Everything seems to take forever, and a lack of reportable facts has meant there has been little point in an update, however things are now starting to gel.
There have been suggestions from some quarters that BHT have sought to frustrate investment in the Harbour. On the contrary, we strive to promote investment in the Harbour and ensure the Harbour itself is properly served. We do this simply by pressing the proper application of planning and other legislation designed for it’s protection. These are not matters of negotiation between us and the current owners. The Trust has no authority to negotiate the law of the land. We simply seek to see those in authority have the best information on which to base their decisions, hopefully in the Harbour’s favour!
On the main housing application
You will recall that the planners acknowledge significant errors in the process. They took legal advice which concluded that the matter should be returned to the planning committee with some very important matters addressed. These actions would need to address, well founded, criticism that otherwise may result in challenge at Judicial Review. Amongst these issues the IWC sought clarification on viability from an authoritative and independent body, the government’s own valuation service.
The District Valuers Office has now produced a report requested by the planners. It concludes that the build costs in the application were significantly high and that meant that significant extra profits were not accounted for.(In line with BHT’s comments at the outset)
The planners confirm that sites are not in areas where housing would normally be allowed. (In line with BHT’s comments from the outset)
The Planners reported that the application does not meet the criteria of an “enabling development” needed to override the site designations, there being significantly more housing than was needed to fund the “improvements” as such they would recommend refusal to the planning committee.
The planners suggested options, include an invitation to BIL to make a revised application for an more appropriate scale of development and pointing out that the applicant can of course appeal in the event of a refusal.
The applicant (remembering this is Bembridge Investments Ltd (BIL) and not the Harbour Authority (BHIC) has subsequently provided other information focused on a suggestion that the District Valuers Office have used inappropriate data and comparable developments in arriving at their cost conclusions, the Council await the District Valuers further response. This creates yet more delay and the planning meeting of 25th January has been missed,28th Febuary is the next meeting.
BHT trustees have always felt the concept of this proposal was illogical from a Harbour perspective: Why spend £4,950,000 and use all land assets just to produce a net gain of 6 wc’s when far more economic routes are available, or when alternative funding could be available from the likes of recent and future houseboat sales and other significant income streams?
That said, had BIL been prepared to undertake to invest profits , we and now the DV predict, in the Harbour, in line with the “enabling development” rules and as invited by BHT in open correspondence, we would have considered our opposition very carefully.
In the event, despite a year passing, the applicant did not propose drafting of an “overage clause” to ensure profits were directed to the benefit of the Harbour or captured at all. This clause would from part of a s106 legal agreement which had to be completed before any planning permission would actually be granted. The motion to grant at the planning committee was not a “planning permission” only a “motion to grant” subject to an acceptable legal agreement.
If their own costings were correct BIL would have lost nothing in entering an agreement in these terms. If the District Valuer, Peter Griffiths of IWC and ERMC, our own Quantity Surveyor’s advice were correct the significant surplus, that we estimated at well over £1,000,000, could have been directed towards the Harbour’s many urgent needs to the benefit of BHIC (the Harbour Authority).
Currently, as the draft legal agreement stands, the new facilities and any profits remain in the independent property company (BIL) with nothing secured for BHIC (the Harbour Authority) or indeed for improvements within the Harbour. The Harbour sees no material benefit. The Trustees feel this is not the spirit in which the application was promoted and have pressed for real benefits and investment for the Harbour.
The final outcome is still unknown, but in case the scheme does ultimately gain a consent, BHT’s efforts to see profits invested in the Harbour, as was promoted, in line with planning policy and in the Harbour Authority’s best interest, will continue.
2016 Houseboats LDC
The current Lawful Development Certificate (LDC) for an unrestricted number of houseboats is yet to be decided. I met with the officer concerned last Friday. The Council are considering whether the “houseboat strip” can be considered as one “planning unit” with multiple houseboats in it, or their historic approach of treating each indervidual site as the “ planning unit” is the correct approach. Either way a section 191 LDC concerns itself only with the demonstrated actual use over the past 10 years. My understanding from the officer is that they are considering the evidence supporting a range of between 25 and 27 sites. BHT are firmly of the view that a maximum of 25 can be demonstrated and have provided the evidence in submissions to the Council.
The officer confirmed that the IWC were not considering any permitted development or predisposition to further development that was applied for, as this was outside the scope of an LDC of this type.
Again this is comforting, but ultimate outcomes are not predictable and the Trustees continue to monitor the situation. I have been in correspondence with Mr Thorpe. I am pleased to say that he has promised that all sales of houseboat plots are now on a “subject to planning” basis. This is comforting as two previous sales appear to have been unconditional.
2016 Houseboat Planning Application
The correct mechanism for the approval of new development is by Planning application , not an LDC.
An application for 34 houseboats was lodged but invalidated for lack of information. We have therefore not seen the details. Officers comment that whilst a moderate but unspecified amount was to be put towards some sewage plants, substantial other funds would be raised (We would expect+/- £700,000).
Trustees, cognisant of the duties to reinvest trading surplus enshrined in the Harbour Act, would be keen to see these sums specifically allocated should any such application reappear.
If as we suspect the application was the same houseboat “strip” as the LDC revised plan, it would be difficult to see where 10 more boats than are on station today would fit – at least without forming a wall of development blinding the Harbour, (contrary to the specific policy in the IWC Area Conservation Plan adopted in 2011) and creating a significant parking problem. The Trustees are more likely to consider a lesser number as appropriate.
Members who have visited the Harbour recently will be familiar with this saga: an ex coastal trader part converted arrived on Selwyn Pontoon, soon followed by a “drugs bust” including a helicopter man hunt. As events unfolded it became clear the boat actually still belonged to an innocent and unfortunate third party who then found themselves indebted to the Harbour. I have no detail of the chain of events leading to it, but Mr Thorpe confirmed to me that a sale had been completed. People working on the boat have advised it is to be converted into a houseboat and located on the foreshore. In houseboat and Harbour terms she is quite large!
Liaison with Mr Thorpe
Some members are concerned that BHT and the Harbour owners do not appear to have a constructive line of communication. In part this is due to the very fundamental differences of opinion over planning matters, but efforts are being made to put this right.
After earlier attempts to encourage action on the deteriorating groyne at Bembridge Point that had fallen on deaf ears, Mike MacInnes has been working closely with BHUG in a continued effort to bring this matter forward. This has led to a privately funded independent report being commissioned on the issues. This report has just arrived and looks generally positive. A discussion with the Harbour Company will no doubt follow.