An informative site built through necessity, due to the appalling behaviour of local Councilliars supported by the restrictive censorship policies of the local press in the Portishead area who feel it is their duty to remove any factual statements of wrongdoings by local Councilliars
Sea wall, sea defence or cash cow?
One of the odd situations over the past few years is how the developers involved in the Village Quarter have suddenly admitted that the Sea Wall which was once a defensive structure to protect the low lying land in the area from flooding have finally admitted that it is no longer a primary defence at all. Odd because people who have purchased properties in the area have been paying a yearly fee for the upkeep of the sea wall under the premise that it protected their property in the event of high tides. This having now been proven to no longer be the case raises the question of whether all of those in the Village Quarter who have paid these fees have been conned. A lot of money was involved and the bulk of that money seems to have gone to the solicitor for the sea walls commission (now apparently disbanded). Being a coastal town it is our belief that of something smells fishy then it probably is fishy. This smells decidedly fishy….. And to think if local residents hadn’t shown concern about the arrogant indifference in which these developers decided to unlawfully block the sea wall path to members of the public this would never have come to light…
*** In August 2015 Stuart Armstrong made an odd statement to the press that inferred the Sea Wall Commission which he earlier stated to be disbanded still existed. Wonder what game is going on there?
We will try to update on this but for the time being some historical data from our last site….
May I firstly say thank you for allowing me to speak and for complying with the wishes of the residents' present in the building, for them to join the meeting to listen to my address even though regrettably Katherine Evans would not allow them to remain in the meeting afterwards. I was disappointed however that Katherine Evans advised you all not to allow me to remain in the meeting myself after I had spoken and I am still intrigued as to whether she was speaking in her capacity as appointed clerk or her capacity as a solicitor. However, I do appreciate the position you were in on the day although legally, the copies of the historic Act now in my possession do not confirm Katherine Evans' advice to you that residents could not attend. Indeed, there is also no requirement on the town's residents to take an oath merely to attend and as I explained at the meeting, the requirement to take an oath is applicable only to those who wish to be "capable of acting as a Commissioner in the Execution of any of the Powers given by the Act" or those who wish to act as "an Arbitrator or Umpire, or as a Quality Man or Valuer of the Land, or as a Surveyor thereof".
On the subject of the legislatative Act that formed the Commission originally back in the 18th and early 19th Century, it is clear there is much historic wording and this is being checked by a solicitor. What is interesting however, is that if this wording is adhered to strictly, then the extracts relating to Commissioners' Allowances, Claims by other parties, Repairs to Ditches, Hedges, sea wall maintenance etc., will also need to be adhered to. Indeed, if as the previous AGM Minutes confirm, all entitled land owning residents are technically Commissioners, and they choose to take the oath and become acting Commissioners, then they could if they wished, apply the wording of the Act religiously and claim an allowance. It would be interesting how this would affect their payment to Port Marine Management Ltd via Remus, who pass a percentage of their money to the Portbury Sea Wall Commission. This is unlikely of course to happen because advice given so far to me is that the wording of the Act merely confirms the formation of the original Commission rather than how the present Commission should undertake its role. Indeed, the legal status of this wording is likely to be called into question if the need arises.
I look forward to hearing from you as Chairman regarding the Commission's thoughts of how the matter of access can be progressed and hopefully resolved but in the meantime I did just want to raise some points of concern after reading the Clerk's Report from the AGM which is attached.
1. It is a concern that the Clerk seems to be actively involved in obtaining surveyor declarations so that, in her words, " we could use this to rebut any possible claim for a public right of way on length of the Sea Wall between Wharf Lane and Portishead". The Clerk should be reminded that the eastern end of the sea wall is a public right of way on the definitive map and it would be very difficult for the Commission to change this without a great deal of legal wrangling and local authority involvement and consultation.
