MAJOR plans to create important new habitat for birds have been unanimously approved by councillors.
Hartlepool Borough Council’s planning committee has backed the £2.3m Environment Agency scheme to create 22 hectares of inter-tidal saltmarsh and mudflats at Greatham Creek, on the outskirts of town.
Work is expected to start in May and take six months.
Environment chiefs say it will compensate for the loss of similar habitats across the Tees Estuary and also at Redcar, which will be lost over time because of rising sea levels.
The work will include construction of a new flood bank, which will allow two breaches to be made in the existing embankment along the north bank of Greatham Creek without increasing flood risk to properties and businesses in the Greatham area.
The breaches will allow the tide coming up the estuary to wash in and out, creating a new area of inter-tidal mudflats and saltmarsh.
Environment Agency officers say this will support a variety of bird species whose populations are at risk because of gradual loss of suitable habitat.
Bruce Munro, the Environment Agency’s principal environmental project manager for the scheme, said: “We carried out a detailed environmental assessment to support our planning application and we are delighted that we can now go ahead with what is an important and exciting development of international conservation importance.
“We worked very closely with a range of partners, including the RSPB and Natural England, and also with the local community, to develop our plans and I would like to thank them for their support and commitment.
“While the habitat creation is a legal requirement that will allow for future flood protection along the Tees Estuary, we feel this scheme will deliver so much more, for wildlife, the local community and for visitors.”
The plans were approved by the council’s planning committee.
Greatham councillor Geoff Lilley said at the committee meeting: “This is really significant and I am looking forward to it.”
The new bank will have a public footpath along the top which will provide vantage points for birdwatchers.
The project is part of an overall strategy for the Tees Estuary being developed by the Environment Agency to protect people, properties and the area’s business infrastructure from flooding, while also ensuring valuable wildlife habitat is maintained.
The Tees Estuary is renowned for its inter-tidal habitats which lie underwater at high tide but are exposed at low tide to provide feeding grounds for thousands of birds, including a number of rare species.