Regeneration Plans - update 20th December 2017
Following a Planning Meeting on 12th December, we'd like to summarise the position on our regeneration plans as below.
Where we are now and how we got here:
When we purchased the Harbour from the administrators in December 2011, it was in a serious state of neglect and in need of major investment. Dredging and pontoon replacement/renewal was urgent and there was no safety management system in existence. Our financial inheritance was based on previous trading losses - £211,000 in one year, £101,000 in another, and debts of £1.2m. That was our starting point and to date we've invested in excess of that figure, not only in the above, but in numerous other aspects of Harbour operations.
Today the Harbour is a viable trading business, striving to continue with the improvements it still desperately needs in order to provide its customers and users with facilities to match and compete with other marinas and harbours around the Solent.
Our planning application in 2014 was made under enabling development rules to bring substantial benefits to the Harbour. In December 2015 the Isle of Wight Council planning committee issued a resolution to grant planning approval for the new Harbour facilities complex and other benefits to the Harbour business, enabled by 13 houses on 2 brownfield sites (the houses to be built only after the Harbour improvements had been completed), subject to a S106 Planning Agreement, combined with an obligation that any excess profit would be reinvested back into the Harbour.
In February 2016 the Bembridge Harbour Trust (BHT) issued a legal paper setting out reasoning that 4 procedural aspects had not been processed correctly by the IOWC when considering this planning application, and requesting their review so that a subsequent planning committee could then reconsider the same.
During the past 20 months, all aspects raised by BHT have been reconsidered by the IOWC in consultation with a QC planning barrister, Natural England, the Environment Agency and the government's District Valuation Service.
This finally led to its reconsideration, with a full report presented to the IOWC planning committee on 12th December 2017. The papers provided by planning officers to the committee set out in great detail the 4 issues raised by BHT and their response to the individual items, and recommended an endorsement of the previous committee’s resolution. This recommendation for approval had already been advised by the IOWC’s QC planning barrister.
The past two years have been expensive for the Harbour, in staff efficiency, time and financial outlay in maintaining facilities that are worn out, inefficient and insufficient. We have managed to retain visitors’ revenue levels despite this. A huge amount of additional management time has been spent on the duplication of reports and information necessary to meet BHT’s numerous requests, with the inevitable negative impact on time available for ongoing Harbour management.
We totally and fully support a democratic planning process which allows for scrutiny and demands accountability. Unfortunately, BHT have chosen to continuously and consistently misrepresent and undermine the Harbour management, continuing to promote misinformed financial claims after they have been comprehensively disproved, in order to create and foster mistrust and suspicion. This has continued even after a full report by the government's District Valuation Office, commissioned at BHT’s request by the IOWC, which validated the financial viability appraisal presented as part of our application.
Where we go from here ...
We are extremely pleased to achieve a full endorsement to the previous approval for our regeneration plans by the IOW Council, as advised by their QC planning barrister.
We anticipate that the S106 Planning Agreement will be finalised early in the New Year - with some slight revision to the presently agreed draft document - that will allow us to move our development plans forward (the same plans, detail and scheme that formed the original planning application).
Our development programme, originally drafted in January 2016, is now being reviewed and updated to enable us to hit the ground running when all paperwork has been finally signed off.
20th December 2017
Regeneration Plans - update 24th October 2017
It is widely known that our regeneration planning application was due to be presented to the Council's planning committee on 31st October, with a recommendation for approval by the planning officers. As there is now a further delay, I believe an update is required.
We have been informed that the Council's planning barrister has advised a further delay, due to criticism from Bembridge Harbour Trust (BHT) that they have not had sight of an email from the Harbour's solicitors, sent in reply to the Council's in-house solicitor on 28th July 2017. This email confirmed information that was already in the public domain.
The outcome is that the planning officers have advised us that their presentation to the planning committee has now been deferred to 21st December; we will by then have passed the second anniversary of the original resolution.
