Eastney Naturists

Campaigning to Save the Beach

Portsmouth City Council’s Cabinet held a meeting today, including voting on a new Deed of Release over the access road to QinetiQ’s site – the Deed will grant “guaranteed” public access to the beach once finally signed.  Details of the report and Deed of Release can be viewed at PCC’s website.  This meeting had been deferred from Monday as the report and new Deed of Release were only added to Monday’s meeting on the previous Thursday afternoon – using the ruse of a “supplementary agenda item” to circumvent the rule that reports have to be made public with sufficient notice for public scrutiny.

Simon’s report of the meeting follows:

“The meeting got off to a rather disorganised start as at 11 only Gerald Vernon Jackson and John Slater were present. Gerald Vernon Jackson came up and having a couple of words with me and Hilary Reed but nothing more than a friendly greeting.

We had to wait 5 minutes while the other Councillors turned up they were Steve Wylie, Jason Fazackerley, Gerald Vernon Jackson and Lee Hunt. Also present were John Slater and Michael Lawther. I could not recognize a few people but Hilary Reed pointed out they were David Williams the chief executive and the others could not be recognized apart from Rory O’Keefe from the local paper.

Gerald Vernon Jackson called the meeting to order. He then asked Michael Lawther if this was a legal meeting and Mr. Lawther duly confirmed as this was not a forward planning item in the first place and second that there was a public access issue.

Gerald Vernon Jackson welcomed me to make a deputation stating I could exceed the 6 minute deadline. I told him I had two deputations and then gave the first by Mike Houlsby and the second by Adrian Reed. I was invited to give my own but stated the two had summed up my feelings.

Mike’s Deputation: 

There are aspects to this report and this re-worded Deed of Release that I wish to object to:

  1. an apparent attempt to bounce this past the public using the ruse of a supplementary agenda item
  2. a substantial change from the Deed of Release previously agreed by this Cabinet in that you are now being asked to approve benefits for QinetiQ regardless of planning consent
  3. inaccuracy and vagueness of the report itself

This “supplementary agenda item” was only made public last Thursday afternoon for a Monday meeting.  This ruse, apparently, allows the 7 day rule to be circumvented and proper public scrutiny to be avoided.  Even now, with deferring this for a couple of days, it still doesn’t quite meet the 7 day rule.

It certainly feels like an attempt was made to bounce something through!

This isn’t the only aspect of the timing of this report that makes me uneasy. 

I question putting this report before Cabinet when so many Cabinet members are away. This matter is of great public interest and, as such, really should have no suspicion attached to the way it is presented to Cabinet. Surely, it would be better to defer this to September with a full Cabinet?

I refer to the report:

3.2 – “substantially in the form of that annexed” – What is it that this Cabinet is being asked to sign up to?  It’s either this deed as attached or it isn’t!  This is surprisingly vague wording when dealing with someone like QinetiQ! 

3.3 – It seems that QinetiQ will now gain rights over the access road from the date of the signing of the deed. 

This is substantially different from previous versions of this deed

In the Deed of Release agreed by Cabinet in 2008, QinetiQ would gain rights only if planning consent was granted (& that’s increasingly uncertain).  This new, unwelcome, clause seems to mean that QinetiQ will be allowed to disturb the SINC land before the bird survey is made public and before planning consent is granted.  This appears to pre-judge the outcome of the bird survey and of the planning process.  In fact, this whole business is now looking increasingly outside the scope of the planning process and looks very much like QinetiQ trying to pull a fast one.

4.2 – Will agreeing this Deed really “bring an end to the potential threat of further judicial review”?  Do you genuinely believe that QineitQ’s legal threats & bully tactics will stop?  Even if that’s so, is it really the Council’s position that it will back down in the face of such threats. 

Come to that, have PCC ever had costs awarded against them in this matter?  I think this is an empty threat, only included to encourage members to vote the “correct” way. 

4.3 – This is inaccurate – the land at Eastney beach isn’t being used as a car park – it’s the land at Fort Cumberland SINC.  If this appeared in a contract, surely this would void that contract – or at least give grounds for endless arguing from lawyers! 

– The number of touring caravans has previously been declared to not be an issue – why bring it up now?  Is it being used as another measure with which to frighten this Cabinet?

 4.4 – I don’t trust that the granting this deed will not interfere with the Village Green application – do you?  The Village Green application should be heard properly and democratically before signing over any rights that may prejudice that process. Don’t forget, QinetiQ’s new rights would take effect on the signing of this new Deed!

This deed is based on conditions imposed on the planning application back in 2005 – this report indicates that the application will be going back before committee, at which this deed may well be made unnecessary.

What are QinetiQ up to?  Are they seeking advantage outside the scope of the planning process? I don’t trust them – do you?

The timing of this report, the substantial changes to the Deed of Release and the apparent urgency for signing this new Deed make me suspicious.

It seems right & proper for a full Cabinet to decide a matter that has always been of great interest to the public and concerns the public interest.

Surely, this “offer” from QinetiQ isn’t another one of their today-only offers – is it?

Simon’s report continues:

“Gerald Vernon Jackson stated that the deed removed the uncertainty of beach access by giving public access to a private beach. This was also the time of year when people were swimming down there and gave the impression that this was an urgent matter. He also stated that when he was approached by the public there was a strong desire to allow public access.

Gerald Vernon Jackson then asked Michael Lawther to expound the legal position.

Mr Lawther confirmed that “Qinetiqs access road does not give rights to construction work until planning consent is given”. The planning application is old being over five years.

In relation to legal costs he said that the cost application is still outstanding but will disappear when the deed is granted.

This does not affect the application of a village green as this is heard by different council officials.

He acknowledged concerns relating to the SINC and the bird life and proposed to draft an amended deed clause so that the access road would not contravene this.

Jason Fazackerley asked Michael Lawther if the legal agreement is tight he replied that it was as good as possible but of course no guarantee could be made and it will grant public access and with the eco clause added to it, it was as good as possible.

Lee Hunt then surmised that Portsmouth City council had worked hard to reach a compromise. There was no maladministration and gave thanks to the public at large for helping the council with this matter. He pointed out the duty to avoid the judicial review costs in excess of one million pounds.

Steve Wylie then asked John Slater about the effect of the deed on the decision of planning grounds and John Slater replied that the deed “would not tie the hands of planning”.

Gerald Vernon Jackson pointed out that the agreement was as good as could be gotten and referred to the dropping of the anti naturist clause that Qinetiq demanded

Jason Fazackerley had the last word and has doubts over Qinetiq but understood that legal costs had to be considered. He announced that he intended to vote against the deed.

A vote was then called for with Steven Wylie abstaining Jason Fazackerley voting against, Lee Hunt and Gerald Vernon Jackson voting for, the meeting then came to an end.”Is it reasonable to question that this contentious Deed of Release (it’s been before Cabinet and rejected many times already) should now be passed with only 2 votes in favour?  There are 10 Councillors in the Cabinet, yet this passed with only 2 votes in favour – I’m told it’s within the rules – it may well be, but is it right?

A few questions to ponder:

Does an apparent attempt to slip this quietly onto the agenda at the last minute sound like transparent governance?

Does the timing of this “emergency” report, when more than half the Cabinet were absent, make you suspicious?

Is it reasonable to question that this contentious Deed of Release (it’s been before Cabinet and rejected many times already) should now be passed with only 2 votes in favour?  There are 10 Councillors in the Cabinet, yet this passed with only 2 votes in favour – I’m told it’s within the rules – it may well be, but is it right?

© Eastney Naturist Beach Liaison Group- Eastney Naturists