Eastney Naturists

Campaigning to Save the Beach

Another meeting (the 4th) of Portsmouth city Council’s Executive is taking place on Tuesday 29th January – 12 noon at the Executive meeting room on the 3rd floor of the Guildhall.  The agenda and (eventually) the report can be found on the council’s website.  This time the City Solicitor will be reporting back on whether or not legal title to the beach can be transferred to the council.  We will be there, giving another deputation, still pushing for proper binding, guaranteed public access to the beach.

Mike’s Deputation:

Firstly I would like to thank the council for continuing to push for public access to the beach.  Without this effort would QinetiQ have made any sort of offer of public access at all?  I have my doubts!  Certainly, QinetiQ’s recent actions in ordering the council to remove the naturist advisory signs from the beach suggest otherwise. 

We considered that this action was the first step to excluding the public from this privatised beach, starting with a “shot across the bows” of the naturists.  Of course, if this is not the case then re-instating the signs would go a long way towards demonstrating good faith and would show goodwill on the part of both QinetiQ and the council.

However, I have yet to be convinced that QinetiQ have any intention of allowing the naturists to remain and seem to be pursuing a solution that has loopholes. 

Without a WATERTIGHT guarantee, exclusion could be manipulated under the Countryside & Rights of Way dedication.  We are very concerned that QinetiQ, or any future owner, could claim that the naturists were causing disruption and that although the activity wasn’t illegal or intended to cause disruption it could still be restricted.  In fact, the City Solicitor’s report clearly warns of just such a danger in paragraph 3.24 section d:

“There are statutory restrictions on access rights, some of a subjective nature, that could be invoked against naturists.  These restrictions can be relaxed by QinetiQ in order to remove this risk, but it has not at this time been possible to secure agreement that such a relaxation will be forthcoming”                                                                                                                                              

Does that sound like there is any intention of allowing the naturists to remain?  So much for this proposal being “watertight”!  This objection could easily be overcome by explicitly waiving exclusions in respect of naturism in the dedication form.  Naturists have peacefully co-existed at Eastney, and shouldn’t be singled out for discrimination and exclusion.

A binding guarantee of public access should be secured for ALL, including the naturists, although we do still remain opposed to the scheme.  We have few enough quiet,  green spaces in the city as it is.  We cannot afford to lose these qualities from the beach & the SINC.

There are other problems with this report:

This latest report only offers us 2 scenarios – I note that the common-sense solution, helpfully outlined by Councillor Hancock at the last executive meeting, with the council taking over the beach, and QinetiQ retaining the sea-wall is not dealt with satisfactorily.  QinetiQ may not be keen on this option now, but surely that’s what negotiation is all about – isn’t it?  There’s nothing to stop a developer building secondary sea-defences – who know, that may be a better solution than upgrading the existing sea wall anyway. 

I question the disingenuous manner in which the costs of re-building the Fraser Range sea-wall have been laid out.  The figure of £7m is given, in large bold type, referring to a sea-wall one kilometre in length!  The Fraser Range sea wall is not a kilometre long.  It’s about half that!  Is this report quoting figures for a wall to protect both Fraser Range and the caravan park?  That isn’t what was asked for.  Have the figures been presented in a misleading way to alarm this meeting?  I understand that consultants, Halcrow, were commissioned to produce a Coastal Strategy Report complete with net present value costings, so I see no reason why this question should not have been answered properly.

If this development is such a high flood risk that it needs such extensive and expensive sea defences, then I do question the sanity of building these flats here at all!

I would ask that the executive is not swayed by high-handed threats of legal action, instead I ask that any decision over this Nature Conservation land is deferred until such time as real binding guarantees of public access for ALL to the beach have been secured.  There is still plenty of time for negotiations to continue as it will be months yet before the results of the in-season bird survey and the updated flood risk assessment are known.

A sea-side town, especially one with such a strong maritime tradition, should not have further restrictions imposed on part of its sea-shore. 

How embarrassing would a failure to secure public access be for this city? 

How embarrassing would that be for this council?

Account of Portsmouth City Council Executive Meeting – 29th January 2008

First to speak was Mike Houlsby (Eastney Naturists) – deputation can be seen above – followed by Adrian Reed (also speaking in opposition to QinetiQ’s plans), then Richard Waterman speaking for QinetiQ.