2. The Clerk's report wording states, "I took a number of photographs evidencing the position including wear and tear to the top of the Sea Wall and the condition of the signs". Don Butterfield during our walk with you along the sea wall, was unable to point out any evidence of deterioration and in fact, when I asked him directly to show us where the subsidence was, he remarked "What subsidence?" I mentioned the wording in the Minutes of the previous AGM, and he then confirmed that the wording applied to the outfall pipe at the Sewage Station end of the path for which there is currently a dispute over liability and whose responsibility it is to rectify any damage caused by the works to the outfall pipe. The Clerk should be careful about her choice of words which may mislead the Commission into thinking public access is causing footfall deterioration when in fact this is not the case.
3. The Clerk mentions, "a large number of emails" from me to her. As explained in my address, Katherine Evans was the named point of contact and it was regrettable that Ms Evans did not elect to respond in any positive way which resulted in reminder emails, not just from me but also from concerned residents. Unfortunately Ms Evans chose not to respond at all to some people, rather than sending a polite interim note confirming the situation.
4. Having looked at the invoice to the Commission from TLT Solicitors, it is worrying that the total charge is £13, 280.66. The breakdown is astounding. Charging £207.00 for "researching the 1798 and 1809 Acts and whether the general public are allowed to attend the AGM" is unbelievable. I cannot see how this charge can be justified especially when the wording did not even give the clerk the evidence she was seeking. Similarly, a charge was made of £356.50 for "searching through AGM notes for reference to pedestrians". The Commission should question why it took over 3 hours to investigate this. Then one day later, another £184.00 was charged for the same task taking one hour thirty-six minutes. On that same day, £218.50 was charged for searching through boxes for documents.
The rate charged by Ms Evans (£285.00 standard rate) breaks down to £28.50 for each single unit of 6 minutes time. One 6 minute email therefore incurs a charge to the Commission of £28.50. The 2011 AGM resulted in a charge of £1,339.50 by Ms Evans for 4:42 hours. This is fairly high for an appointed clerk.
Having seen a charge of £85.50 for Ms Evans receiving an email from me and then her writing an email to Kamrul Hussain, it would seem prudent for the Commission to check these figures. If £28.50 is to be charged by the Clerk every time an email is merely received, however short, irrespective of whether a reply is then sent, and telephone calls are charged similarly without any actual work being undertaken, then I think serious consideration needs to be given to the Clerk's role. I will of course now check the references to my name on this account against my own records.
5. The Clerk's words, "Despite not having circulated the date of the AGM at that stage, it was rather alarming to find that a number of residents were aware of its date", are intriguing. Why would the Clerk be so concerned that residents knew about the forthcoming AGM? Especially when the details were then later advertised under Public Notices in the local press?
6. I would correct Katherine Evans' wording in paragraph numbered 7 when she states "I also spoke to North Somerset Council's rights of way officer Elaine Bowman who advised that Annette Hennessy and Cllr Burden had submitted evidence forms claiming a public right of way along the Sea Wall from Wharf Lane to Portishead. However the formalities required by the legislation had not been complied with so the application had been rejected". To clarify, Evidence Forms were submitted as required by North Somerset Council and Elaine Bowman later explained the full application process. The application has not been rejected because currently no formal application has been made. The Evidence Forms will remain on file with North Somerset Council until such time that Application papers are served. Hopefully this formal step will not be necessary but it remains an option. Furthermore, the Evidence Forms submitted by myself on behalf of many residents support the reinstatement of access to the sea wharf coastal path because of evidence of the historic right of passage along the sea wharf. As previously explained above, there is already a formal public right of way at the eastern end of the sea wall through to the mid way section. At the AGM, I explained the history of the route from Sheepway to the Wessex Sewage Works and the current Permissive Right of Way through the land of the Bristol Port Company. The Clerk should not confuse this route with the path along the sea wall.
