The Trust’s charitable objective is “To preserve and enhance Bembridge Harbour for the benefit of the public including users of the Harbour and the communities of Bembridge and St Helens”. The supporting aims, which were set at our founding, mention bird watching and walking, sailing and scenery, and other such happy preoccupations. Certain aims also acknowledge a more watchful role, ensuring that the company that owns the Harbour meets its statutory obligations, including in particular (but not limited to) protection of the ecology, sewage disposal, maintenance of channels, and dredging.
As of course the Trust has no direct control over the Harbour or the land immediately surrounding it, we seek to influence statutory regulators to ensure that all activities in and around the Harbour follow the regulatory framework that was designed to protect the public’s legitimate interests.
The Harbour is a complex interlocking set of systems – natural, commercial, social and financial – but to simplify things, this report considers matters under four headings:
1. corporate structure and governance of the Harbour
2. Harbour operations, infrastructure and maintenance
3. property management
4. governance and finance of Bembridge Harbour Trust
1. Corporate structure and governance of the Harbour
The “Bembridge Harbour Authority” trading style adopted by the current owners conflates several companies as if they were, collectively, the Statutory Harbour Authority (SHA). In fact, only one of these is the officially recognised SHA – Bembridge Harbour Improvements Company (BHIC). This is a company established under its own statute, which owns the land covered by water at high tide, including pontoons and moorings (such as houseboat plots).
Bembridge Investments Limited (BIL) is not, and is not part of, the SHA. It is simply a property company which owns land surrounding the Harbour, including offices and car parks, albeit land without which the Harbour cannot function.
BHIC and BIL are both ultimately owned by Malcolm and Fiona Thorpe. Financial transactions occur between BHIC and BIL (and other entities in the Thorpe group of companies). A key concern of BHT in recent years has been the lack of adequate information for the public to be confident (as it has a right to be) that money which should by law be dedicated to the needs of the Harbour is not being applied for other purposes.
In accordance with its Charitable Objective and Aims, BHT has brought this situation to the attention of the relevant people so it can be rectified. As well as our MP, Bob Seely, we have written in detail to both of this year’s Secretaries of State at the Department for Transport (Chris Grayling and Grant Shapps) together with their junior ministers and civil servants. They have also received letters from concerned local residents and a question has been asked in the House of Lords. All of these conversations are still ongoing, but it is not surprising in the current political climate that they have not been given immediate priority. Our hope is that the Department for Transport will require an inspection of the financial affairs of the Statutory Harbour Authority for which it has ultimate responsibility, and the Trustees will continue to press for this by every means possible.
Our efforts include giving our approval to the “Show Us The Books” social media campaign led by Penny Walford, and supported by the GMB Union as well as members of the public. Penny is married to Jeremy Gully, the Chair of Trustees. However, the Trustees at all times take decisions independently.
2. Harbour operations, infrastructure and maintenance
There is ever more visible evidence of levels of sand building up at key points,threatening the very future of the Harbour as a working and recreational facility.This can be mitigated by a combination of dredging and maintaining sea defences.
Regular dredging, according to a reliable published schedule, is not only essential if larger boats are to use the Harbour, but also to allow the natural flushing action of the tide to carry out as much sand and silt as possible.
Over the last year Harbour users have continued to be frustrated at the failure to dredge its pools and channels. Because the dredging promised for the Spring did not happen, some experimental ad hoc dredging initiated by users occurred just before the summer. However, as the spoil had to be left on the beach below high tide level this was clearly not in any way a sustainable solution, nor did it remove the problem from the Harbour.
The Harbour’s licence to dispose of dredged material was allowed to expire in Spring 2018 and was not renewed until 1st July 2019. We were however glad to hear that the Harbour owners had taken a participation in a mini-dredger in August, which was due to be deployed in September. At the time we raised question marks over the terms of the Harbour’s licence for this work and the absence of a hopper to carry away the spoil. Unfortunately, in September it emerged that due to a contractual dispute between its joint owners, the dredger had been impounded by the Harbour Master. Consequently, no dredging has yet taken place this year.
We continue to press the Harbour to follow normal good practice (as required in government guidance) and to publish (and follow) a clear plan for dredging. If it does not, this is again a matter for the Ministry for Transport. By continuing to ensure thatthese omissions are documented and reported, the Trust hopes that ultimately the situation will be rectified.
It is also vital to maintain infrastructure such sea defences. The disintegrating groyne on the Bembridge side of the harbour mouth should serve a vital dual function in trapping sand carried along the shore and into the Harbour, and at the same time as a “training wall” to help the ebb tide carry sand further out to sea towards Ryde Sands and not back into the Harbour.
