Tuesday, 17 July 2012

The Great Breakwater of Holyhead.

Quite soon now we'll find out whether the Welsh Government has called in the outline planning application for the waterfront development at Newry Beach, due to the proposed scheme being a departure from the local plan.

There has been much opposition to the proposed development, with a petition of over 4000 signatures being handed to the Welsh Government. One issue much talked about is the upkeep of breakwater, and that is something I shall consider in this post.

First some interesting history about the port and breakwater..

From around 1840 as the Port of Holyhead became more busy, it was considered that a larger harbour was needed. A view had been reached at the Admiralty, whom were in charge of ports at the time, that Holyhead would be ideal as a 'package port' for communication with Ireland.

Sir Robert Peel, Prime Minister said at the House of Commons on May 1843 "The evidence was conclusive in favour of the line from Chester by Bangor to some port. Then the question arose which should be the port, and the commissioners decided in favour of Holyhead; and he thought they decided judiciously. The details of the arrangement were still under consideration.

Around the same time consideration was being given for the need of a harbour of refuge on the West Coast.

Sir Robert Peel, at a sitting of the House of Commons on 29 February 1844 said "But take the west coast, and the evidence was most conclusive as to the necessity of having a harbour of refuge, and for facilitating the communication between this country and Ireland, and if he were asked to say what point should be selected for such a harbour, he should certainly select Holyhead."

This proposal gave rise to considerable objections form both Liverpool Port and Dublin Port whom where concerned that a improved and safer Holyhead harbour could take trade away from them. These argument continued for some time.

Sir Robert Peel observed; when asked at the House of Commons on 7 June 1847, whether Holyhead was the best location for a harbour of refuge: that there never was a question more fully considered than this, whether or not Holyhead was entitled to a preference over any neighbouring port in facilitating the intercourse between this country and Ireland. The late Administration had sent two very eminent men, one connected with civil engineering, the other with the Admiralty, for the purpose of making a report on that question. They inquired into the subject most minutely, and made a report decidedly in favour of Holyhead. There was some little imputation, resting upon the slightest grounds, as to their partiality. Two others wore therefore appointed, who made a report to the same effect, decidedly in favour of Holyhead; and he was not sure whether there was not a third inquiry. Here then were three inquiries within the last few years; at least he was quite certain that there were two, which both resulted in favour of that site. He was bound to say that he thought the reasons for selecting Holyhead were quite decisive.

At a House in Committee of Supply 12 June 1857 Mr Wilson said...."When the first Vote for Holyhead Harbour was taken, a very large scheme was proposed to Parliament, founded on the recommendation of the Admiralty; but owing to the jealousy of Liverpool and the neighbouring ports, together with a scepticism on the part of that House as to the utility of the project, the undertaking was reduced from a plan that would cost £1,200,000—the original 1694 sum suggested—to one that would cost only £808,000. The smaller project was the one actually adopted; but to such a remarkable degree had the expectations of those who advocated the more extensive scheme been realized, that even during the progress of the works the Harbour was so much resorted to in its incomplete state, and so inadequate to receive the vessels having recourse to it, that the Government had been compelled to come down to the House and propose increase after increase in the Vote until they had reached the highest amount contemplated in the original plan, and the present estimate was £l,198,000. The following table, taken from the report of Captain Skinner, the Superintendent of Holyhead Harbour, showed the number of vessels which had entered it from 1852:—
Year          No.              Tonnage.
1852 … … 514 … …      34,650
1853 … … 1,293 … … 106,392
1854 … … 1,788 … … 137,058
1855 … … 1,607 … … 119,413
1856 … … 2,394 … … 198,666
The importance of this harbour was very great, because not only did the Irish postal packets go to and from it, but it was for the convenience of the metropolis that the American steamers should land their letters, &c., when they arrived off Holyhead. One cause of the large increase upon this and similar works was, that it was found advisable to complete them as expeditiously as possible. It was due therefore to the exertions of the late Mr. Rendell, who had had the supervision of this harbour, and whose great professional abilities everybody would admit, that they had been able to expend a large sum in the execution of this undertaking in a single year. If important public works of this kind were to be carried out at all, the quicker they were advanced the better for the interests of the community. [An ironical cry of "Hear, hear!"]

These day the main concern is maintenance of the breakwater, as reported by Holyhead and Anglesey Mail back in 2009. In 2006 the Daily Post reported that £10 million pounds was needed to repair the breakwater. At the time Capt Parry said the company's bill for simply maintaining the breakwater was running at £150,000 a year and "significant" repairs were needed.

Although the need for continuous repairs and the high costs associated with the harbour have been known for some time, this from Hansard: Mr Michael Hicks-Beach Commons — April 9, 1889 Holyhead is a very expensive harbour to keep up. The breakwater requires continual watching, and I am sure the salary of this gentleman is well earned.

HOLYHEAD BREAKWATER. Mr Michael Hicks-Beach Commons — March 20, 1890 that there was some neglect with regard to the repair of the breakwater at Holyhead for some years, and that owing to that neglect the storm had had serious effect upon the break-water. I cannot express an opinion.

The Great Breakwater was commenced by the Admiralty in 1847 ( Harbours, Docks and Piers Clauses Act 1847) until Harbours Transfer Act 1862 transferred the responsibility to the Board of Trade, until Ministry of Transport Act 1919 transferred the responsibility to the Ministry of Transport.

I think that's enough history for now, but what we can gather from the past is how important the Great Breakwater is not only to Holyhead but the rest of the UK.

We need to ask whether the burden of the upkeep of such an important breakwater; and a grade II listed structure, should alone be placed onto one private company, whilst many others also gain benefit. We know that because it's in private ownership (with thanks to Margaret Thatcher) certain grants may not be available to them, and we know that others have ideas on how to develop the breakwater. Getting Conygar/Stena Line to pay a commuted sum (presumably to Stena Line Ports) for the future upkeep of the breakwater may provide a short term answer. But what of the long term, what would happen if it really does fall down?

Can I suggest something along these lines - that a charity be set up for the future maintenance and repair of the breakwater, to whom Stena Line Ports could transfer ownership and a sizable contribution towards future maintenance etc, there could be Board of Commissioners with representatives from interested parties. In other words it's a structure of national importance, lets make it a national asset once again, you know like buildings the National Trust looks after... Just a thought...

Note: Many of the above quotes are from Hansard i.e Hansard Search - holyhead harbour of refuge

1 comment:

kp said...

Historically the port of Holyhead was of great significance. But today, much less so. And tomorrow, it will be of even less import.

Times change. We must not let the past hinder our future.