain the futility of shingle recycling by pointing out that we only have limited funds and resources available to transport shingle up the coast, while the sea has all the time in the world to keep moving it back again, as it has done for thousands of years.
There are better solutions to our flood defense requirements – which are preferred by the Environment Agency and other conservation groups – that will actually provide real, sustainable protection to residents of the south east.
(Please believe us: We don't oppose sea defenses. We just want to ensure they are strategic, appropriate and effective, and that they won't adversely affect an internationally important site that we all love.)
The total width of the existing road into and out of Dungeness is just 3.20 metres wide. This is scarcely a handspan wider than the 2.99 metre wide dump trucks that will transport the shingle by road away from Dungeness. The road is much too narrow to accommodate both a truck and an approaching car (or pedestrian) and has not been designed for heavy commercial use.
Aside from the very real risk of vehicle collisions (or "off-roading" as vehicles pass), Dungeness Road is also heavily trafficked by people on foot. Over half a million visitors come to visit every year – bird watchers, fishermen and tourists of all ages. The dump trucks will operate all day, every day in autumn and winter (breaking only at weekends). This is a massive health and safety hazard that puts the public at risk of serious injury.
We have all seen, with great sadness, many local businesses and establishments in the south-east "shut up shop" in these difficult economic times. Accordingly we must consider the impact of the proposal on the welfare of local businesses. In the case of Dungeness this means family-run businesses that represent a mainstay in the local community, such as the local fishermen and B&Bs.
Few of the families that have historically fished the seas around Dungeness remain. Those that do are working in conditions that are challenging enough without the added disruption and risks that will be posed by a quarry in Dungeness. The methods proposed for transporting the shingle are a real threat to our resident commercial fishing fleet. They will disturb the grounds in which our fishermen peacefully operate and make it difficult for them to continue their businesses.
Those who have lived through previous excavation works in and around this area, before this remarkable stretch of coast was protected, know just how incredibly noisy, dirty and disruptive the operations are too — and how off-putting they are to tourists and visitors.
The quarry will operate for twelve years — that represents some 15-20% of an average person's adult life. That's an awfully long time to have to watch your backyard being destroyed.
If you love Dungeness as much as we do then please add your voice to our campaign. Together we will get residents the flood protection they need without devastating the 'ness.