BOILED OVER: Hoylake beach debate at council meeting
The Floral Pavilion in New Brighton
A row over the condition of a Wirral beach boiled over during a raucous council meeting.
Questions about the state of the beach, which some labelled ‘depressing’ were asked by five members of the public at last night’s meeting of every elected Wirral councillor.
But only one question got a response on the night itself, with two Labour members, council leader Janette Williamson and chair of the environment and transport committee Liz Grey, promising to write to those who asked the questions.
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.
Since then, groups of local residents and councillors have campaigned to have the beach raked, but not sprayed, once again.
In March, 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 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 could have will remain.
This move was passed with Labour and Green votes, as both the Tories and Liberal Democrats supported raking.
At the time, a spokesperson for Natural England, the government’s adviser for the natural environment, told the LDRS 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, local resident Nicola Verkade said: “Litter and debris on Wirral beaches impacts on how beaches look and how they can or cannot be used, which directly results in lower visitor numbers and negatively affects the local economy.
“A neglected, unmanaged beach gives the impression to some that Wirral Council doesn’t care and that they need not clean up after themselves.”
She added: “What impact does this council feel the growing amount of litter and debris on Wirral beaches has on visitors?”
A question from fellow member of the public Keith Randles said the current state of the beach was “depressing” and was caused by Wirral Council’s overreaction to the “spraying error” of 2019.
He added that the beach was important for access to clean air and family bonding, as well as being Hoylake’s amenity space in the way that Birkenhead Park is to those living nearby.
Mr Randles asked why the environment and transport committee did not “show any compassion” in rejecting a proposal for a section of the beach to be raked and “handed back to residents”.
One question, from Charlotte Smith, was answered on the night.
Ms Smith asked council leader Janette Williamson if the council would grant permission for several community events, which have been going on for decades, to continue to take place on the beach.
Cllr Williamson said that the authority had not received an application to host activities up to October 15 and that there was a process that had to be followed.
She added that the council was aware of the history of events in the area and that it has sought advice from Natural England.
Several Conservative councillors showed their frustration at what they said was a failure to answer questions on the night, as did members of the public from the gallery.
Cllr Tom Anderson, leader of the Tory group on the council, asked that given the questions were submitted in enough time for a verbal answer to be given, why is a written response being promised?
Wirral Council’s mayor, Cllr George Davies, said that members would be fulfilling their duty if they responded to questions in writing.
Fellow Conservative Simon Mountney said that respect was due to members of the public and that people who had bothered to come to the meeting deserved to be shown respect by having their questions answered on the night.
He added that he thought the failure to do so was a “disgrace” and was not “democracy being seen to be done”.
Later in the meeting, Hoylake councillor Alison Wright, also a Conservative, presented a petition containing 4,500 signatures from residents.
Cllr Wright’s petition asked for the council to resume raking a section of Hoylake beach from the new lifeboat station to Kings Gap.
She added that local residents were concerned about the state of the beach and how it was deteriorating, saying it was a “huge loss” of amenity space.
Fellow Hoylake councillors Tony Cox and Andrew Gardner also presented petitions with a similar number of signatures, along similar lines to the one Cllr Wright spoke about.
Words: George Morgan, Local Democracy Reporter
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