No changes have been made to the original application and detail, as presented in 2015 when the resolution was granted on a vote of 7 to 1 in favour.
We are hopeful that this latest delay will be the last, and that the application will go back to the planning committee meeting in December.
Update - 18th August 2017
Our Future Harbour Plans
As an active trading Harbour, I believe that we must be doing something right in encouraging both resident and visiting boats to use our facilities. Allocated resident berth-holders have increased for the second year in succession, and visiting boat numbers up to the end of June show an increase of 10% on last year’s equivalent figures.
Employment: Our prized asset is at all times our staff - from their initial employment we provide extensive training, with an emphasis on customer service. We pride ourselves on our approach to safety in the Harbour and in maintaining full compliance with the Port Marine Safety Code. Compared to 2011, we now employ double the number of staff, providing the first class service we have become known for and constantly seek to improve on.
Dredging: A constant concern for stakeholders and the single most significant aspect of the successful management of the Harbour. Bar one year since 2011 (to bolster our funds for a potential legal battle), we have maintained a rolling dredging programme within the inner Harbour and we will continue with this on-going yearly programme to retain depths in the Marina, fairway and Duver pontoon. We are considering plans to open up Attrills’ Point with more depth, and although in the past we have held back from dredging the Fisherman's pontoon in order to keep berthing costs as low as possible, I do think we need to review this decision in discussion with berth-holders.
HJ Bennetts have dredged the entrance channel for several decades; their commercial marketing of the dredged material has led their decisions on what and where to dredge. We have a close relationship with the company and monitor their involvement in the interest of all Harbour users.
In the future, we do need to be in greater control of Harbour dredging and want to acquire our own dredger, possibly in conjunction with another Harbour. We have limited periods when dredging can take place - from 1st December to 31st March we cannot dredge for ecology reasons - for commercial reasons we do not dredge over bank holidays or during the main months of July through to September. Hence there are small windows of opportunity (currently subject to the availability of commercial dredging companies) and it is these that we need to optimise for their associated benefits.
Tourism: Through our events programme, including a Jazz event, Family Fun Weekend and a new calendar fixture - Oktoberfest, together with encouraging rallies and individual visitors, we manage to bring over 30,000 tourists into the Harbour in a year. This brings into the East Wight, and especially Bembridge and St Helens, substantial spending that helps the local economy.
Since 2011, our visitor numbers have essentially doubled, and I believe this is due to our winter marketing campaign - visiting mainland clubs and associations to give presentations on the Harbour and its locality - as well as general marketing, our raised profile and reputation.
Our investment into new and extended pontoons in 2012 was required to cope with our anticipated Harbour business - we had to increase the number of boats using the Harbour and improve its business income.
Regeneration Planning Application: Subsequent to the resolution to grant planning permission given in December 2015, and at the request of Bembridge Harbour Trust (BHT) through the local planning authority, we have supplied further detailed reports in ecology and sequential testing. The LPA also commissioned an independent financial viability assessment from the Valuation Office. These have now all been accepted by the local planning authority and it is anticipated that a further overview report will be provided at the September planning committee to ratify the original approval.
The draft of a legally binding Section 106 agreement is in place, setting out in detail that the benefits for the Harbour costing circa £950,000 will be completed prior to the relevant housing development, and an overage clause obligation whereby further surplus profits will be reinvested back into the Harbour.
The initial impression given to new customers and visitors of our berthing and staff offices - 2 x ex-sea containers together with insufficient toilet facilities at both marinas, is far from acceptable in the age we now live in; we need these facilities upgrading in quality and quantum at the very earliest where both are long overdue. The Duver bio-treatment plant was deemed unfit for purpose, both by us and Southern Water back in 2012 and since then it has been used as a holding tank, with pumping out, with its associated trucks and pervading aroma, necessary up to 3 times over a busy summer weekend, all at extensive cost to the business. Due to increased demand, the power supply provided to visiting boats is now failing on a regular basis and is a constant source of frustration to our customers and again, cost to the business. We are constantly reminded by our customers of the present inadequacies of our facilities and it is now, without any doubt, beginning to erode the reputation we have built up.
