FALMOUTH Harbour Commissioners are pressing ahead with their plans to dredge a deep water channel into the port, dismissing claims that a test dredge showed the project could not go ahead without causing environmental damage.

The commissioners have applied to the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) for a licence to dredge and last year a team from Plymouth University Marine Institute carried out a limited dredge to gauge the effects it would have on the dead maerl habitat.

A report on the results of the trial dredge has now been reviewed by the Independent Scientific Advisory Panel (ISAP) which said: “Overall this trial provides welcome information on translocation of maerl bed habitat. However, we caution that the results of this experimental study should not be applied uncritically to a much larger dredge area.”

While environmentalists are now claiming the full dredge could not go ahead without causing damage to the live maerl habitat and that the trial was a waste of money, the scientist who oversaw the trial and FHC refute this.

Captain Mark Sansom, harbour master and chief executive of FHC, said: “We don’t see it as a waste of money. It has been an investment in the future of the port, whether it succeeds or not. I do not know of any research that could be uncritically applied.”

Mr Sansom has confirmed that as far as the commissioners are concerned, “nothing has changed” and they have not even considered abandoning the project.

“We applied to the MMO and they needed further information,” he said. “We have provided that information and now it’s up to them to interpret that information. Our advisors are encouraged by the information we now have. We will be engaging fully with the MMO and Natural England in order to look at how the application progresses from here.

“We have been committed over a long period to get the consents through and there will be an extra delay now, but we are still committed to try and get the approvals.”

Work has begun on updating the environmental statement which will form part of an appropriate assessment. “They (the MMO) have to satisfy themselves that the dredging will not have an adverse impact on the site,” said Mr Sansom. “We believe we can respond with what they are asking for.”

If the application passes the appropriate assessment stage, it will go out for full public consultation when Mr Sansom believes it will be supported. “We know there is a lot of support in Falmouth for this and that people feel strongly that the dredging has to take place,” he said. “At the moment these voices are not being heard.”

It is not known how long it will take for the MMO to determine the application, but Mr Sansom is hoping it will not take years. “Any delays are very costly to the port,” he said. We clearly see the dredging as vital for the future viability of the port of Falmouth.”