As the owners of the Harbour acknowledged in their 2010 management plan, the SHA is legally bound to dedicate its financial surplus to maintaining the Harbour’s physical infrastructure, such as the Bembridge Point groyne. The community (including BHT) has thrown itself behind a splendid effort to support the Harbour in carrying out this duty by repairing this vital line of defence. In particular, members of Bembridge Harbour Users Group (BHUG) have worked tirelessly to iron out technical, legal and financial issues, and crucially, have committed to raising from the community a very large proportion of the total cost (estimated at close to £250,000).
Despite this, the Harbour owners, while declaring their support for the initiative, have found many reasons to delay progress. However, negotiations appeared to be close to being finalised in July and August, until the Harbour owners introduced a new condition, which was that BHT must stop objecting to their (unrelated) property development planning application. See comment on this in the next section, but as a result the groyne repair project is now “in limbo” to the enormous disappointment of all those who have put so much effort into it.
3. Property management
The application by the owners to obtain permission for a £6m development on two sites around the Harbour has been a constant theme of the last five years. In accordance with the Trust’s Charitable Objective and Aims we have joined many others in raising objections, asking questions and suggesting changes to these proposals, many of which have been accepted by IWC having taken eminent legal advice.
The Trust will always consider positively any proposal that brings the Harbour clear and reasonable benefit. However, BHT cannot see such benefit in the current proposals. It is the Harbour owners’ case that the Harbour urgently needs certain proposed investments but cannot afford them; therefore an ‘enabling development’ of new houses is the only way to bridge the gap. Without this “enabling development” justification, the council would have no powers to grant planning permission in these sensitive locations. One would assume that if the enabling development went ahead the ‘cash-strapped’ Harbour would as a result get the resulting “improvements” (that it urgently needs but cannot afford) granted to it for free from the proceeds of the development. However, as currently proposed by the Harbour’s owners, the SHA will in fact have tolease them from the property company, BIL, for 25 years, at market rate rents.
Despite this baffling situation, the Trust takes some consolation from the fact that at least now (through our efforts) if the developers clear more than £1.2m profit from the project, the surplus should (in theory) come to the Harbour. This should also mean that the Harbour does not have to take out (as proposed in April 2019) an expensive loan to buy the “improvements” outright from the developer (at a suggested cost of well over £1m). However, this is no more than a ‘backstop’, which should protect the Harbour from the worst of the risks we perceive if the current proposals are given full permission. Accordingly, we continue to argue that the outline application should be returned again to the IWC Planning Committee. There is a last resort of the expensive and uncertain option of a judicial review of IWC’s eventual planning decision. At that point, if legal action is feasible, and if no other alternative remains, and it might genuinely help to preserve a sustainable Harbour into the future, then that is a route we are prepared to consider.
Our concerns have however not been solely financial. Both the Harbour Company and this Trust have a responsibility to protect the environment. The Trust has been consistently drawing attention to the serious contamination risks from a proposed car park liable to flooding. Our concerns were echoed in the IWC’s own QC’s advice in May. In November, Natural England wrote to IWC at length setting out their objections to the lack of consideration given not only to the car park question but a whole range of further environmental issues. The IWC has asked the applicant to resolve all these issues with Natural England before the proposal can be given any further consideration.
4. Governance and finance of the Trust
The Trustees acknowledge, with regret, the lack of meaningful dialogue between the Trust and the Harbour owners. We remain open to constructive suggestions to improve matters: an initiative by Bembridge Harbour Advisory Group members to set up meetings between Trustees and Malcolm and Fiona Thorpe was welcomed by the Trustees. The Thorpes had previously declined to meet if the Chair, Jeremy Gully, was present. To demonstrate our goodwill and flexibility, a group of four other Trustees attended the first of what is hoped to be a succession of positive meetings.
An anonymous complaint about the Trust was made to the Fundraising Regulator in November 2018 concerning the Trust’s efforts to raise funds towards the restoration of the groyne through a scheme with the Co-op. The regulator dismissed the complaint. Nevertheless, the Trustees commissioned a review of activities to ensure good governance and compliance with our regulators the Charity Commission and the Companies Registry.
This was undertaken by a very experienced former employee of the Charity Commission who sought no charge. As a result, the Trustees have formalised a number of arrangements including Trustees’ declaration of interests, succession planning for Trustees, and how our accounts are presented. Members are welcome to see the full report.
We welcome Jonathan Bacon and Norman Marshall as new Trustees, each of whom bring valuable experience and skills.