Houseboats: We are hopeful that in the near future our application for a Lawful Development Certificate will be granted that will enable us to re-submit our planning application for circa 6 x infill plots for new houseboats.
Post 2011, all new houseboats being moored within the Harbour have been required to install a sewage system or holding tank arrangement. Our planning application is very important to achieve as it will include the contractual obligation on the Harbour to design and install in all houseboats that have been moored in the Harbour pre-2011 a dedicated sewage system or plant at the Harbour’s cost. This has to be a major benefit to all Harbour users. Together with unrecoverable VAT the anticipated cost is estimated to be £180,000.
On the sale of these newly designated houseboat plots, we have given an undertaking to the local planning authority, which will be part of a legal agreement, that any deemed excessive surplus will be reinvested into the Harbour, such as for the groyne or additional dredging.
Bembridge Groyne: The newly independent Bembridge Harbour Users Group (BHUG) has initiated a refurbishment of the Bembridge groyne which we support. So far this project is at its initial stages but gaining traction locally - we are already establishing how the construction can be most effectively brought forwards relating to such issues as VAT and cost risk aversion.
Nominated Annual Charity: Each year we nominate an Island charity - for 2017 we are working with the Sophie Rolf Trust - KissyPuppy, with fundraising throughout the year and with special emphasis at our events.
Programme and Timing: I am often asked why we have not progressed with constructing our new facilities that were granted approval in December 2015 - the answer is very simple.
BHT has claimed that the original reports provided to the local planning authority (LPA) were lacking in detail - hence as above they have been resubmitted in greater detail and accepted by the LPA.
There have been no changes or alterations to the scheme at all - it is exactly the same scheme granted consent in December 2015. We are now in need of being allowed to commence our programme of works of benefits to Harbour facilities within our regeneration project and also to move forwards with our investment into the houseboats.
Our investment since 2011 has been in excess of £1m - add to this our commitment within the regeneration scheme of a further £950,000 plus £180,000 towards the houseboats sewage problems means a huge financial commitment on our behalf. For the past 2 years or so, this investment programme has been on hold and frustrated for reasons outside of our control by BHT, who represent a membership of just 179 people - all our attempts to have a meaningful dialogue with them have proved fruitless.
Malcolm P Thorpe
BHA Press Release - 13.9.16 - Houseboat proposal
Bembridge Harbour Authority has announced their own initiative with regards to one of the longest running problems within the Harbour - the issue of a number of houseboats having no proper sewage/waste water facilities and therefore pumping out straight onto the seabed.
The Harbour has been home to many houseboats for nearly a century now - most of them being moored within an area of the Harbour before any planning laws came into effect (in 1948). These houseboats come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from old motor torpedo boats, ex-fishing boats, converted trawlers to custom designed and built versions with all modern facilities.
Following the Thorpe’s purchase of the Harbour in December 2011, all new houseboat arrivals have been required to fit either a waste holding tank or eco-system equipment to cope with their waste. This has proved a positive way forwards.
Existing houseboats moored in the Harbour and without such provision have been encouraged to consider installing facilities, with some limited success; Fiona and Malcolm Thorpe want to be more pro-active in improving the water quality for all Harbour users as well as working in conjunction with the houseboat owners.
The first step was to apply in March 2016 for a Lawful Development Certificate to the local planning authority (currently under consideration) in order to regularise the historical planning position of all the houseboats within the Harbour. Some houseboats have done this on an individual basis in the past, but the majority do not have the benefit of any local authority approval. A Lawful Development Certificate seeks to ratify the existing planning position and does not give any consent or approval for works in the future.
The second stage has been to submit an outline Planning Application to establish that the area of the Harbour between the gangway leading down to Selwyn Pontoon and the slipway adjacent to the houseboat Sirius does have planning approval for houseboats.
