Harbour Regeneration update (as published in 2019's Bembridge Breeze)
We're all familiar with the adage of one man’s glass being half full, while another man’s is half empty - when the two are discussing the same topic!
The politics involved in managing the Harbour can make life difficult at times, not only for the management team, but also for our incredibly hard working staff - when the plans, initiatives and on-going improvements being made are constantly criticised and deliberately undermined by a local lobby group for whom nothing we do will ever satisfy them. It suits their purpose to ignore our continuous investment since 2012, and having failed in 2011 in their own bid to buy the Harbour, they now spend their time doing everything they can to stop its regeneration and evolution.
That's the half empty glass!
2018 was a fabulous year in the Harbour, despite some severe, but luckily rare, weather badly affecting our 3 outside events. We hosted a record number of rallies, and the number of returning customers throughout the season is testament to the excellent service, professional attitude and warm friendly welcome offered by our staff.
Having gradually upgraded the Duver pontoon electrical system over several years, it was still failing to meet the growing demands of modern boats, so we invested in a second completely new independent system, thereby halving the demand on the existing supply and equipment and hopefully seeing us well into the foreseeable future.
Additional mid-Harbour pontoons and moorings to cater for demand have been purchased over the winter, together with a further major investment into our communication hardware, enabling us to provide free WiFi to our visitors, improve CCTV coverage throughout the Harbour, and make the telephone system much more robust. This goes hand in hand with on-going development of our harbour management software, and the launch in the early part of this season of a newly refreshed website.
Alongside our annual marketing on the UK South Coast, we are extending our reach to cover sailing clubs along the northern French coastline using our translated publicity material and hopefully encouraging more European visiting yachts - whether Brexit goes ahead or not!!
We have created a new outside seating area at the top of the Duver pontoon for the independently operated Duver Café, whilst also temporarily re-housing our Reception and Berthing Team in the ground floor of the main admin building.
That's our glass and it's half full!
Looking ahead, Attrills Point should have been dredged by the time of this publication, enabling easier access in and out of the Harbour, and Bembridge Marina will be dredged soon afterwards.
The present on-shore facilities in the Marina have really come to the end of their practical shelf life - we want to be able to build a new floating facilities complex for our customers that is modern, practical and user-friendly.
On the Duver visitors' pontoon we regularly host over 100 boats on summer weekends and many more on event weekends. This can represent up to 350+ visitors to the Island, but at present we only have 4 gents and 4 ladies toilets and similar shower cubicles. Our new proposed facilities complex will increase these to 17 toilet cubicles and 15 shower cubicles together with new offices, galley locker and a modern sewage bio-treatment plant.
After two planning committee decisions in favour of our development scheme in 2015 and 2017, we continue to be frustrated by the unwarranted intervention of the aforementioned lobby group, meaning that we are still working to finalise our planning permission. Our investment in management time and costs has spiralled upwards as a direct result.
This local lobby group has threatened the local planning authority with a judicial review challenge. I am regularly asked what this actually means: a judicial review challenge is a means by which the courts supervise public decision making functions to ensure that they are made lawfully and fairly, and ensures that the proper process has been followed in reaching such decisions. It is not about re-opening the merits of the decision which has been reached already. For the past two years the Local Planning Authority have retained the services of a specialist planning barrister to advise them on any such litigation - if I was a gambling man, my money would be on the planning barrister.
Our development programme is mirrored by most marinas and harbours around the Solent, the majority of which have already upgraded their facilities; Bembridge has now fallen behind the competition in our offer of quality services. So far, we have been fortunate to be well supported by our visitors and annual berth-holders, but there must be coming a time when they will tire of being told ‘next year … next year ..."
Once we have built the new facilities complex and associated benefits, it is only then that we can turn our attentions to the new housing schemes overlooking the Harbour that will be built on brown field sites, previously used for commercial purposes.
There is some good news on progress however - we have now been granted a Lawful Development Certificate for the houseboat area, enabling us to move forwards with our plans for installing sewage systems free of charge to the older houseboats, as well as bringing forward some additional houseboat plots to attract new vessels into the Harbour.
Rest assured, we have no intention at all of going back to the old pre-2011 days - our agenda is to take the Harbour forwards in all that it offers.
Our passion and commitment have never been stronger towards all our projects as the future blueprint for the Harbour, and in the meantime we will continue to be one of the friendliest and best staffed harbours in the Solent.
To put it another way, our glass will remain half full !
Enjoy your summer - with fair currents and a following breeze
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