Eastney Naturists

Campaigning to Save the Beach


There is a report going before the Portsmouth City Council Cabinet on Wed 21st May at 4:45pm in the Executive Meeting Room, 3rd floor, Guildhall.  The report, from the City Solicitor’s dept, is recommending that:
(1)  The decision taken by the Executive on 29 January 2008 to reject the two recommendations in the report presented  to the Executive on 18 December 2007 with regard to this land be rescinded; and that
(2)  The two recommendations be approved and that the deed required by QinetiQ Limited be in the form of the  draft Deed of release and grant of easement that accompanies this report.


Mike’s Deputation:

Good afternoon.  Thank you for this opportunity to speak up on behalf of the Eastney Naturists.

There are so many financial & conservation objections to QinetiQ’s scheme and legal threats that I can’t devote the time I would like to each of them.

    * I object to any part of this matter being discussed as being exempt & behind closed doors.
    * It’s now proposed that QinetiQ grab 27metres of the Fort Cumberland SINC – back in December & January it was only (!) 10metres
    * Plan 1 looks misleading to me & doesn’t show this extended land grab
    * There’s no extra money on offer for nearly triple the appropriation of land
    * Concerns about disturbance to the SINC are still valid
    * It looks like full open access for all the public to Eastney Beach is still not on offer.
    * There is a principle here that should be defended robustly.  The Council should not be forced to sell its rights over a piece of land just because there are planning conditions on it.

QinetiQ’s case is weak & to cave in will send the message that big business has only to threaten & bluster and it will get its way (or, it now seems, quite a bit more besides!!!)

I intend to focus a bit more on the Naturists’ concerns and objections:

The executive made a decision, based on many concerns, back in January, not to sell its rights over the strip of land.  I have to stress that our concerns about full public access for all to Eastney Beach still apply – indeed, our concerns have been confirmed and increased by recent press reports!

It has been made quite clear, in reports in the local press, that QinetiQ don’t want the naturists to stay on the beach.  QinetiQ have been pushed, much against their will, into making concessions about some access to the beach but not for ALL the public:  “not necessarily to keep it for the nudists”.

Once the principle of excluding one section of the public is established, which section of the public will be next to be banned?

    * The fishermen?  The dog-walkers? – I dare say QinetiQ could find some spurious complaints to make about them!
    * Who else?  How about anyone who doesn’t own one of the luxury flats?

It will be to this council’s credit IF it continues to push QinetiQ into keeping the beach open for ALL of the public.  This land and beach once belonged to the people of Portsmouth & was only taken over by the War Department in the 30’s

    * It is entirely unreasonable that this was not handed back to the City once it was no longer needed for the defence of the realm.
    * It is entirely unreasonable that this windfall gift for QinetiQ is being used to the detriment of the public following their lawful pursuits
    * And it is entirely unreasonable that QinetiQ are using these latest bully-boy tactics against this Council and against this City to get their own way

The City Solicitor’s report back in January clearly warned of the exclusions that could still be manipulated under the Countryside & Rights of Way & that QinetiQ had refused to remove this risk.

Objections & Concerns could be easily overcome by waiving exclusions in respect of naturism in the dedication form OR by following Councillor Hancock’s suggestion of handing the beach back to the City.  Naturists have peacefully co-existed at Eastney for decades now, and shouldn’t be singled out for discrimination and exclusion.

Even this current report admits that there will be no protection for the naturists & I quote:  “the terms that QinetiQ was prepared to accede to, offer no guarantees for the naturists”

Indeed, I’d go further – I do not believe that QinetiQ’s terms offer guarantees for any of the public, not just the naturists.

    * We are a significant minority group, no less deserving of consideration from this council than any other minority group – hundreds of people use that beach & have done so for well over 60 years.
    * Where will the naturists go if QinetiQ succeed in pushing us off that beach?
    * Are we now to be told there’s no room for us any more?
    * It seems that quite a few tax-payers and visitors to the City are about to be discriminated against and disadvantaged.
    * What does this Council intend to do to support the tax-payers, the naturists, the public who have peacefully co-existed at Eastney for so long?
    * Where do we go from here?