7. With regard to the sea wall itself and the suggestion within the Clerk's report that it should be, "2 metres higher than it is to provide a better defence", it has never been higher than it is and I can find no wording in the documents in my possession to confirm this subject has ever been highlighted before. The Sea Wharf no longer serves as the major sea defence to protect the housing on the new Ashlands development and as far as I understand it, the sea wall is a defence against flood to the Nature Reserve and local farmland. It is no longer the major sea defence for the town of Portishead as a whole.
As and when I receive back a more detailed analysis of the Act's wording and its legal status from another solicitor's viewpoint, I may need to write to you again. However, I hope to hear from you shortly with news of a positive way forward regarding access at the western end of the coastal path following my address at the AGM and the perambulation of the sea wall afterwards. Graham Furneaux and I would like to pass our thanks to you and the other Commission members for allowing us to accompany you which I feel served a very positive purpose.
Below is the address given by Annette Hennessey to the AGM, the one that some people preferred was kept a secret from the residents
ADDRESS TO THE PORTBURY SEA WALL COMMISSION
By Annette Hennessy
Portishead Sea Wharf Coastal Access
AGM – Wednesday 4th July 2012
A & W Building, The Docks, Portishead, BS20 7DF
Good afternoon and firstly I would like to thank the Chairman for allowing me to talk today on the subject of the Sea Wharf Coastal Path. I spoke to Mr Jones-Gerrard some time ago, when the problems of access at the western end of the sea wharf first arose. At that time, I was told by the Chairman that if I wanted to access the coastal path, I had to prove there was a right of way. We reached an impasse because I similarly felt that if the public was going to be prevented from accessing the path at the western end, that the Sea Wall Commission should perhaps likewise prove there was not an historic right of way. This was not forthcoming.
However, in order to proceed and gain some kind of progress to achieve a resolution to the access difficulties, someone had to take the first step of establishing for Portishead residents exactly who was responsible for obstructing the access with the metal fencing and the reason why, and who formally owns the land on which the coastal path lies. Once this had been established, the next obvious step would be how residents could open discussion with the landowner or owners, regarding their belief that they had an historic right to use the coastal path and with whom they should raise the matter formally using the options available.
At this stage, may I define “resident” because there appears to be some inequality regarding different people’s perception as to who is entitled to access information and indeed attend these meetings. All Portishead residents, whether they live in the new Ashlands/Marina developments or the older areas of Portishead, are legally entitled to walk the sea wall, irrespective of whether they contribute an annual levy to the Sea Wall Commission. This historic right existed long before the new developments and long before the current Nature Reserve was established. As residents have an interest in the sea wharf coastal route, they likewise have an interest in The Portbury Sea Wall Commission which is currently responsible for the sea wharf. Avon Wildlife Trust, according to the records in my possession, is not currently accountable for the sea wharf coastal path.
Some residents however, do contribute financially to Avon Wildlife Trust via Remus (on behalf of Port Marine Management Ltd) according to the conditions imposed when they purchased their properties. A percentage of this levy is passed to The Portbury Sea Wall Commission.
However, this financial contribution does not give the resident who pays it, any additional legal status over a resident who does not pay a contribution, especially with regard to the sea wall.
Those who support the reinstatement of access to the coastal path include residents from the new developments and from other areas in Portishead. Those who contribute financially and those who do not. We are united in attempting to resolve the current difficulties.
Returning to the Sea Wharf itself now, I contacted Portishead Town Council regarding the status of the path and I also sent communications to North Somerset Council as the local authority, and Persimmon who I understood was the landowner. Suffice to say, there appeared little written evidence available from those sources to answer the questions and any verbal information I was given seemed to contradict that given by a different source. A Portishead town councillor was adamant that people had a right to access the full stretch of the sea wharf whereas Persimmon argued against this. Strangely, North Somerset Council claimed to have no papers on the matter. Everyone seemed to know of the Portbury Sea Wall Commission but bizarrely no one could categorically list which organisations the Commission consisted of.
In fact, to date, no one, not even the appointed clerk of the commission, has responded to my request for the names of the Commissioners and Deputy Commissioners of the Portbury Sea Wall Commission, which I find at the most astounding and at the very least obstructive.