Jonathan Bacon practised as a barrister and was a legal academic for many years. He is deeply embedded in island life and has returned to live in St Helens: he was an IoW county councillor from 2006 to 2017 and leader of the council from 2015 to 2017. He has been active in a very wide range of island institutions including: the parish councils of St Helens, Rookley and Godshill; as a school governor at various IoW schools; chair of the Bembridge Community Library; chair of St Helens Sports and Carnival Committee; chair of Isle of Wight Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty; and trustee of Isle of Wight Red Squirrel Trust, Isle Access and the Isle of Wight Law Centre.
Norman Marshall has a background in teaching, management consultancy and finance. His particular area of expertise is in communication, where he has provided the Trust with considerable assistance already. He lives in London, where among other activities he sits as a magistrate in SW London, writes, and coaches young teachers and social entrepreneurs. He is Treasurer of Tooting Constituency Labour Party. He has had a base in St Helens for the last 20 years and spends many weeks of the year here. He is a member of Bembridge Sailing Club and of the Bembridge One Design Association.
Michael MacInnes has decided he wishes to step down as a Trustee of the Trust at the forthcoming AGM. Michael was instrumental in setting up Bembridge Harbour Trust as a charity in July 2007, and was its second Chair from 2011 until 2015. As Chair he helped guide the Trust as it raised funds to buy the Harbour from the administrators in 2011. The bid proved unsuccessful, when all Trustees welcomed the successful bidder with high hopes. The support which he and his fellow Trustees brought together at that time provided the bedrock on which all subsequent activities have been founded.
Michael will continue his close association with the Trust as a Patron, and intends to remain responsible for the implementation of the project to restore Bembridge Groyne.
The Trustees continue to seek ways of providing a sustainable income to continue both its running expenses and to enable it to continue the activities in support of the Trust’s Charitable Objective, but for the time being the Trust continues to rely principally on direct appeals to individual members and well wishers, who we thank for their generosity.
The Trustees are therefore pleased to report that the governance of the Trust is in good health and that it is financially sound, subject to generating more funds for the future.
On that note, having read this far, we urge you to support us financially to whatever extent you feel able. Please make your donation to Bembridge Harbour Trust a/c 00950539 at Lloyds Bank sort code 30-97-21. Please could you also fill in a Gift Aid form at this link: http://bembridgeharbourtrust.org/gift-aid/
We continue to work towards a sustainable future for the Harbour and those that depend upon it.
The Trustees, Bembridge Harbour Trust
A Year in the Life of Bembridge Harbour
BHT’s planning barrister alerts the IWC to a major miscalculation in the planning officer’sunderstanding that could have left the developer, Bembridge Investments Ltd (BIL) keeping an extra £1M that should have gone to the Harbour Company (Bembridge Harbour Improvements Co Ltd [BHIC Ltd])
Planning officer acknowledges the £1M error immediately before the Planning Committeenarrowly pass a motion to grant the developer’s planning application (for 13 houses andsome replacement facilities) once a legal agreement is in place (s106).
Much of the year was spent ensuring a Lawful Development Certificate (LDC) for houseboat plots was granted, to prevent exploitation and in an effort to secure a s106 planning agreement that was fair to the Harbour Company.
We pick up the story again reporting on events since our last Annual Report and Accounts
BHT alert the IWC to a proposal by the developer to use a non-existent corporation tax liability to reduce cash due to the Harbour from the development. Planning officer corrects the applicant’s draft proposal.
Houseboat plots lawful development certificate (LDC) granted. Terms should preventthe uncontrolled proliferation of houseboats, despite harbour company’s planning agent’ssuggestions that no planning permission was necessary. Subsequently no new provisions for sewage treatment have been forthcoming and an oft promised planning application for 34 plots has not been validated. BHT’s concerns about the harbour owners’ declared intention to extract around 50% of proceeds (which would be contrary to the ‘63 Act) remain.
BHT respond to the Fund Raising Regulator, who had received a complaint suggesting thatBHT should not be raising funds towards BHUG’s efforts to repair Bembridge Groyne. Thecomplainant was not identified. The regulator decided no action was necessary. Separately, Mr Thorpe advised that he had reported BHT to the Charity Commissioners. They did not make BHT aware of any failings. However BHT took the opportunity to thoroughly review its governance with advice from charity experts, and implemented all recommendations.
BHT seek clear plans to identify the land and buildings the Harbour Company will have to operate in the future if planning permission were granted. This is actively resisted by the harbour owners, despite further requests from the IWC in March. (New plans have finally surfaced on the 8th November 2019). These make it clear that the developer proposes that the Harbour Company would have very limited harbourside land assured).
The beginning of a succession of draft s106 legal agreements are proposed. BHT focus on ensuring they [s106 agreements] do not unreasonably advantage the developer at the direct expense of the Harbour Company, the purported beneficiary of this “Enabling Development”and remain in line with the committee’s decision.