This report offers only lose-lose options for the council- either cave in to QinetiQ’s bully-boy tactics or face litigation costs.

I would ask that both options are rejected.  It cannot be beyond the ability of this Council to come up with a win option for everyone concerned!


Mike’s Report of the Meeting – convened at 16:45

Present: Cllr Vernon-Jackson (chair), Cllr Wylie, Cllr Stagg, cllr Hall, Cllr Mason, Cllr Madden
Apologies for Absence from: Cllr Hancock, Cllr Fazackarley, Cllr Scott

Council Officers present included: Michael Lawther (City Solicitor), Tony Margrave & Peter Nail (Legal Dept), Roger Ching (Strategic Director), John Slater (head of planning) & others.

Also present was a Barrister providing advice to the Council (Simon…  Sorry I didn’t catch his surname).

Mr Lawther suggested way to proceed would be to start with Recommendation 1 of the Report to rescind the decision taken on Jan 29th – this would obviate the need for the meeting to progress under exempt conditions. 

The Cabinet took a vote on this without much discussion & without hearing from any of the public.  The vote was tied, 3 for & 3 against.  The chair used a casting vote & the motion was carried.  The Executive’s decision of 29th Jan was now rescinded – this also had the effect of rendering QinetiQ’s application for Judicial review null (QinetiQ were objecting to that decision not to let them appropriate a 10m strip of the Fort Cumberland SINC).

Tony Margrave explained some of the background to this meeting for the benefit of the new members of the cabinet – explained about negotiations between QinetiQ & Asset Management Services (AMS) – briefly described the previous executive vote.

Mr Lawther told the cabinet that they were now in the position of looking at the matter afresh.  He said that Portsmouth City Council (PCC) were not in a good position & that there was not any reason for PCC to refuse QinetiQ’s proposal.  His advice was that there were no grounds for refusing the application in  front of them today.

It was then time to hear from the public:
I made my deputation (detailed above), followed by Mark Austin.

QinetiQ declined to make a deputation.

Mark Austin queried the flood defences – asked if there was a report backing up the notion that for PCC to take over the beach they had to take over the sea defences.  He noted that QinetiQ’s directors had become very rich.  He was very unhappy about the previous decision of the Executive being rescinded without hearing deputations. He queried the absence of the court papers from the report.  He felt that we were being given an unfair hearing without these papers.  He queried the amount of money on offer from QinetiQ – was £75,000 enough given that extra land was on offer.

Tony Margrave explained that the extra land was only able to be used if further planning permission was sought.  He added that the naturists couldn’t be protected unless PCC owned the land.

Mr Lawther told the Cabinet that concerns about the SINC, birds, etc were planning considerations and were not valid concerns that could be taken account of when reaching a decision.  He added that it was not usual for court papers to be attached to a report.  He said that anyone could have seen the papers on application to his office.  He added that the court papers had been made available to the cabinet and that advice had been given.

There then followed deputations from Councillors:

Cllr Stubbs called the proposal outrageous in principle to hand over environmentally sensitive land for a pittance.  He then went on to speculate that the planning application could grow from 131 flats to 300 flats!  He questioned the value for money – a lot of land for £75,000 – a very low value placed on environmentally protected land.  He passed on the message from Dr Scarlett & Mr Reed that they were extremely unhappy & are considering their own legal action.

Cllr Hunt stated that the outline planning was granted & that it would be perverse for the cabinet to deny the right of way.  He made the argument that the police would act on complaints from the developers and residents and take the naturists away (he described the naturists as all “pot bellies & boobs hanging out”.  He went on  to say that the cabinet had to make an unpopular decision but that they had no choice.  He wasn’t happy with AMS’s valuation.  He felt that the cabinet had dug themselves into a hole & was also concerned about the toxicity of the land.

Cllr Buggy was very concerned about the proposal for 27 metres – felt that the goal-posts had moved.  Asked what English Nature’s view on the 27m given that they were unhappy with the 10m proposal.  She asked when it would be time for the environmental concerns to be thought of.  She stated that it was important that the city addresses the selling off of our children’s inheritance & that it was important to preserve biodiversity.  She asked how can the sale of a strip of land of this size be proper.