The purpose of this application, if approved, is that not only will it allow infilling of those plots currently unused, but as a result, it will give the Harbour the financial ability to supply and fit individual waste sewerage tanks and/or treatment plants to those houseboats that currently deposit their raw sewerage and waste onto the Harbour seabed. All this work will be carried out at the Harbour’s cost and will be regulated within a S106 Planning Agreement to ensure such work is completed.
These works will be a further substantial investment into the Harbour and could take 3 to 4 years to complete. Along with other Harbour improvements, they will be financed from the sale of houseboat plots.
A scheme was promoted by the Harbour Authority some 8 years ago, but failed to gain planning approval due to its complexity and being financially non-viable. This current proposal is straight forward and makes practical and positive sense.
Malcolm states that “In this day and age, I fail to grasp why these present non-conforming actions are allowed to prevail and, if we don’t take action now, the situation will only get worse. The benefits are not only for the houseboat owners themselves but for all users of the Harbour, whether they sail small dinghies, canoe, paddleboard, have larger boats as annual berth-holders or visitors or enjoy the water and the environment from the shore.
Obviously prior to such works being commenced we will discuss with each individual houseboat owner the most practical way forward and how the Harbour Authority can work with them to enable the best solution and system for their houseboat. The substantial management time and financial investment will be well worth the long term benefits to all Harbour users and the environment”.
Regeneration Plans update by Malcolm Thorpe 3.8.16
This summer has been very busy for the Harbour - the two highlights have been the Jazz on the Quay weekend and the Family Fun Weekend - both huge successes. As we have now passed the second anniversary of our original planning application, I believe a further briefing note is appropriate.
The decision on 01/12/2015 by the Local Planning Authority (LPA) was a resolution to grant planning consent on a vote of 8 to 1 in favour. This was based on advices and recommendations from all the major agencies - Natural England, the Environment Agency, Island Roads and the Isle of Wight Council, with our application fulfilling the Governments’ guidelines and commitment that new housing development should be constructed on brownfield sites (ie: previously developed sites).
All further information requested by the LPA was submitted in May and the S106 Planning Agreement is now almost agreed - the most important aspect being that all the beneficial works and upgrades to the Harbour facilities are implemented prior to the new houses being constructed. We are currently and patiently waiting for a report to be submitted to the planning committee to re-confirm all this latest information.
The Head of Planning has stated (quote): “The report for planning committee is an update report and is not an opportunity to review the outcome of the decision."
However the Bembridge Harbour Trust (BHT) continues to lobby against this application with the majority of their assertions being based on assumptions. The last formal meeting they attended with the Harbour was in 2014 by their previous Chairman - their new Chairman stated in 2015 (quote): “I think it is relatively unlikely that we can engage meaningfully whilst the current planning application process is in train.”
The latest delaying tactic by BHT has been to ask the LPA to instruct the District Valuer’s office to consider the financial viability aspects of our planning application - this aspect was thoroughly examined by the LPA prior to the resolution to grant planning consent; so far 3 months have been spent on this one item alone.
It is worth noting that every letter and email BHT send to the LPA threatens them with a judicial review challenge; hence we have taken this threat seriously and have held back our 2016 dredging programme to conserve circa £60,000 in case we need to appoint a leading barrister to present our planning case and assist the LPA in defending their position. It is to be noted that such a legal challenge is not against the Harbour and the planning decision itself, but against the lawfulness of the process and technical procedures that have been adopted by the LPA.
I find it interesting that whilst the published aims and objects of BHT mirror those of the Harbour Authority, BHT’s interpretation and understanding is completely different to ours.
In conclusion I can best repeat my previous thoughts that we are hugely frustrated and disappointed by BHT’s continuation to pursue their technical legal arguments against the LPA that prevents us moving forwards with further improvements and investment into the Harbour.
3rd August 2016
Regeneration Plans update by Malcolm Thorpe 1.6.16
Article featured in County Press 27.5.16
Update statement of 8.4.16
Article featured in County Press 27.11.15