Welcome to the 12th BHT annual report and accounts with notice of the Annual General meeting.
Our formal report covers the financial year to June 2018, but The Trustees also take this opportunity to bring members up to date.
Jill Attrill, our much-valued secretary and much-loved wife of friend and fellow Trustee, Chris Attrill, passed away in early July. I know all members were saddened and support goes to Chris and family. Jill was a passionate supporter of the work of the Trust and key to its formation and functioning.
Such an event gives cause to reflect: Why do we do what we do? Why are we so passionate about the survival of Bembridge Harbour and put such effort and expense into promoting its sustainability?
The fortunes and social wellbeing of the communities of Bembridge and St Helens are directly linked to a well-maintained Harbour properly investing its incomes in line with the relevant legislation. Without our efforts, pressing for good and legitimate management actions, the Harbour may soon be incapable of providing an environment many local users have long come to expect, with a knock-on effect for clubs and the community at large.
There is another question: Are our efforts and resources applied effectively in pursuit of our published objectives? In challenging circumstances and against some opposition, the answer is an emphatic Yes. Members should take great pride in the work of the Trust and in its hard-won achievements. But further work needs to be done.
We lament a lack of positive action or openness from the Harbour’s management whilst conflicts of interest between co-owned companies, potential for breaches of the ’63 Act and breaches of planning legislation and guidelines are apparent. We believe such issues are contrary to the Statutory Harbour Authority’s and the community’s best interest.
Despite frequent calls for a publicly shared long-term plan, none is available. No one knows the owner’s plans or intentions for the Harbour we all love and which the community needs to thrive; there is no shared vision we can all support. Why?
Financial controls in the Harbour Authority
A professional report commissioned by the Trust raised nine questions about the Statutory Harbour Authority’s own incomes and the legitimacy of their allocation to other co-owned companies. Answers from the Harbour Authority remain insubstantial at best. The Trust will continue to seek fair treatment for the Harbour in line with legislation.
The report identifed the possibility that incomes and costs of the StatutoryHarbour Authority could be muddled with those of other companies owned by the same shareholder/directors, potentially to the detriment of the Harbour Authority. This is a situation that has, since privatization, disadvantaged the Harbour and took it into administration under the last owner when he used its assets to guarantee the borrowings of associated companies.
Breach of guidelines
Government Guidelines for private Statutory Harbours such as Bembridge, set out clear expectations of “openness, accountability and fitness for purpose”. The Statutory Harbour Authority should operate in the “broad public interest”. BHT considers that the Harbour Company fails to comply with guidance in a number of important respects. The Harbour Company claims it does comply. BHT will continue to press for compliance with the DfT standards published in March this year.
Residential planning application and associated planning agreement
The residential development proposals by development company, BIL, continue to create additional concerns that need continued action. In just one example, in early December 2017 BHT’s representations to the Council prevented £946,500 of possible development profits that if earned, would be due to the Statutory Harbour, from being diverted to the development company.
Problems the Trust identifies, if not addressed, could see the Statutory Harbour Authority so financially disadvantaged as to be incapable of maintaining the Harbour in line with its obligations.
The development company has spent the last year seeking to negotiate the terms of a planning agreement with the Council, that should secure a fair price for the new facilities and secure excess profits for the HarbourAuthority. BHT have found the terms as proposed by the development company heavily skewed against the interests of the Harbour Authority and have been seeking to redress this in a year-long battle of attrition.
Applications for houseboats
Mr Thorpe sought, through the LDC, an unlimited number of houseboats on a large part of the Harbour which BHT’s action helped to prevent. He has argued that no planning permission is required for houseboats anywhere in the Harbour. He has deliberately not progressed a separate planning application for more houseboats for two years with the promise of sewage upgrades. He proposes to wrongly deduct large sums from proceeds, in breach of the ’63 Harbour Act.
Yesterday, 8th November, the Houseboat Decision Notice and Officer’s written justification were published. These affirm BHT’s concerns and advice. The decision properly confirms the status of 25 houseboat sites and that only navigable vessels may moor short term on other Harbour land, unless further planning consent is obtained. This has saved the Harbour from potential over development with a proliferation of houseboats at the expense of other harbour users, through the application of proper planning controls.
Failure to dredge and maintain
Reflecting on these concerns, a review of the current state of the Harbour reveals that aside from a relatively well looked after visitor marina, the infrastructure and navigability of the Harbour continues to deteriorate. This year holed pontoon piles were implicated in two separate incidents of a sinking and a near miss; resident marina boats sit in mud in a marina un-dredged for 6 years, as do boats on Fisherman’s Pontoon. The inner channel gets shallower having seen no meaningful work outside marinas for decades.
The central sand bank and Attrill’s point grow whilst the entrance groyne remains unrepaired, causing accelerated siltation and avoidable costs both to the Statutory Harbour and to users.
As the Harbour’s management repeatedly declines to act or provide answers to relax our evidenced concerns, in sorrow, we finally wrote to The Minister for Transport in August asking that enquiries be made into the affairs of the Statutory Harbour Company which is responsible for the management the Harbour under the ’63 Bembridge Harbour Act.
This is not a happy state of affairs. There is more work to be done and we call on your support.
This year of all years it is important you come to the AGM if you can.
Jeremy Gully as Chair BHT
9th November 2018
See the full document here: Report & Accounts 2018