So convinced was the town council that there was a right of way, a recommendation was approved after I raised the matter, that the council clerk would write to the district council so that the status of the path was clarified. The wording of the Minutes includes, “In the meantime North Somerset Council is requested to ensure that all obstructions are removed so that residents of Portishead have continued access to the path”. The locks were removed but only temporarily because they were then immediately replaced by a Persimmon representative.
What I was told however eventually, after many reminders to various contacts within Persimmon and North Somerset Council, was that all communications had to be sent to Katherine Evans as the appointed clerk. It is regrettable, that information was not forthcoming from this contact which resulted in a Freedom of Information request to North Somerset Council. It was only recently I finally received a wealth of historic electronic information on the Master Plan for the new developments, including some very enlightening clarification on the Sea Wharf Coastal Path. The documentation was sufficient to explain about the condition imposed on Persimmon as part of the Master Plan to construct a metal fence to prevent public access. What is not clear is whether this condition would stand up to legal scrutiny.
So I eventually found who was responsible for the fencing and why it was erected. It is disappointing however, that I had to personally go to such lengths to obtain the information that could have been provided easily by the Commission.
The Clerk to the Commission Katherine Evans, who works for TLT Solicitors, has verbally made mention of the ‘legal charges’ she is making to the commission for her involvement. I would comment at this stage that unnecessary delays and the ensuing protracted correspondence could so easily have been avoided.
The deputy commissioners should perhaps be mindful of this when invoices are submitted for legal fees from TLT, when no information was actually provided and when one informative email in response at the outset, could have avoided the many unproductive emails that have been batted back and fore over the last few months. It may serve as a useful lesson for the future. Those residents who contribute financially to the Sea Wall Commission would be understandably concerned to find their money was being allocated to unnecessary legal expenses.
May I respectfully comment today as a tax paying resident of Portishead and on behalf of those who asked me to represent them, that I do not feel it is acceptable nor respectful to be told by the clerk to the commission and I quote, “I am getting fed up dealing with all this crap”. That is not a word that residents would use to describe what they see as a very important subject which is the historic use of a coastal path for which evidence has been provided of use for over 20 years.
The purported reason for imposing the planning condition on Persimmon is also explained in the documentation although there is some dispute as to whether this explanation is a valid and justified one for obstructing access. Whether there was sufficient public consultation specifically on the coastal path access prior to the condition being imposed, is also questionable. Whether the reasons put forward for closing the access at the western end are in fact still applicable, is one area to investigate.
Fortunately I have been able to speak to many of you who are Deputy Commissioners personally after some degree of detective work, although the question as to who owns the land on which the sea wharf lies, still remains formally unanswered. Moves are currently underway to establish exactly who owns the land, whether that is Persimmon or the Portbury Sea Wall Commission, so that if the option to serve application papers for a Modification Order to the Definitive Map is progressed, the papers are served to the correct landowner. The formal step of serving papers will not incur costs to the residents but may have financial implications for the landowner involved. It would be incredibly helpful if the Commission could today confirm formally to those present who in fact is the landowner for the sea wharf coastal path.
So returning to the original questions as to how residents proceed to have their concerns regarding access addressed, there are two options.
To come here today to have a discussion as to the most sensible way forward that will incur the landowner the least time and financial burden.
To serve papers for a formal modification of the definitive path regarding access. For this second option, Evidence Forms are already in the hands of North Somerset Council awaiting the application papers. Following the advent of the Marine & Coastal Access Act 2009, there is likely to be success if this option was progressed. Cllr Peter Burden has also given written confirmation that he has “the support of the North Somerset Access Forum and the Environment Agency to reinstate a coastal footpath”.
I believe discussion should be the reasonable first step and only if this fails, should the second option be pursued.
So now, before I give some historic information to those present, it may be useful just to summarise the current situation regarding public access to the Sea Wharf Coastal Path.
