HOYLAKE BEACH: Popular beach will not be raked until 2023
A popular Merseyside beach will not be raked to remove vegetation until 2023 at the earliest under the local authority’s plan.
Wirral Council’s environment and transport committee voted for a strategy which will see several studies and a public consultation carried out to decide the future of Hoylake beach.
The motion was passed by seven votes to four, after an earlier Conservative bid to allow raking on part of the beach before 2023 was defeated by six votes to five.
The Tory motion was supported by the party’s councillors plus a Liberal Democrat, but defeated by Labour councillors and one Green Party councillor.
The final plan, which will decide whether or not the beach is raked to remove vegetation and keep it sandy, will not be put in place until 2023.
Until then, the current position of not raking or spraying the beach until more is known about the impact it is having will remain.
Hoylake beach has not been managed since 2019 when there was huge controversy over the beach’s brief closure due to the spraying of glyphosate.
Addressing the state of the beach currently, a spokesperson for Natural England told the Liverpool Echo last week that raking and spraying should be avoided.
The spokesperson said: “We are providing advice to Wirral Council to support the development of their new beach management plan and will continue to discuss options to help provide both ecological and recreational benefits with them.
“Beach raking and the use of weed killers can damage coastal habitats so Natural England generally advises that these practices should be avoided.”
Speaking at last night’s meeting, Cllr Liz Grey, chair of the committee, said there was an issue with having an artificial beach amid a climate emergency, which Wirral Council declared in July 2019.
Cllr Grey said a public consultation must happen after scientific studies have been completed to make sure that people are fully informed on the facts and that any policy put in place in the future will stay within the parameters of the law and the data.
The Labour councillor read out a statement from Natalie LeBrun, a Royal Society for the Protection of Birds officer.
The statement supported having a ‘natural beach’ rather than ‘golden sands’.
One section read: “The protection and restoration of natural ecosystems, including coastal habitats such as dunes and saltmarsh, is important not only as a means to provide shelter and food for a raft of rare and endangered species, but these areas can also play a vital role in flood resilience and carbon storage.
“The naturalised section at Hoylake Beach has proven to be a success for nature attracting species such as snow bunting. It will also be playing its part in mitigating the effects of climate change.
“It is estimated that coastal habitats represent up to 0.4–6.8 million tonnes of carbon captured and stored per year globally; while healthy saltmarshes can sequester almost 10 times as much carbon as terrestrial forests over the same area.”
However, Hoylake and Meols councillors want to see the beach raked.
Cllr Tony Cox, a Conservative member for the ward, was worried that the consultation will be just for show and that the decision will be made purely by scientists.
He said the time frame, which meant the plan will be finalised in 2023, was “ridiculous”, noting that the council has changed its entire governance model in far less time.
Cllr Cox said the beach has already suffered two years of “neglect”.
The Hoylake and Meols member also referenced a poll conducted by local councillors which showed that 95% of local residents wanted the beach raked and said local residents’ views should be given a weighting in the decision making process.
However, he refused to give details such as how many people were questioned or what questions the poll contained when asked by Cllr Grey, saying he emailed some answers to an academic he felt had been “prodded” by Cllr Grey to contact him on the subject.
Lib Dem member for Oxton Allan Brame agreed with Cllr Cox, saying local views should be given a “special weight” and that many of them felt they were not being listened to in council discussions on beach management.
He was concerned at the 2023 date for the plan, but accepted that studies which “cannot be rushed” would take place.
Ultimately, Cllr Brame said he hopes a compromise where some degree of sandy amenity beach can be maintained is arrived at.
Seeking to ease these concerns, Cllr Grey said any decision will be fair and democratic and that having a section of raked beach is a possibility.
The Labour councillor said it will still be possible to have a sandy beach in 2023 if that is the decision that is made, noting the beach will not be “irreparably vegetated”.
While Cllr Grey admitted she did not want to see raking happen, she said she wanted to see democracy happen, an attempt to assure councillors that the consultation will be genuine.
Labour councillor Steve Foulkes sought to support the chair, saying that there would be opposition to whichever decision the council took on the beach.
While local views should be taken into account, Cllr Foulkes said that just like Birkenhead Park, Hoylake beach was a borough-wide asset and a national asset, as well as a local asset.
He noted that there is still an enormous section of sandy beach along the coastline even without the section of beach being discussed at the meeting.
Tory councillor Alison Wright tried to amend Cllr Grey’s plan to allow 40% of the beach to be raked to provide a testing environment for the advantages and disadvantages of raking and allowing foliage to grow.
But the plan was voted down by six votes to five, with Cllr Grey’s motion passing by seven votes to four.
Words: George Morgan, Local Democracy Reporter
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