Eastney Naturists

Campaigning to Save the Beach

The Agenda & Report can be viewed on Portsmouth City Council’s website – http://www.portsmouth.gov.uk/media/cab20100607r24.pdf

First point to note is that QinetiQ have demanded that the new clause is not to be released to the public and that the Cabinet should discuss this behind closed doors.

I gave my deputation:

I must first object most strenuously to secret deals being done behind closed doors – any new clause should not be kept from the public, especially as it seeks to impose limitations on that public.  The Deed of Release has been public knowledge for 2 years now.  Why should any new clause about public access to the beach now be kept secret?  It was my understanding that exemption could only be justified for quite specific and quite limited reasons – do any of those reasons really apply here?  Really?  Saving QinetiQ from immediate embarrassment isn’t a good enough reason.

It’s my understanding that QinetiQ have demanded this exclusion of the public. That certainly fits in with their recent actions in excluding the public from the local beach!  How can this be reasonable given that the Deed of Release is part of a deal concerning public land>  Surely this will have to be made public sooner or later anyway – how else do you enforce a secret clause against the public, against the people of Portsmouth?

I understand that the clause that you’re now being asked to sign up to, in secret, behind those closed doors, is that QinetiQ want to exclude naturists from Eastney Beach at their absolute discretion and that they demand that this Cabinet sign up to and legitimise this appalling discrimination of one of Portsmouth’s communities.  This sort of nonsense would not even be considered if they were trying this on with any other recognised minority group.  This poisonous clause was brought to light in the local paper and on local radio.  It’s certainly not a secret now and cannot reasonably be used as a reason for excluding the public!  I would request that Cabinet reject this unjustifiable call for secrecy and allow fairness, openness & transparency to prevail.

I really must question the need for this Deed of Release to be signed at this time:

·      there’s no prospect of building works starting any time soon

·      there is no planning consent granted yet

·      it looks likely that the matter will go back before the planning committee again – the Head of Planning confirmed this at a previous Cabinet meeting

·      it may well be that the application gets rejected at the next stage.  What purpose to this deed then?  Is it to allow QinetiQ some future advantage?

·      we still haven’t heard about the updated flood risk assessment or the REAL bird survey yet – either of those could severely impact the application

·      updated guidelines cast yet more doubt on the viability of the application.

In light of all this, I was rather amazed to see that the £75,000 developer’s contribution had been written into the council’s 10-11 budgets – is someone assuming that this contentious application will go though on the nod?

It’s bad enough that we have burly, private security guards turning people away from one of Portsmouth’s beaches – QinetiQ’s latest legal threats & demands for the closure of the Fort Cumberland car park and re-opening of Melville Road seem to me to be for one purpose only – a cynical attempt to coerce the council to sign up to discrimination.  

This Cabinet came to an agreement with QinetiQ about public access a couple of years ago – now QinetiQ are seeking to renege on that agreement.

It looks obvious from this side – first they came for the naturists – who will be next if you don’t speak up for us? 

At a recent, very well attended, meeting of the Eastney Neighbourhood Forum 2 key votes were taken – to empower the forum to complain to the council about QinetiQ’s actions – and to ask the forum to look at options to protect access for ALL the public.  Both votes were carried unanimously in a forest of raised arms – not one single vote against – that speaks volumes for how the local community feel.  Hundreds of people have signed up to a Facebook group protesting the closure of Eastney Beach, with many also signing a number 10 petition.  It seems that the public really do want the beach to remain open to ALL the public.

I respectfully request that this cabinet do the right thing, rather than the easy one.  QinetiQ may well want to blatantly discriminate against law-abiding citizens and one of our local communities – Portsmouth City Council should not legitimise or sign up to that discrimination.

Hilary Reed then gave a personal deputation and questioned why public access to information had been restricted.  She went on to urge the City Council:
To act properly, transparently and fairly in the public interest and debate the exempt report in public now. 
To secure for local residents the right to continue to enjoy Fraser Beach for all lawful pastimes that have been properly established over at least 20 years, and often 60 years.
To show openly its unbiased determination of any planning application.
Finally; not to confer improper advantage to a private body that is not in the public interest.

Then the bombshell!  An application to protect access for ALL to the Fraser Range part of Eastney Beach as a Village Green had been made that morning by the Eastney Neighbourhood Forum at the prompting from attendees at a recent ENF meeting.