Already advised by QC (in May 2018) that the decision may be unlawful, and a Judicial Review an option, BHT conclude that its responsibilities are best served by ensuring a fairs106 is put in place as a “backstop” in case judicial review was abandoned, refused or failed.
Chairman meets with Portsmouth University professor to discuss a draft siltation reportbased on LiDAR survey data. He and other advisers suggests awaiting 2018 LiDAR data’spublication for robust conclusions and provides background texts.
BHT trustees and planning barrister meet with Head of Planning and IWC lawyer working on the planning file. BHT press for fairness for the Harbour Company in the s106. IWC later take QC advice.
In connection with a planning application for two new houseboat plots, which BHT did not object to in principle, BHT invite Mr Thorpe to enter a planning agreement to use some of the proceeds (from two proposed Houseboat plots) towards sewage treatment plant. This has not been forthcoming.
March 1st dredging window opens. Spring dredging of BODA pool does not happen. Mr Thorpe advises that ML Dredging would not meet his time frame and that he would be buying a dredger to gain control. As a result, some ad hoc dredging using a digger takes place later, depositing a large pile of spoil on the beach next to BSC.
BHT write to Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling. Civil servants confirm they will raise issue with the Harbour Company. Response still awaited.
Ad hoc dredging at Attrill’s point. (As at the beach next to BSC, no material actually removed from the harbour but redistributed below high water).
Developer produces a new s106 draft that suggests the Harbour Company may have to buy the proposed new facilities from the developer (despite them being intended as a benefit for the Harbour Company) and at high artificially constructed figures rather than valuation. BHT lobby for proper valuation to ensure fairness. BHT point out that if the Harbour Company can buy, there is no need for the 13 houses that so reduce the operational land available. If theHarbour Company can afford the cost there is no “Enabling Development” justification.
BHT advise IWC this could cost the harbour around £1.1M on Mr Thorpe’s figures, when theharbour was supposed to get a benefit. Mr Thorpe withdraws the proposal on advice from the IWC that it would require reconsideration of the application.
MfT say they will answer a House of Lords question from Lord Whitty and advise BHT shortly. This response is still awaited today.
IWC receive their own QC’s advice, which upholds BHT concerns on the legality of the planning application, and the use of unfair valuation methodologies particularly asreflected in the developer’s April drafting. Additionally, it reflects BHT’s concerns on flood risk contamination issues
BHT ask why accounts show that in 2018 £350,000 was lent by the Harbour Company (BHIC Ltd) to the developer (BIL), instead of being used for harbour improvements?
GMB Union National Congress passes motion calling for transparency of Bembridge Harbour affairs.
IWC publish a draft s106 that meets many of BHT’s concerns, and BHT welcome it publicly. Mr Thorpe advises s106 to be signed off within one week.
Late July: Mr Thorpe seeks changes to s106 which are potentially detrimental to the Harbour Company.
Over 100 people (but not the harbour owners) attend a public meeting, ‘The Future of Bembridge Harbour’, called by Sir Paul Kenny.
Dredging disposal licence renewed from 1st July. (It became apparent that the previous licence lapsed in Spring 2018, so Spring 2019 dredging was not possible).
BHT ask IWC to apply proper planning controls to an unauthorised houseboat site.
Dredger brought into harbour – but no hopper in which to put spoil. Dredging of BODA pool promised for September.
BHT write to Natural England for update on ecological concerns. Bembridge Harbour Fun Run takes place.
Fireworks on the Duver.
Malcolm Thorpe breaks off further negotiations on the repair of Bembridge Groyne until BHT stop objecting to his planning application or associated s106 agreement.
Dredger impounded by “Harbour Master”, apparently after a dispute between the Thorpesand the joint owner.
BHT revisit Harbour Company BHIC’s accounts since 2012. These show a fall in retainedprofits of £316k – potentially in conflict with the terms of the ‘63 Act. BHT ask where has the£316k gone?
Channel Coastal Observatory provide 2018 LiDAR data; BHT Chair begins analysis.
A new draft s106 is lodged on the IWC planning website by developer BIL, that is detrimental to the Harbour Company.
BHT write to Ministry for Transport and Bob Seely MP alerting them to failures in compliance with Government Guidelines on the management of Statutory Harbours.
No dredging in the inner harbour this year to date.
BHT respond to yet another revised s106 that does not ensure delivery of any financial benefit to the Harbour Company or rational valuation.
Natural England issue a detailed objection to the planning applications, listing multiple serious failures to address environmental issues. The IWC confirm that the applicant must first resolve all these issues with Natural England.
Trustees welcome BHAG members’ initiative to meet with the Thopres. First round ofmeetings completed; second round programmed for the 3rd December.
Yet to come… but we will update at the AGM.