Letter to the Minister
The Trustees received no response from the Statutory Harbour Authority (SHA) when asked to explain or rectify the apparently wrongful allocation of £1.75M. Accordingly, the Trustees have written to the Secretary of State for Transport (link here) with the aim of seeing funds recovered.
If wrongfully extracted funds are not recovered, the SHA would be need to raise that money just to get back to the position it should have been in. We believe it would be negligent to step back and allow the SHA to be so disadvantaged.
Some commentators would argue, ‘surely the owners are allowed a fair return?’ We point out (legislation aside and for context) that since purchasing the SHA’s shares for £1 in 2011, and up until March 2022, some £3.75M in cash and value (including the £1.75M above) has gone to Mr and Mrs Thorpe’s other companies.
This is equivalent to around 50% of the SHA’s total incomes.
Other ongoing actions
We believe it important that the SHA complies with its obligations to the natural environment under both the national 1964 Harbours Act and the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. There appear to be serious failings.
Clearly that the SHA should not be disadvantaged, as we believe it has been, by effective gifting of its own valuable land to the advantage of separate private company, Bembridge Investments Limited.
We continue to address these issues with Natural England and the Isle of Wight Council (and the Secretary of State for Transport).
Hopes for the future
If incomes were to be applied as we are advised they should, the Harbour would be in better shape now and better able to improve and maintain itself into the future.
Whilst the Trustees members voted for are in post, Mr Thorpe has effectively barred the Trust from attempting to buy the harbour on the community’s behalf.
Of course, a similar organisation or Community Interest Company could purchase. The Harbour Acts and Government Guidance, if enforced, would secure the public interest, no matter who bought it.
There is no assurance that the harbour will be sold at any time soon, or that we may assume a benign owner. Even a well-intentioned buyer, if they were to overpay, could find themselves in a position where it is impossible to get a reasonable return lawfully.
It is important to remember that the price paid for shares in the SHA is a payment to the seller. It is not an investment in the SHA that would help the harbour, nor would it be entitled to a return under the 1963 Harbour Act, as upheld by the High Court.
Now is not the time for BHT to step back in blind hope of an imminent sale at a sustainable figure to a benign owner.
As outlined at the beginning of this letter, we have an opportunity to potentially see up to £1.75M of SHA returned to it via the Minister. Most unfortunately, confusion amongst the authorities who should be protecting the public interest forced our hand and caused BHT’s reserves to be depleted:
The Department for Transport (DfT) had previously advised they lacked the powers to act on our concerns. This left the expensive and very restrictive Judicial Review process. Then, at Judicial Review the judge ruled that DfT does have powers after all.
We are very grateful for the generous donations already made by over 200 of the public, members, and trustees to enable our efforts to date. The Trustees have recently personally donated £24,000 towards our current and ongoing commitments taking us forward onto these next important steps.
We again call on members’ generosity by asking you to match-fund the Trustees’ donations, to enable us to move forward with the necessary professional support in our approach to the Minister, and interactions with Natural England and the Local Planning Authority.
Chris Attrill, Jonathan Bacon, William Bland , Jeremy Gully (chair), Phil Jordan, Norman Marshall, Sara Smith, as Trustees
For and on behalf of
Bembridge Harbour Trust
Donate direct to Bembridge Harbour Trust Lloyds Bank A/C 00950539 Sort code 30-97-21