The design and development of a lay-by berth within the Solent Maritime Special Area of Conservation (SAC) set a precedent for navigating changes to the marine licensing process. The project upholds habitat conservation objectives for the SAC, whilst benefiting the wider Isle of Wight economy with increased freight movements across the Solent.
A new lay-by berth for ‘Red Kestrel’
Red Funnel needed a new lay-by berth to be ready for the brand-new freight-ferry, ‘Red Kestrel’ to enter service. The 74m long vessel was designed to provide additional year-round freight capacity for Red Funnel’s Southampton-East Cowes route which handles 53% of all freight on and off the island.
Highly manoeuvrable, Red Kestrel is to use the existing main linkspan berth at East Cowes for loading and discharging freight vehicles. However, a new lay-by berth was required to integrate the new freight service into the existing ferry timetable without causing ferries to have to pass each other within Cowes Harbour. The lay-by berth allows the Red Kestrel to be moored adjacent to the existing main berth while it waits for its turn to use the linkspan.
Underwater survey, design and required consents
Ramboll was appointed by Red Funnel Ltd to design the new lay-by berth and apply for the relevant consents. Ramboll’s Marine, Geotechnical and Environment teams based in Southampton were involved.
Underwater survey work in Cowes Harbour was carried out in Spring 2018 to inform the detailed design of the lay-by berth, and to assess the ground conditions and risk of unexploded ordnance.
The lay-by berth design consists of three berthing dolphin structures, mooring piles and dredging. The dolphins each consist of four driven tubular steel piles that are connected by steel bracing. The bracing was pre-fabricated off-site as a complete jacket structure that was lifted onto the piles. This jacket design improved safety for the contractors because it reduced the need to work over water to fix the bracing.
Before dredging and construction could begin, consents were required to carry out the installation of mooring piles, dredging of a maximum of 5,000m³ to allow the freight ferry to enter the berth at all states of the tide. The required consents included a Marine Licence from the Marine Management Organisation (MMO), a Seabed Lease and a Dredge Disposal Licence from The Crown Estate, a Works and Dredge Licences from Cowes Harbour Commission.
New ruling on the treatment of habitat integrity
Cowes Harbour, at the mouth of the River Medina, is one of the inlets in The Solent that are unique in Britain and Europe for their hydrographic regime of a double high tide, and for the complexity of the marine and estuarine habitats.
We applied for consents for the construction and dredging to take place within the Solent Maritime SAC and expected the works would cause permanent loss of a small proportion of the qualifying features of the SAC. Soon after the application process started, in April 2018, the European court confirmed that mitigation cannot be taken into account when screening a project under the Habitats Regulations. This meant that we had to make an additional application for an Appropriate Assessment to be undertaken by the MMO during the licence determination.
We considered that, as habitat loss could not be ruled out, the Appropriate Assessment was likely to conclude that there was potential for a Likely Significant Effect on the integrity of the SAC. We then commenced extensive consultation with the MMO and Natural England to explore ways in which the project could proceed.
Our consultations resulted in the ‘imperative reasons of overriding public interest’ (IROPI) Procedure under Article 6 of the Habitats Directive being employed. We were able to demonstrate that the tests of IROPI could be met by the project if this was deemed to be required, and if suitable compensation measures for the area of habitat loss were agreed with Natural England.
However, during this consultation, it was agreed that as a result of design adjustments to include the smallest diameter and least number of piles, the development did not undermine the conservation objectives for the SAC. In other words, the construction of the lay-by berth would not have an adverse effect on habitat integrity after all. Consequently, a Marine Licence was granted on 7 December 2018, six months after we submitted the application to the MMO.
Construction and completion
Red 7 Marine was appointed as contractor for the works and commenced construction in January 2019 ready for Red Kestrel coming into service in May 2019.