From the maps already in your possession, the path runs from the western end at the outfall pipe past the midpoint and on to the eastern end. The eastern end is a recognised public footpath on the definitive maps but only because the department conducting the mapping process was mindful to include it. Regrettably it would appear not including the western end was an oversight rather than because the path is not there. It is clear to everyone using the area and there is one continuous footpath.
At the eastern end, the public footpath veers inland to the Wessex Water Sewage Station. The path then becomes what is termed as a Permissive Footpath under the ownership of The Bristol Port Company. The path continues on to a small gate where access is possible across fields but a diverted access is provided across a small bridge and stile that then follows the fence of The Port’s Car Storage Facility. At the top of this route, the path opens out to provide a beautiful woodland walk. I was recently given permission by the Port to cut back minor overgrowth onto the path (which has been carried out) and was pleased that a response was immediately forthcoming on some ownership queries which reassured me that communication and liaison does still work.
At this point, I wish to read out part of a statement from resident Paul Knowles. He says, “I’m still not sure they find it necessary to close one end of the path yet leave it open at the other. One point I noticed was there was a concern over erosion. It seems people expect to do a round trip but are prevented from doing so. Consequently they walk back over the path the way they came thus causing twice as much erosion as would otherwise be done had they been allowed out at the western end. Also the amount of erosion is nowhere near as bad as that occurring naturally.
I live at 92 Kittiwake Drive and when I was deciding on where to buy a property, the fact that the sea wharf path and reserve was open to me was very appealing. By the time I had moved in it was closed. I feel cheated as I make a financial contribution to the sea wall fund”.
Knowing this footpath on the sea wharf and having spoken to residents who have used this route historically, there is no evidence that footfall is causing erosion or subsidence. In fact, the indications are that the paths within the Nature Reserve which are not grassed over like the sea wall, show evidence of erosion and problems with water, particularly from the recent inclement weather.
You may say that the signs which stand on the western end of the sea wall should deter the public from walking all the way along. However, you must appreciate that many people in Portishead and outside, have historically walked the route and wish to continue doing so especially because they believe the condition imposed on Persimmon to obstruct the western access is not a valid one. Having seen the Minutes of the 2010 AGM which state Katherine Evans’ wording, “The purpose of the no right of way signs was not to prevent people from using the sea wall but instead to prevent people claiming a public right of way”.
Therefore as these signs are not to prevent people from using the sea wall, they feel they can exercise their right to do so.
The signs themselves cannot legally prevent anyone from claiming a public right of way, particularly as evidence exists that the right of way has been used for over 20 years, long before the signs were put up.
On the subsidence issue, the Commission has acknowledged in the Minutes that the only sign of subsidence is taking place each side of the outfall pipe. Nigel Jones-Gerrard wondered whether something new has happened, such as a leak or vibration”. Another deputy commission Cllr Hassell connected the subsidence to the pipework in the location.
The deputy commissioners also note that the footpath at the eastern end is not damaged by footfall and contrary to the comment that this public footpath is not used regularly as he believes it to be a “rather unattractive area”, residents beg to differ. With the exception of the smell from the sewage works on a hot day, walkers enjoy the coastal route, wish to continue using it and will resist all attempts to close it.
When the Master Plan was agreed, the Sea Wharf was relied on as a major part of the sea defences. However, as the Commission Minutes rightly point out, the sea wall is no longer relied on as a flood defence.
In fact the last date the sea wall was even breached was 1988 and the inclement weather at the time, could be argued to have contributed to the flooding of the farm land owned by the Hardwick family. If flooding was a realistic problem, the housing development would not have been allowed on what was natural soak away land.
Signs warning of the risk of tidal flood in extreme conditions are all that is need to notify the public and thereby absolving the Commission of any insurance liability to public safety.
