It's easy - and understandable - for the recent decision on Dungeness to be seen as a hammer blow to the Marsh economy. The decision to provisionally exclude Dungeness from the list of 10 sites being considered for new Nuclear build seems to put at threat the potential of 600 local jobs - maybe more. Of course we want those jobs locally, and Dungeness has a long and proud association with the safe generation of nuclear power.
So why was the decision made, and where do we go from here? It seems the Department for Energy & Climate Change (DECC) representatives (who advised the Government on the Dungeness decision) did so on the basis that any new nuclear power station on the proposed site would need to be built further back from the coastline to enable adequate sea defences to be put in place which in turn would destroy the shingle ridges which are the subject of strict environmental protection.
Natural England made such a strong case for the protection of the fragile eco-system at Dungeness that DECC had no option but to recommend the Government to remove Dungeness from the list of proposed sites, reinforced by a very strong case put by the RSPB for the protection of the wildlife & habitats there.
Since the building of Dungeness B in the 70's Dungeness has been granted the European status as an SAC (Special Area of Conservation), an SPA (special protected area) and is also a proposed Ramsar site (wetland site of international importance). Successive Governments - backed by local Councils - have supported these special conservation and protection areas.
The Habitats Regulations Assessment for Dungeness has concluded that losses as a result of a new nuclear power station at Dungeness would prove difficult to mitigate or compensate for, due to lack of suitable alternative shingle habitat available in the vicinity, the active role that coastal processes play in maintaining the shingle habitats, and the time period that successional shingle vegetation communities take to establish.
So where now? Clearly, there are some facts to be established, and a challenge to be made if any of them are not true. Governments can screw up (!). Does the proposed site of Dungeness C actually use a different site to the current footprint of the stations? If not, where does that leave the case for removal from the "possibles" list?
Am I a Nuclear sceptic? Yes - I think most people are. If I thought there was already a secure, clean and renewable alternative I'd go for it like a shot. Nuclear has risks, and the long term storage issues of spent fuel remain the elephant in the room - after decades of generation.
But do I think that from here, after a deplorable lack of research and investment in renewable sources of power over decades, that we will be able to support our imminent energy needs without new nuclear build? I don't know - and increasingly, there are many green commentators such as George Monbiot, who also have doubts. We shouldn't be in this position, but we are. On that basis, I can see a need for new Nuclear build, but we must do everything, everything, to ensure there is never a need for another round of Nuclear stations beyond this one.
So again, why has Dungeness not been included on the list of potential new nuclear sites?
Because the Government, advised by English Nature, says it will harm the unique habitat of Dungeness - a habitat which has special protection due to its uniqueness, and which can't simply be replaced or "mitigated" by providing space elsewhere. If that's true, then it doesn't meet the criteria of being "environmentally acceptable".
You can't designate an area for special protection as its special, then ignore that when it suits you. Others have said that they would support Dungeness C if it satisfied "environmental requirements". If the report is right, it doesn't. Game over.
So what are the positives?
The positives are the REASON for rejection - we have at Dungeness an absolutely unique site. There isn't anything like it in the world. "The world according to the best geographers is divided into Europe, Asia, Africa, America, and Romney Marsh." it says in Ingoldsby Legends by Reverend Richard Harris Barham. Quite right, although he maybe undersold it.
We should be telling people about our sixth continent, our eighth wonder of the world. Dungeness should be a draw to millions of people from across the country and beyond to visit, stay, explore, watch and enjoy. We should take pride in what the area has, and actively seek to develop and promote it.
The rest of the world would be seeking to promote, utilise and protect this uniqueness, to make it a draw to visitors from across the world. Is the best we can do to say that we must build a nuclear power station on it? Where is our sense of pride. Where is our imagination, our "can-do" spirit?
No-one else has what we have. Lets do something to use it in a way that creates jobs locally, develops pride, makes the most of the resources we have, and allows others to share our sense of wonder in this stunning corner of England.
The Eden Project in Cornwall attracts over 1 million visitors a year to, with the greatest possible respect, a bunch of big greenhouses. They employ 400 core staff directly, 200 season staff and the spin-off employment for the area - places to stay, places to eat, other attractions, transport and more - would employ at least as many again. Where is our "Other Eden" project - we have a better starting place than they do.
How do we develop this project?
Lets work with partners who would want to see this sort of tourism, where people come to learn more about and share our unique environment. Lets engage with the RSPB, with English Nature, with local hotels, guest houses, Discover Folkestone, Hythe & Romney Marsh, the RHD Railway, the lighthouse, pubs, restaurants and others to develop a plan of a massive increase in tourism to the area.
What will we need?
Better transport links - yes. Train links, park and ride, lets look at trams, eco-park and ride (like bicycling holidays) building a real network of cycle paths, even extending the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway.
We'll need to develop more, and sustainable, places to stay. Will this mean some development on the Marsh to provide facilities for all these visitors - yes it will. But lets embrace the opportunities our special status gives us.
If low level building of holiday homes is impossible due to the risk from the sea, lets make a virtue of that - lets build hotels and B&Bs on stilts, lets looking a floating hotels, lets use our canal and make it somewhere people can stay, and use. Lets encourage local people to promote their own green tourism businesses, and build on those we have. Lets make the most of the farmland and open space and celebrate it, and make buying and serving local produce the rule, not the exception.
Lets show people around the area, develop tours and help people get around. Boating jetties, fishing tours to exploit the Wembley of fishing, using the skills of those who have fished in the area for years, and helping them to renew their businesses and make money again from the sea, but with a greater catch of tourists than dwindling quotas of fish.
Cycling tours, pick up and drop off cycle points - when it comes to cycling, the Marsh makes Holland look like a big dipper ride. Families cycling around the area, with guides, eating in local restaurants serving local food, shopping in local shops proudly selling local produce, visiting a wide range of attractions run by and for local residents, and staying in accommodation built to make the most of the landscape, run and employing local people.
And this should be more than a one-way discussion - lets get the ideas of all those who live, work and enjoy the area to get their suggestions into the mix, and really start to pursue them. What do you think would work? What would you like to see?
By maximising what we have got, rather than obsessing about what we haven't, we could build a tourist industry - an environmental tourist industry - employing more people than a power station ever could. We could build a sense of pride in our place, our people and the natural beauty and uniqueness of Dungeness and Romney Marsh. Now THAT'S a nuclear option.