AGM, Siltation Talk and Overview of the Trust’s current position
Dear BHT Members ,
Please come to the AGM, and also hear an informative talk about siltation in the harbour and what can be done about it. (5.00pm 7th December, at Bembridge Sailing Club).
Here is just one illustration from the talk showing the accretion in the harbour 1998-2018 using aerial survey data. Note the rise in seabed level of 3m around the harbour entrance, and 1.5m on parts of the sand bank. Do come and find out more.
In the meantime we hope you find this letter from the Trustees informative:
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 funded by members of the public as well as the GMB Union. 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 that these 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 to lease 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: https://bembridgeharbourtrust.org/gift-aid/
We continue to work towards a sustainable future for the Harbour and those that depend upon it.
Bembridge Harbour Trust
Please see here: ‘A year in the Life of Bembridge Harbour’ for a month by month account.