Eastney Naturists

Campaigning to Save the Beach

The agenda & Report can be viewed on Portsmouth City Council’s website – http://www.portsmouth.gov.uk/yourcouncil/15556.html

Cllr Verson-Jackson opened the meeting

Deputations heard from Cllr Buggy, Mike Houlsby & Jo Stancliffe.  All asked the question “why now?”. 

Cllr Buggy reported that residents in the Eastney ward has expressed some concern about the appropriation of land.

Jo Stancliffe also questioned the external legal advice the Council had paid for, given the inability to distinguish between an application that had consent and one that only had a resolution to grant.

My deputation is detailed below:

The appropriation itself seems somewhat premature – the planning application is NOT approved at any level – it is only at a “resolution to grant outline” stage – more importantly, there are surveys still outstanding – the most relevant being a genuine in-season bird survey.

It worries me that the appropriation of this land from the Site of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC) to highways classification could remove the then ex-SINC land from the scope of the bird survey.  A cynical person could well ask “Is that why the appropriation is happening now?”  Otherwise, why the rush?  Surely it would be better to wait until the surveys have been completed?

I thought that Cabinet had already agreed the Deed of Release last year. It seems that this is being redrafted and is still under negotiation!  How can one side of a deal be struck while the other side of the deal is still being negotiated?  Doesn’t this undermine the Council’s position?

This appropriation is tied to the Deed of Release.  It seems quite unreasonable to consider one part of the deal without the other, especially considering the ongoing changes to the Deed of Release.

At the meeting in September 2008, Cabinet asked for extra safeguards for “Access to the Beach” to be added to the deed.  The latest Deed, to my mind, weakens those safeguards, not strengthens them.  I have to question whether there has been sufficient opportunity to review these changes.

•    The latest Deed talks about assuring access to the beach from the “Planning date” onwards – this is a significant change from the agreed 2008 version which gave the stronger protection of the date of the deed of release.  Why change this date?  Surely this could give rise to the suspicion that the developer would be free to close the beach immediately, with no comeback, until the point when, or if, the planning application is settled – this could be quite some time yet.

•    The latest Deed only requires the developer to seek advice from the Health & Safety Executive and the Police.  Portsmouth City Council seems to have been left out of the list of consultees – is this right?  Not only that, the developer only has to “consider” the advice – so they’d be quite free to ignore it then?  It would greatly strengthen protection of access by insisting that any closure of the beach should require independent approval from the relevant authority.

Have the requested safeguards been watered down?  This new Deed appears, in part, to give more freedom to the developer than was agreed by Cabinet in the 2008 Deed & is not entirely in the spirit of Cabinet’s previously declared wish to safeguard access to the beach.

It does make me wonder what pressure has been brought in redrafting the Deed of Release.  

I would, therefore, ask Cabinet to reject this premature appropriation of sensitive, public, land, at least until we know the results of the outstanding surveys, and to reject this Report and this Deed of Release in its present, weakened, form.

Cllr Vernon-Jackson: asked Head of Planning (John Slater) questions about planning aspects of the appropriation of land.

John Slater: There would be no change in its SINC status after appropriation.  Any change would have to be as a de-designation.  Confirmed that the bird survey was now underway.  The flood risk assessment would have to reflect changes in PPS25 guidance.  Would have to review all environmental information owing to the passage of time since the 2005 hearing.  Any material change in circumstances would push the application back before the planning committee.  Added that the s106 agreement is still outstanding – in particular, the sea wall defences.  The surveys would be reviewed by the Council’s ecologists (& consultants?).

Cllr Hancock: Who will take the final decision?

John Slater: If there is no material change of circumstances, then council officers would implement the resolution to grant.  If there are changes, then the application would have to go back before the planning committee.

Cllr Hancock: asks that this matter should go back before the planning committee no matter what – that it should be decided by Councillors (Cllr Vernon-Jackson agrees).