So we come then to the wildlife consideration with regard to walkers on the sea wall. Footfall from residents has always worked in hand with conservation and wildlife concerns. In fact, this area was once used to put light craft into the sea at the waters edge and the historic route down the sea is still visible After the War, crops were grown in the area at a time of short food supplies. Additionally, residents would swim off the sea wharf. So the area has been in use by the public despite changes of ownership over the years.
Wildlife continued to thrive and I believe still continues to exist healthily. Indeed, the introduction of the Nature Reserve actively encourages wildfowl and wading birds to nest on the Reserve with fewer choosing the sea wharf as a nesting ground.
It is interesting that Persimmon and North Somerset Council directly ignored the advice of the Avon Wildlife Trust in 2000 that the eastern footpath on the sea wharf and saltmarsh should be closed to the public before the introduction of a footpath across the new developments. No doubt because the reasoning behind this request was unjustified and difficult to impose.
What the Avon Wildlife Trust did fortunately confirm however, was that access at the western point did exist before the obstruction was imposed as a planning condition.
The documentation receives as a result of the FOI request contains not just one mention of the access route at the western end, but many mentions by differing organisations. So contrary to Persimmon’s view that it has never been an access point for the public, evidence suggests otherwise. In fact, North Somerset Council highlighted in 2011, complications of closure of the remaining footpath at the eastern end stating, “In light of the Marine & Coastal Access Act 2009 and the objections that NSC would receive in promoting the legal extinguisment order, we have entered into discussions with the developer to remove the trigger point of the stopping up order”. Therefore having closed the western end of the footpath before the Coastal Access Act 2009, the plan for closure of the eastern end was discouraged because of the contents of the Act. Therefore, it makes sense to refer to the Coastal Access Act 2009 to review the original planning condition of closure of the western end.
Maps obtained confirm the wording at the western end “Link to Dockside Walk and Portbury – shared footpath”.
It was pointed out formally in writing that confirmation needed to be obtained prior to the closure of the western end that, “The Albright & Wilson site was private and that the coastal route cannot be proved to have been in use for 20 years”. It would now appear that thorough checks were not made and the coastal route can be proved to have been in use for 20 years. If there had been a specific public consultation on this matter as part of the planning condition, the evidence would have come to light. As it was, residents were unaware of the gravity of the changes to access that would be evoked by the planning condition.
In fact concern was raised by North Somerset Council on the 1st February 2011, that “The clause seeks to divert footpaths around the estate, away from the foreshore”.
The Rambling Association which had been specifically consulted by NSC, objected to the planning application stating, “the footpath must be kept clear and accessible”.
English Nature agreed to the Section 106 Agreement based on the information at the time, although a steel fence was not desired originally and a stone wall was aesthetically preferable. The information it would seem is no longer justified because the harm to wading birds is placated by the introduction of the Nature Reserve. Cats were more of a concern than dogs and the massive residential growth has seen an increase in domestic animals in the area but the danger from them is closer to the Nature Reserve itself, rather than the coastal path on the sea wharf. In fact, our current Town Council Chairman John Clark was a district councillor at the time of the Section 106 Agreement and he strenuously maintained that cats were a far more serious problem than dogs.
Annex 2 of the Clause for the Section 106 Agreement acknowledges the footpath between points L – D from the western point to the mid way point and makes reference to its closure.
The North Area Committee in 2001, questioned “Why will the existing public footpath along the coast be extinguished?”
There is such a wealth of information and I can only give you small snippets today. However, I would ask you to please review the current obstruction at the western end. Residents are not asking that you incur costs in removing the metal fencing and gate, just that the padlocks are removed so that the coastal path can be accessed.
Please refer to The Marine & Coastal Access Act 2009 and I hope if concerns remain, that you will give residents the opportunity of discussing them before you make your final decision.
With combined co-operation of everyone concerned, the commissioners and residents, and with new signage that encourages people to keep to the footpath and that they are responsible for their own safety, everyone can enjoy this area without the feeling that once again another part of Portishead has been sold out to the developers.