Saturday, 17 June 2017

Thorpe Island Planning Policy Update

Having written about The Sad Tale of Jenner's (Thorpe Island), I had thought that this story was reaching its natural conclusion. You can imagine my surprise, then, when I read the Broads Authority’s new draft planning policy (TSA2) for Thorpe Island, which appears to continue the determined attempts to ban mooring along the river by re-writing history.

Members of the planning committee were asked last month to consider the new policy which supports mooring for up to 25 boats in Jenner’s Basin - as granted by the 2014 appeal judgement - and although it’s good to know that this principle is now supported (in contrast to the years of trying to prove abandonment), it’s a little late now that the land has been bought by the objectors who have no apparent intention of mooring any boats there. Unless the Thorpe Hall estate residents are now going to enjoy exclusive private moorings…

The draft policy for the western end also states that “Moorings will only be allowed within the basin and not along the river frontage”. Fortunately, a member queried this, but the subsequent debate was marred by misrepresentations and an extraordinary lack of knowledge of the site. The 2012 appeal inspector’s decision was frequently cited in support of the draft policy, even though the inspector made no judgement about riverfront moorings (which was outside the scope of the appeal) and his decision was in any event quashed.

To illustrate how members of the planning committee were misled, I've collated a few extracts from the recording:

Claim  Fact 
There has been no  mooring along the frontage at the western end of Thorpe Island or around the basin entrance.
This stretch of riverbank has been used for the mooring of boats for decades if not centuries. The above photo shows stern-on moorings in the 1970s and this aerial picture shows double moored vessels beside the basin entrance in the late 1960s. Even Google maps shows 4 boats moored on the riverbank at some recent point. 
The first planning inspector said that there could be no mooring along the riverbank because of the effect on the amenity of the houses opposite. The inspector commented that “a reasonable man would expect boats to be moored within the basin and along the river frontage. Nor should it come as a surprise to anyone purchasing a house on this part of the riverside to see mooring uses taking place.”

The second appeal inspector supported this view, in relation to the expectation of boats being moored along the river - “I am satisfied that views of this stretch of river will for many years have included a good number of moored boats.”

The first decision was quashed in the high court and cannot be used to support any planning policy or decision relating to Thorpe Island, unless the Authority wish to face a charge of maladministration.
The first planning inspector said that the width of the river would cause an amenity issue if riverbank mooring was permitted
The inspector made no such statement and his decision was in any event quashed by the high court.

The historical established use is unarguable, and the river here is at least as wide as at the eastern (Thorpe Green) end, where there are moorings on both sides of the river.
It would be impossible for anyone mooring on the river bank to get to the mainland without using a dinghy. There is a perfectly functional bridge right next to the basin, in the same ownership as the marina. Anyone mooring on the riverbank could easily access the mainland via this bridge.
The policy has to reflect the inspector's decision and there can't be any other use. The inspector’s remit was limited to the existing use of moorings in the basin - he had no powers to dictate future planning policy. Certainly it would be paradoxical if the policy did not as a minimum permit the use authorised by the inspector but the Authority could easily create a policy which encouraged development of the marina and recognised the right to moor along the river bank.

The thrust of the Authority's argument appears to be that moorings on the mainland side are acceptable because “they belong with the dwellings” whereas moorings across the river are unacceptable because the residents shouldn’t have to look at other people’s boats, in case they’re not sufficiently attractive. But, to quote the second appeal inspector, “occupiers of dwellings that overlook a navigable river and basin in a very popular recreational boating area should not be too surprised to see some moored boats.”

I was interested to compare the recording with the minutes, which are not, of course, a verbatim record but which are supposed to document decisions and the reasoning. In this spirit, the entire debate has been summarised thus for posterity:
“With reference to Appendix G Policy TSA2 Thorpe Island, it was noted that the policy had been amended to reflect the various decisions by the Planning Inspectorate. It was intended to have a follow-up focussed consultation with stakeholders. Members were satisfied with the approach being taken.”
That really is the entire minute - there’s no hint of the pertinent questions or the misleading answers which led members to support the draft policy.

And so, the BA’s systematic attempt to remove mooring rights along this stretch of river continues:
  • by incorrectly claiming that they never existed;
  • by wrongly attributing statements and judgements to the planning inspectors;
  • by asking Norwich City Council to make allegations of trespass against boats moored on one side of the river (but not the other);
  • by proposing a planning policy to remove lawfully established and riparian mooring rights;
  • by citing quashed inspectors’ reports that have no weight in policy or law.
At a time when we’re losing moorings due to BESL flood works and unsuccessful negotiations with landowners, it seems remarkably regressive for the Broads Authority to be actively campaigning to lose hundreds of metres more.

Clearly there is more to this whole affair than the simple enforcement of planning control. Jenner’s Basin, without doubt, has been scruffy and unkempt, and needed better control and management. But attacking long established mooring rights by any means possible - regardless of cost - simply to appease a group of noisy neighbours, would be unacceptable for any planning authority and is an unforgivable act for an Authority which has a statutory obligation to protect navigational rights.

Readers should note that this article represents my personal views and should not be taken as the view of the Navigation Committee, which will not have the opportunity of considering this policy until September - due to the cancellation of the June meeting on the pretext that there was nothing to discuss.