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Bright future ahead

PUBLISHED: 17:29 12 January 2009 | UPDATED: 22:11 05 July 2010

ICONIC lighthouses in Suffolk are set to shine on “for many decades to come” after a review concluded satellite navigation systems are not good enough to replace them.

ICONIC lighthouses in Suffolk are set to shine on “for many decades to come” after a review concluded satellite navigation systems are not good enough to replace them.

Trinity House had proposed to switch off lighthouses at Southwold and Lowestoft by next year because of advances in satellite navigation technology for mariners.

But experts have decided Global Positioning System (GPS) is no substitute for lighthouses in providing a warning system for ships because it is not yet robust or reliable enough - and because mariners cannot be forced to use it.

They said it was “inevitable” that lighthouses would be sending out their warning beams to sailors for many years to come.

This week the news was welcomed in Southwold, where mayor Teresa Baggott said the lighthouse was part of “the fabric of the town”.

“I think the community welcomes this. Everyone as kids knows it goes four times in twenty seconds and it is a feature of the town. It is important to the mariners.”

Lighthouse authority Trinity House's 2005 Aids to Navigation review highlighted 11 of the 71 lighthouses in England and Wales for closure by 2010.

It said the sites would be discontinued if new technology was good enough and there was an alternative terrestrial radio navigation to back-up.

Duncan Glass, Trinity House's director of navigational requirements, said: “We were asking the question 'could satellite and radio navigation systems replace visual aid navigation?'

“It was clear that if satellite navigation reached a level of accuracy, availability and continuity - and there was a terrestrial radio back-up to GPS - then some of the lower-range, less important aids to navigation could be discontinued.

“We would need to be at a point where certain radio and satellite aids to navigation were robust and available, but we are a long way from that.

“There is a system we hope will be a radio back-up in the future, but that is some years away. And, of course, mariners don't have to carry anything they don't want to.

“Having tested ourselves on what it takes to replace visual aid navigation with GPS and radio navigation, we are a long, long way from that.”

He added: “Nothing is strong enough or reliable enough to take the place of lighthouses and I think it's inevitable they will be working for decades and decades to come. I can't see a day without them.”

Southwold lighthouse, which stands in the heart of the town, is a coastal mark for passing ships and a guide for vessels entering the town's harbour.

It was established in 1889 and fully automated in 1938 and stands 31ft high, sending a white beam 18 miles out to sea.

Its red light, visible for 15 miles out to sea, serves as a warning of the sandbanks to the north of Southwold and to Sizewell bank to the south.

Lowestoft lighthouse was first established in 1609 but has undergone several rebuilds, the most recent in 1874. It was electrified in 1936, automated in 1975 and stands 16 metres high with a light beam range of 23 miles out to sea.


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