QinetiQ’s deputation contended mainly that negotiations had been concluded in good faith with council officers in July, insisted that the assurances about public access to the beach were “watertight”, claimed QinetiQ had a “legitimate expectation” of co-operation, and asked for a resolution so that “community benefits could flow”…

Councillor Vernon-Jackson (leader of the council & chair of the Executive Committee) set out some points for the committee to initially consider:

* What are the powers of the executive committee?
* Is the deal on public access watertight?
* Asked council officers to give advice on acquiring the beach from 1m sea-ward of the sea wall
* Would the application have to go back to the Development Control Committee (DCC) anyway? And what if the DCC just reversed their decision anyway?
* What would happen if the executive said no to QinetiQ’s offer
* What would be the effect on the council if the executive rejected QinetiQ’s offer

Answered by Council Officers:

* The City Solicitor replied that the executive would not be interfering with the any planning consent, and that the executive were solely considering the offer from QinetiQ in respect of the deed of grant (appropriation of council land to build a wider access road) i.e. as landowner not planning authority
* The City Solicitor’s dept had asked a barrister for an opinion on the Countryside & Rights of Way dedication – the answer was that this hadn’t been drafted with naturists in mind and that this was new legislation that would take some time to bed down.  The barrister could not give any guarantee. Doesn’t sound too watertight to me!
* The advice from a council officer was that the council would be liable for the maintenance of the beach
* The Head of Planning responded that QinetiQ had been asked to carry out 2 further studies:
  o An in-season bird survey
  o An updated flood risk assessment
* Only if the results of these showed that there had been a material change in circumstances would it go back to the DCC to make a decision on whether consent should still be granted.  There was the further comment that if QinetiQ made a fresh application without the cycle path, then it would be difficult to refuse it on those grounds as it would be no different to other developments.
* The Head of AMS commented on the ransom strip debate and suggested that a private road would be more desirable to buyers of luxury flats. (not when it floods it won’t…)

There then followed questions from the Executive members:

Cllr Bentley: Would a secondary sea-wall negate maintenance of the 1st sea wall
Council Officer (CO):   Upcoming coastal strategy would require a “setback wall”.  There was then talk of the beach being scoured by the sea and undermining the existing sea wall.

Cllr Scott: If the in season bird survey shows that this is an important habitat and if this application went back to the DCC, would this change the consent?
Head of Planning: Couldn’t give an answer this – surveys not yet carried out to which Cllr Scott replied “isn’t this therefore putting cart before horse?”

At this point Cllr Vernon-Jackson made the observation that PCC had spent considerable time negotiating with QinetiQ on the issue of public access.  He mentioned the statement given by QinetiQ at the original planning committee hearing where QinetiQ’s spokesman is on record as assuring the committee of continued public access.  He then commented that QinetiQ appeared to have backtracked on this.

Cllr Hall: Could we take up ownership of the beach and have QinetiQ pay for the maintenance of the sea wall and the beach?
City Solicitor (CS): That’s not on offer from QinetiQ

Cllr Mason: If scouring of the beach were to take place, who would bear the responsibility?
CS:      PCC would have a responsibility to replace it

Cllr Mason: Quoted examples where the shore has changed dramatically – Selsey, Est Anglia, etc – asked if those local councils were replacing those beaches
CO:      Not a black & white situation – not a simple answer

Councillors then called for a vote – there were a couple of options discussed:

1. Yes, agree to QinetiQ’s offer and grant the deed of easement
2. No, reject QinetiQ’s offer outright
3. Defer a decision and negotiate with QinetiQ to transfer beach to council and for QinetiQ to maintain the sea wall and beach

Cllr Scott proposed option 3 and then withdrew it given that it was not on offer from QinetiQ but they were free to come back and offer it.

Councillor Terry Hall made the statement that she was looking for “the best deal for the City of Portsmouth” – this resulted in cheers and cries of “hear hear” from the public gallery.

Councillor Alex Bentley then went on to re-iterate that the issue was one of public access, that QinetiQ know what the issue is and described negotiations with QinetiQ as “like drawing teeth”.

Councillor Madden questioned whether the Executive was considering the ransom strip or public access or both.

Cllr Hall asked what the £75k was for.
CO: “a fee for permission to use the easement”

The motion was then put to reject QinetiQ’s offer.
* Votes to reject: 5 (Terry Hall, Leo Maddon, Jason Fazackarley, Eleanor Scott, Alex Bentley)
* Votes against the motion: 0
* Abstentions: 3 (Gerald Vernon-Jackson, Paula Riches, Hugh Mason)

Cllr Hancock was unable to attend the meeting.

Some options open to QinetiQ:

* Go back to the DCC to seek consent for revisions without the cycle path included in the original plans.
* Go ahead with its threatened legal action under “legitimate expectation”
* Litigate to try and widen the easement (there are no legal precedents)
* Make a better offer to the council on the beach/road etc
* Sell up now and let the buyer deal with all these issues
* Go back to using it as a research complex

© Eastney Naturist Beach Liaison Group- Eastney Naturists