Nature reserve transfer plans continue

PUBLISHED: 12:02 23 July 2015 | UPDATED: 14:32 23 July 2015

North Somerset Council wants to take on management of Portbury Wharf Nature Reserve, although the idea concerns some people.

North Somerset Council wants to take on management of Portbury Wharf Nature Reserve, although the idea concerns some people.

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Discussions will be held to allow North Somerset Council to take on management of Portbury Wharf Nature Reserve within the next two to three months, despite campaigners fearing the site will be fall into disrepair.

For years the site has been managed by Avon Wildlife Trust (AWT), but as revealed by the Times in May, steps have been taken to transfer the management to North Somerset.

An annual levy was set up as part of a community agreement between the council and Persimmon Homes to maintain the nature reserve, when the latter was granted permission to build 2,650 homes.

But Port Marine Management Ltd (PMML), which collects the yearly £54 levy, decided at its 2014 annual meeting to seek an alternative arrangement to fund the reserve.

A letter was written by Nigel Ashton, chairman of PMML and North Somerset Council, to say the council would look to take on the financial costs of managing the nature site, once PMML’s remaining reserves, of about £300,000, had been used up.

The transfer though has concerned those who feel it may not be in taxpayers’ or the reserve’s interest to be looked after by the council, although the authority promises to keep the area to a high standard.

Cllr Donald Davies tabled a motion at last week’s full council meeting for it to be noted how important AWT has been in looking after it.

John Morris, representing AWT, said the reserve had been running successfully for five years, adding: “Why would North Somerset want additional logistical and financial responsibility during a time of austerity where there is already a capable structure in place for doing the job?

“I have real concern there is a politically-driven agenda and desire from some in the council to see the reserve fail and the ecological value downgraded and degraded.”

Jeremy Andrews, who is one of the 2,650 homeowners who has to pay the annual levy, said it was hard to gauge public opinion.

He said: “I know some residents aren’t happy with what we are being charged and some are unwilling to pay anything at all, even though they agreed to. Without proper consultation it is hard to know how widely held that view is. One neighbour I have spoken to agrees they would rather pay the levy than the reserve become an unloved park.”

Cllr David Pasley, North Somerset’s executive member for finance, told the Times it was a question of sustainability and said council officers will meet with Persimmon to finalise a deal.

He said: “The council has pledged to protect the nature reserve for the future.

“Council staff will maintain the reserve to a very high-spec.”

Cllr Pasley hopes volunteers and AWT will continue some of their excellent work at the reserve and said the council would scrap the levy. Instead all homeowners will contribute – much like they do with other public areas, such as the Lake Grounds.

He said: “The levy was unsustainable because some were happy to pay and others weren’t.

“Also, if Hinkley Point gets the go-ahead, and it looks more and more likely, then we are going to have disruption in the wildlife park as work is carried out on the pylons.

“Part of that reserve will not be open throughout (that time) and I think it is unreasonable to ask people to contribute a levy when it can’t be fully used.”

Regarding the sea wall, Cllr Pasley suggested if it was breached, Portbury Wharf could become a saltwater reserve. But the wall is in no imminent danger and he said it was not feasible to spend ‘hundreds of thousands of pounds’ of taxpayer’s money to fully repair it.

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