Cllr Wemys told the cabinet that he appeared as a knight in white armour with an answer to the issue and that the cabinet did not have the authority to sell this land.  He made the argument that PCC policy (set in Oct 2006) said that the council could not approve the disposal of land to aid a residential development that did not have the maximum number of parking spaces.  The maximum parking spaces for this development would be 256, but the application only held 197 spaces.  He said that this fails on PCC policy on parking.

Mr Lawther replied that any use of the 27m strip would have to go back to planning.

AMS added that this was not the sale of the land, but only a variation of the right of way that QinetiQ already had.

Mr Lawther told the cabinet that the valuation was OK.

Cllr Vernon-Jackson asked how about if planning don’t need the cycleway – is there then the need for the variation of right?

AMS answered that it was planning asking for the cycleway.

Cllr Vernon-Jackson then confirmed that discussion with the Police had shown that they weren’t fussed about the naturists & that simple nudity wasn’t an offence.  He then asked the City Solicitor what rights this committee had to say yes or no.

The meeting was then adjourned for 10 minutes so that the city Solicitor could confer with the Barrister & provide a response.

10 minutes later…

Mr Lawther told the cabinet that it was not appropriate to provide advice on car parking in open session.  The meeting room was then cleared of the public and went into closed session.

We were called back in to the meeting room to hear from the Barrister that the PCC policy on car parking was not applicable because the parking would not be taking place on the curtilage of the land so disposed – ie not parking on the right of way itself.  He added that in his opinion the PCC policy was not relevant.

Mr Lawther confirmed this.

Mr Slater added that the grant of the right of way does not allow building houses on the SINC.

Cllr Hall asked about the statutory advertising of the variation of rights over public land that has to take place.  Expressed unhappiness that a decision is being made before the sale of those rights.

Mr Lawther answered that it is OK to make the resolution with the statutory advert to follow.

Cllr Vernon-Jackson asked about the size of the strip of land

Mr Slater replied that to widen the highway would need a new planning application.

Cllr Vernon-Jackson asked what are our rights in the granting or not of this easement.

Mr Lawther replied that PCC were not a private land-owner and that they must be seem to be reasonable when making their decision. 

The Barrister added that the Cabinet had to judge it between what us there now and what is proposed as the alternative.  It was legitimate to take into account the Council’s own interests as a land-owner & to balance between what is & what could be achieved.  He listed on the plus side:
•    Services would be laid to the side of the road
•    A new cycleway – as per PCC policy
•    £75,000
He then listed on the negative side:
•    PCC don’t have the benefit of behaving irrationally
•    There was nothing that PCC could do to protect the naturists by this disposal
•    There was no argument put forward in law to allow the naturists to use this private land
•    That there had been the offer (from QinetiQ) to transfer to PCC the entire beach & the sea defences & that this was reasonable – can’t take the benefit without the burden

Cllr Madden asked about the extra 15m (over and above the previous 10m) – does the developer have to go back to planning

Mr Margrave answered yes.  & that the 15m is a “comfort zone” & that nothing could be done to that without planning permission

Cllr Madden asked if there was a revised planning application

Mr Margrave answered no.

Mr Slater added that any works needing planning permission outside the “red line” would need a planning application.

Cllr Madden asked if the developer shouldn’t get its act together first

Mr Slater then justified the variations

Cllr Madden asked about the valuation of £75,000

AMS answered that the valuation was externally justified – he argued that it was not a ransom strip

Cllr Madden asked what were the consequences of not deciding in favour of QinetiQ

Mr Lawther suggested that a further application for Judicial Review could be forthcoming and if PCC lost that the court could direct PCC on how to make the decision.  He emphasised the liability of court and legal costs.

Cllr Mason asked about access to the beach.  Does dedication as access land allow access to any member of the public?  If so, does this change the rights of naturists to access the land?

Mr Margrave answered that the public will have rights, but the rights of the naturists are not guaranteed.

Mr Lawther added that this is a private beach & that Countryside & Rights of Way (CROW) dedication would give rights to the public & give rights to QinetiQ as the land-owner.

