Latest hydropower decision: angling rights to be sacrificed ‘for the greater good’
A recent licensing decision by the government body tasked with promoting sustainable development and at the same time protecting the country’s existing natural assets has thrown into sharp relief where its priorities may actually lie.
The first hydropower scheme on Lancashire’s River Lune, one of the best salmon rivers in England, has been given the go-ahead by the Environment Agency (EA) at Forge Weir, even though it will significantly harm the local recreational fishery by diverting the majority of the river’s flows through the turbines during the fishing season. Salmon and sea trout will either no longer lie in the ‘depleted’ pool or will be almost impossible to fish for if they do; downstream, they will be subjected to the large artificial ‘return flows’ from the hydro.
The Luneside and Forgewood beats at Halton, just upstream of Lancaster, together produce an annual rod-catch of some 150 salmon and 100 sea trout, over half of which are caught in the weirpool below Forge Weir, making it one of the best fishing pools on the river and indeed in the country. The angling rights in the weirpool alone have a probable capital value of over £500,000. Fish Legal has been campaigning for months on behalf of its members to stop the development from being approved in its present form. In response, the EA simply stated that “angling in the Forgewood and Luneside sections of the weirpool would not be prevented altogether”, that “it is unclear whether the fisheries would reduce in value and if so, by how much”, and that in its view “the impacts would be outweighed by the benefits to the local community”.
The scheme was approved just days before the EA published its revised ‘Good Practice Guidelines’, which would have prohibited the development from going ahead. Anglers were largely excluded from the planning discussions except during the one month period when the Agency ‘advertised’ the application in late 2012, when a large number of objections were lodged. Anglers also provided details of the precise impact that the development would have on the fishing when the EA asked them for this information in March 2013. There was no further communication from the Agency until just before Christmas 2013, after anglers discovered that construction activities had already begun. The Agency then produced a 100-page ‘determination report’ which it claimed demonstrated how the fishing concerns had been comprehensively answered.
One reason given for granting the hydropower licence was that the developer would otherwise lose grant funding of £350,000 from the EU and other sources. The report claims that the impact on the fishery will be ‘minimised’ by a condition requiring that anglers are now provided with an access allowing them to walk over the hydro and into the ‘depleted reach’, where they will have to wade out a further 5 metres in order to avoid fishing near the new fish pass (as required by local byelaws).
They were not consulted about this condition, which they view as both farcical and potentially dangerous. Now that the scheme is to go ahead, Fish Legal will be checking that the licence conditions are properly followed, including by not permitting heavy construction activities to take place during the salmon migration season (although it believes that this has already been allowed by the EA), and by making sure that the fish passage and counting requirements are rigorously adhered to by the developer, to minimise the impacts on the salmon and sea trout stocks of the river as a whole. Local anglers are furious about the decision and the process by which it has been reached.
Alan Jackson, whose family owns Luneside Fisheries, said: “As riparian owner of one of the two beats affected, I am staggered that the EA have not thought to contact me with respect to how the hydro will affect the weir pool. I supplied my contact details to them as requested but no one, other than the Lune & Wyre Fishing Association, has had the courtesy to contact me about it. One would have thought that as the water flow through the weir pool – our most productive pool – will be completely changed for more than half the season, and that I and my syndicate may not be able to fish it in October when the majority of fish have historically been recorded as passing through, someone from the EA would have been in touch. It is absolutely outrageous.”
Andrew Kelton, Fish Legal solicitor, said: “The Environment Agency has handled this proposal with an alarming disregard for ordinary democratic principles. Its position was at first that it did not need to take fishing (ie. property) rights into account when making this decision, and then that the relevant legislation justified the harm to those rights ‘in the community interest’. In our view both positions are contrary to the basic legal principle that the State should respect and not violate individuals’ rights unless any such harm is clearly justified by statute and fully compensated for – neither of which has been the case here." He added: “The fact that one of the two fishery owners (who is not a Fish Legal member) belatedly reached a financial settlement with the developer does not alter that fundamental issue of principle. We hope that the shoddy way in which anglers have been treated in this case will not be repeated, and that the new Good Practice Guidelines will ensure proper protection for fishing interests whenever future hydropower projects are being considered. Regrettably, in the meantime the Forge Weir hydro will have to serve as an object lesson in bad process.”
Mark Lloyd, Fish Legal's Chief Executive, said: “Fish Legal’s team have worked tirelessly on this case for the past 18 months in order to resolve this situation in the best interest of Luneside Fisheries and other River Lune members of Fish Legal, but because of evidently determined official resistance, and the fact that one of the two fisheries directly affected is not a member, they faced a very difficult challenge. This kind of situation where anglers’ rights are ridden over roughshod by the authorities and a private developer is a clear example of why more individual and club members need to join the Angling Trust and Fish Legal to support our work fighting for fish and fisheries.