John Slater: The evidence and results of the surveys will be made public and the public will be able to comment.  However, if he was a betting man, he’d bet that the matter ends up back in front of the planning committee.

Cllr Vernon-Jackson: asked about the threat of closure of the beach.

Michael Lawther (City Solicitor): The Deed of Release isn’t before the Cabinet today – this is an administrative matter regarding the appropriation of land.

Peter Nail (Council Solicitor): explained why now – that without the appropriation of land, the Deed of Release could not go ahead.  The appropriation must happen before the Deed.

Cllr Hancock: wants to see the exact wording of the Deed of release before land is handed over to QinetiQ.

Michael Lawther: insists control of the land would be retained by the Council.

Cllr Hancock: questioned the ownership of the beach – have we seen the deed to the beach that QinetiQ are claiming ownership of.

Michael Lawther: Legal are satified that QinetiQ have title to the beach.

Cllr Hancock: personal recollection differs from that of QinetiQ

Michael Lawther: Council’s property lawyers are satisfied that QinetiQ hold title to the beach.  Cllr Vernon-Jackson asked for a report to be drafted confirmed this.

Cllr Hall: at the 22 Sept 2008 meeting, the Deed and the appropriation were consider together, not as separate items.  Not happy the she hasn’t seen the changes to the Deed.  Not prepared to decouple the 2 items.  Not happy.

Michael Lawther: This is not decoupling – have to appropriate the land before the Deed can be entered into.  Will only enter into a Deed that meets the Cabinet’s instructions.

Cllr Madden: commented that he’d never seen an issue come before the Cabinet so many times!  Commented that he’d thought the Deed and the appropriation went hand in glove together.  Questioned the misrepresentation of the status of the application in legal advice received by the Council.

Cllr Mason: Will the appropriation have no effect on ongoing negotiation with QinetiQ?

Michael Lawther: this would not place the Council in a detrimental position.

Cllr Fazackerly: What is the point of bringing this to Cabinet for decision?  (The matter had been delegated to Head of Asset Management, but he was off work.  The matter would likely be delegated to Chief Executive the next week anyway)

Michael Lawther: laid out decision that Cabinet would be expected to take – “to act otherwise would be unusual”

Cllr Hall: The Deed and appropriation should be considered together- “I think this is wrong”, “not one without the other”

Cllr Hancock: this gives an advantage to QinetiQ.  It makes it more difficult for the Council to stand against planning consent.  An appropriation for highway purposes would pre-dispose towards consent.  QinetiQ want this now – “This is about positioning for future court battles” – “suspicious of QinetiQ’s motives”

Michael Lawther: This is just trying to implement Cabinet’s decision from 22 Sept 2009

Vote taken to approve the Report & appropriation:

For: 4 (Cllrs Mason, Vernon-Jackson, Stagg, Madden)
Against: 5 (Cllrs Hancock, Wylie, Hall, Ireland, Fazackerly)

The Cabinet voted for the appropriation NOT to take place.

My observations & comments:

This was a matter that Cabinet had previously (22 September 2008) delegated to Council officers to conclude.  It turned out that at least some of the Cabinet were under the clear impression that the appropriation & Deed went hand in hand – not so, as explained by the City Solicitor.  A great deal of discussion, to & fro, took place over the separation of appropriation & Deed of Release.  The City Solicitor conceded that the wording in Sept 2008 could have been clearer.

As the officer given the authority to conclude this (Head of Asset management) has been “off work”, the decision to appropriate was bounced back to the Cabinet (it was explained that QinietiQ were threatening legal action again) for a speedy resolution.  Interestingly, it was also explained that the matter would be delegated to another officer the following week (the Chief Executive was mentioned) anyway, no matter whether Cabinet approved the appropriation or not & that the delegated officer could take a differing decision.

The current situation is that the delegated officer is now faced with taking a decision that may well be at odds with what Cabinet have decided – interesting times.

© Eastney Naturist Beach Liaison Group- Eastney Naturists