Cllr Mason asked about the reasonableness of the easement.  Is it reasonable to grant easement over land without a statement of purpose for that land?

Mr Lawther replied that it was entirely reasonable to ask for that easement & that it would only be useful if they go through the planning process.

Cllr Mason asked why at this time?

The Barrister replied that the negotiations for easement take substantial time & expense, that advertising would have to take place, an entry into the Land Registry would be required.  If there was an application for another variation then all of this would have to be gone through again.  So without a valid reason it would be unreasonable to say no at this time, for this foreseeable need.

Cllr Hall observed that the £75,000 may well have been used up by the proceedings so far anyway.  She then lambasted the Cabinet with quotes about the Council striving for a “sense of community”.  How can we say this, giving away public land?  She was still disturbed by being told at the planning hearing (in 2005) that the naturists’ concerns didn’t count.  She asked “when do the naturists count?”  She questioned the policy of PCC not to have a policy on naturists & naturism.  She asked “when do we have a policy?”  She then noted that the sign at the entrance to the beach didn’t exactly discourage naturism – that in effect PCC were telling people that this was OK.  She expressed concern about biodiversity & was concerned that English Nature were not being given the opportunity to comment & that we shouldn’t dispose of land before English Nature was consulted.

Cllr Vernon-Jackson read out statements from absent cllr (Cllr Scott?) – that they were unhappy about granting extra rights, that PCC’s alleged responsibility to QinetiQ was being overly emphasised, deeply unhappy about QinetiQ’s inconsistency.

Mr Lawther responded that these were not material considerations – that the cabinet must not judge based on prejudices about QinetiQ.  He added that there was no further advice that officers could give the Cabinet.

Cllr Hall brought up the new threat of legal action / Judicial Review from Dr Scarlett and Mr Reed.

Mr Lawther responded that he was familiar with people launching Judicial Reviews without foundation.

Cllr Madden suggested that the matter needed a wider debate and suggested referring to Full Council for decision.

Mr Lawther asked what would referring to Full Council achieve & that they should bring this to a conclusion.

Cllr Madden then stated that he felt threatened as an individual by someone outside the council.

Mr Lawther asked the cabinet to reflect on why they would refer the matter.

Cllr Vernon-Jackson asked can we do that (refer to Full Council)?

Mr Lawther responded yes, although QinetiQ would be concerned why.  He then asked what advantage is there in going to Full Council.

Cllr Vernon-Jackson said that the Cabinet were not making new policy & asked how can wider debate be a problem.

Mr Lawther replied that the Cabinet need a reason for the wider debate – “your decision must be reasonable”

Cllr Stagg added that they were not looking for different advice, but that it was right for all councillors to have the information and to make the decision.

Mr Lawther replied that it was the Cabinet’s decision & that by delaying decision they were putting the Council at risk of further Judicial Review costs.  That the consequence of referring was more costs.  He then conferred with the Barrister & added that referral to Full Council implies that there could be a different decision.

Cllr Vernon-Jackson responded that if people were minded to say no to QinetiQ, then referring to Full Council to possibly make a different decision is reasonable.

Cllr Hall stated that she was not happy with the quality of advice received from Council Officers.

Cllr Stagg said she felt held to ransom, bullied & that she was being pressurised into making a decision.

Mr Lawther replied we’ve given robust advice, but it is down to members to decide.

Cllr Vernon-Jackson called for a vote to go to Full Council
3 in favour (Cllr Hall, Cllr Madden, Cllr Wylie)
3 against (Cllr Vernon-Jackson, Cllr Mason, Cllr Stagg)
Cllr Vernon-Jackson then used the chair’s deciding vote to reject going to Full Council.

Cllr Vernon-Jackson then called for a vote on recommendation 2 (to let QinetiQ have the variation in rights over the strip of land)
1 in favour (Cllr Mason)
1 against (Cllr Hall)
Cllr Vernon-Jackson then added his vote against.

The Cabinet had voted (for the second time) to reject QinetiQ’s proposals to appropriate public open land in order to widen the access road.

 


© Eastney Naturist Beach Liaison Group- Eastney Naturists