Holiday beaches could be threatened by huge port dredging project, warn experts
Coastal engineers are worried that dredging to deepen shipping lanes could harm Felixstowe's south beach Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN
Multi-million pound proposals to deepen shipping lanes to increase the number of the world's biggest vessels using Britain's top container port could harm beaches at a seaside resort, it has been warned.
Experts say the Port of Felixstowe could lose business to competitors if congestion and delays increase as shipping companies change to ever-larger ships.
Harwich Haven Authority (HHA) has applied to deepen the shipping lanes leading in and out of the mile-wide Harwich Harbour by 1.5metres.
The work - which will involve a dredger sucking up 23.5 million cubic metres of stiff clay, sand, gravel, stone and soft mud - will mean three super-sized ships could use the harbour on one tide.
At present just one can berth or leave, meaning there is a 12-hour delay before a second can be moved.
However, coastal engineers are concerned that the massive dredging project could cause disruption to Felixstowe's south beaches - and erosion which will see shore levels drop dramatically.
East Suffolk Council's head of planning and coastal management Philip Ridley said: "ESC is concerned that the increased volume of sand required to be removed by maintenance dredging from the proposed channel deepening has potential to cause a negative impact on beaches over the southern Felixstowe frontage in that it will permanently remove material that may otherwise circulate in a system that has potential for sediment exchange to and from the shoreline.
"This loss to the nearshore system may accumulate overtime to become significant and reduce beach volumes."
The council has told the Marine Management Organisation - which is expected to make a decision on the dredging by summer 2020 - there should be a full risk assessment carried out.
It also wants to see further investigations on the possible impact to existing soil retaining structures between Landguard Point and Landguard Fort which keep the area safe from flooding.
It also has worries that some intertidal feeding areas for birds could be lost.
HHA said the project would deepen the shipping channel from 14.5m to 16m, creating "a very significant increase in the availability of marine access to the Haven Ports".
It says the project would support the economy of the area and "without deepening the harbour and channel, it is likely congestion and delays will increase and business will ultimately be lost to UK or nearby European ports".
Studies show that there will be no impact predicted on birds during the work - which is expected to start early 2021 and be carried out round-the-clock seven days a week, with completion in 2022 - and a "very small reduction in intertidal area", leading to some redistribution of feeding birds.
Most of the material dredged will be deposited 22 miles offshore but some will be used for harbour repair projects or habitat creation.
The world's biggest container ship, the 400-metre long MSC Gulsun able to carry 23,756 stand-sized containers visited Felixstowe in September. All the major shipping lines are moving to similar size vessels to reduce costs and cut fuel and emissions.