Next up was a deputation from Cllr Luke Stubbs (one of the Eastney Ward Councillors)
He felt that QinetiQ actions were spiteful in closing the beach.  He thought that the Marine & Coastal Access bill would give people access anyway.  He was pleased to hear about, & supports the Village Green application.  He added that the car park that QinetiQ wanted to see closed was not actually a car park, more an informal area that people parked at.

Cllr Vernon-Jackson noted that there were representatives from QinetiQ in the room.  He asked them (not for the first time it seems) for the secret clause to be made public – the answer was no.

Then after noting that a written deputation had been received from Jo Stancliffle, Cllr Vernon-Jackson told the Cabinet that they couldn’t comment on the Village Green application as Portsmouth City Council (PCC) would be the deciding authority – this was confirmed by the City Solicitor.

Cllr Vernon-Jackson: what is the legal view of the Cabinet’s discretion?

City Solicitor: These are the negotiated terms – it seems to be unreasonable to refuse this new clause as QinetiQ already have this power as the land-owner.

Cllr Vernon-Jackson: I note that there are representatives from QinetiQ in the meeting – Why have you changed the agreement from that agreed 2 years ago?

QinetiQ: would only answer with “No Comment”

Cllr Madden: I don’t disagree with what any of the deputations had to say.  This has been talked about (by the Cabinet) 8 times already.  PCC have to accept the legal advice it is being given.  Cabinet would be unreasonable not to accept the report and votes to accept its recommendations.

Cllr Hancock: I don’t like being bullied – feels that this is malicious, vindictive bullying.  QinetiQ raised no objections when Melville Road was first closed – it suited everyone’s purposes then.  How would QinetiQ justify re-opening that road?  This is ill-intentioned and vindictive in the extreme.  Will raise the behaviour of an ex-publicly owned company in Parliament.

Cllr Hancock: How does this relate to the caravan site?

Solictor: restricted to 75% travelling & 25% static vans on site

City Solictor: There is no breach of covenant

Cllr Hancock: QinetiQ’s workforce parked at the Free car park when it suited them!  This is the pot calling the kettle black.  We are being hoodwinked, QinetiQ had not previously objected.

Cllr Hancock: I have doubts about the validity of the exempt wording – it seems wrong of PCC to pre-judge.  Why are we voting on this today?  Why do we need to endorse this Deed?

City Solictor: Doesn’t know why QinetiQ are demanding this – that QinetiQ thought the negotiation was taking too long

Cllr Hancock: [plainly irritated] How long have PCC been waiting on QinetiQ?

Head of Planning: Over 2 years

Cllr Vernon-Jackson: proposes an amendment to the secret clause:

PCC recognises that it does not have a legally defendable position to stop the company making decisions that restrict public access onto the beach that they own. 

The City Council deeply regrets that he company has withdrawn the offer that it made to allow free public access to all onto the beach, which has been enjoyed by local people for many years.

The City Council will pursue all legal avenues to allow as much public access as is easily allowable onto the beach the company owns and deeply regrets the tactics used by the company to remove public access that has been enjoyed on the beach for many years.

The Council will take up with Government Ministers and Civil Servants the highly antagonistic attitude of the company which is wishing to deny public access to a beach where the public have enjoyed this access for many years.

Cllr Fazackarley: We have a public duty to the tax payer – “QinetiQ are, in my opinion, corporate bullies” “blackguards” – “they spit in the face of PCC and the people of Portsmouth”.  We have a right as a cabinet and should stand up against them.

Cllr Hunt: Unclear if this is bullying or just sheer incompetence.  QinetiQ are confused as to what they want.  PCC has a good relationship with other companies in Portsmouth – not so with QinetiQ.  “Sometimes you just have to take a stand.  We should take them on”

Cllr Vernon-Jackson: e risk public money.  The legal advice is clear.

City Solictor: PCC’s chances of success at court are not good.

Cllr Vernon-Jackson then called for a vote:
In favour:  Cllrs Mason, Madden, Vernon-Jackson, Hunt
Against: Cllrs Hancock, Ireland, Scott, Wylie, Fazackarley

The recommendation to accept the secret clause was not accepted 5 – 4 against.

My observations:

The Councillors were not at all happy about the way that QinetiQ have chosen to do business with them.  When did you last hear expressions like “blackguard”, “mailicious”, “vindictive” & “corporate bullies” at a council meeting?  No wonder this has been thrown out again.  Will we get a change of heart from QinetiQ – will they actually negotiate, rather than demand?  More likely unfortunately, is that we’ll see more legal threats, more bully-boy posturing.

© Eastney Naturist Beach Liaison Group- Eastney Naturists