We write to bring you all up to date with developments concerning Bembridge Harbour in the first months of this remarkable year.
As noted elsewhere, dredging in the harbour was scheduled to recommence in April but has been postponed indefinitely while the corona virus crisis continues. This is understandable enough, although it means that when dredging does recommence there will be even more lost ground to make up. On top of this, however, we are deeply concerned by the announcement by Nigel Bennett that he will cease gravel extraction operations from his yard on Bembridge Point. He and Malcolm Thorpe have been unable to agree satisfactory financial and legal arrangements, and Nigel has therefore decided to discontinue the business. From what we understand Nigel was a willing party in these negotiations , withdrawing only when Mr Thorpe’s position would have made Nigel’s untenable. As most of you will know, Nigel Bennett’s family has had a licence to dig sand and gravel from the channel into Bembridge Harbour for as long as we can remember. This mutually beneficial arrangement had meant that some 2,000 lorry loads (a “Bennett” in the unit of measurement we coined in our presentation to members in December) are extracted each year from the approaches to and entrance of the harbour. In December, we showed in our presentation how we estimate that every year, 280 “Bennetts” of sand are permanently swept into the harbour, however Nigel managed to stop 300 – 600 “Bennetts” of material also progressing towards the Harbour by removing it close by the harbour entrance to the south of the groyne.
The material that Nigel Bennett extracted from the entrance to the harbour has had a very substantial impact on the amount of sand being swept into the harbour; hence our very serious concerns that what was already a very worrying trend could now accelerate dramatically. We call on Malcolm Thorpe to urgently reconsider how he is going to address this situation and to publish a plan to reassure the harbour users and the community that depends on Bembridge Harbour in so many ways.
Malcolm Thorpe has continued to assert that his hands are tied because of the actions of Bembridge Harbour Trust – allegedly thwarting his plans to “regenerate” the harbour through a property development that has the potential to deliver £1.2 million of profit to his company that owns the land surrounding the harbour, while providing nothing of any significant benefit to the Statutory Harbour Authority (BHIC – which broadly speaking owns the area up to the high tide mark). In a further twist to this long running saga, our investigations have uncovered the fact that part of the area that he seeks to develop, which he has hitherto asserted belongs in its entirety to the land-based property company BIL, in fact belongs to BHIC. Those of you who have followed this debate in detail may recall that BHT have consistently been asking for detailed, marked up drawings of the site to be provided, which Malcolm Thorpe has dismissed as frivolous. We are left to speculate, but perhaps we have a better understanding of why he has been so reluctant to provide what is standard information that would be expected in any planning legal agreement – because it would show that the applicant (BIL) is planning to build on land it does not actually own. The discussion continues and we will of course keep you updated, but the solution – to agree to alter the legal agreement so that it that actually provides real benefit for the Harbour – is in the Thorpes hands.
Harbour Commercial Operations
On a more positive note, we record here our appreciation of Malcolm Thorpe’s decision to provide the owner of the 40 foot yacht Halcyon Dream with a discounted rate on a full year’s mooring in the harbour. Due to the coronavirus situation, Halcyon Dream, which would normally have moved at the beginning of the month to less expensive summer season moorings on the other side of the Solent, was faced with the choice between paying summer mooring fees which it could not afford or moving at this time which would mean infringing current restrictions on the movement of private craft. Thankfully, after contacting us, and a joint representation from BHUG and BHT to Malcolm Thorpe, a mutually beneficial agreement was reached. We were particularly pleased to see that Halcyon Dream then agreed to replace a previous posting in the yachting social media with a note of thanks to Bembridge Harbour for the flexibility shown.
These are worrying times for us all, and the shape of future events is unclear to everyone. We are determined to continue to engage with Malcolm Thorpe and Bembridge Harbour in an open and constructive way. We wholly reject his continued assertion that our actions have somehow thwarted plans that would otherwise have rescued the harbour from the spiral of decline in which it plainly finds itself; rather, he seeks to hold the future of the harbour hostage until we agree to his ransom demands. We call on him to:
- Publish a plan for managing siltation in the harbour
- Offer to revisit the s106 drafting in his planning application and correct it
without seeking to add last minute variations and loopholes
- Reopen discussions immediately on the now critically important restoration of Bembridge Groyne so that this can proceed as soon as possible. We note that Nigel Bennett also sees this as vital work.
Hoping will stay safe and well,
Bembridge Harbour Trust
For and on behalf of
Bembridge Harbour Trust