Thursday, 20 July 2017

Thorpe Island - Episode 5

2015 image showing moored boats on river bank. EDP copyright

The Chief Executive and I continue to go in circles, with me asking him to explain why members were misled and misdirected over the new planning policy, and him failing to answer.

On 5th July, I received a 3 page letter from the Chief Executive, most of which didn't deal with my concerns. He touched on them briefly, however:
I have considered your 11 points against the recording of the May Planning Committee and the briefing provided to the June meeting and concluded that none of them have any substance.
A full and thorough Yare House “investigation”, then.

A further email received this week spent 4 pages summarising our correspondence to date (a bit like writing out an exam question in full rather than get on with answering it) before finally having a go at addressing the first of my 11 concerns. This was the business of members being told, in response to a direct question, that there hadn’t been any boats moored at the western end of the island.

I'm struggling to make out the Chief Executive’s response to this, but he’s either saying a) that officers had no idea that boats had moored historically on the river bank; or b) that they did know, but they gave a tricksy reply which required a very literal interpretation of the word “always”, and a new definition of the noun “mooring” which would require the permanent presence of a boat.

Here is the Chief Executive’s response - you decide what he meant:
I have listened to the recording from the meeting of the Planning Committee on 26th May 2017 and this is a transcript of what was said: 
Member: “The comment that there will be no moorings along the river frontage. As far as I know there has always been moorings there”. 
Officer 1: “Not on the basin. Not at the opening of the basin and along that end. No there haven't been.” 
Officer 2 : “Not at the western end’.
Officer 1: “But they have at River Green”.
If I understand it correctly, you are stating that [Officer 1] and [Officer 2] knew for a fact that there had always been mooring at the western end of Thorpe Island, and that they therefore deliberately misled and misdirected Committee members in their response. You have not provided any evidence to substantiate that allegation. 
To support your case, you draw my attention to a number of photographs, some from the 1960s and 1970s, which show mooring taking place at the western end of Thorpe Island. However, there are as many photographs that show a complete absence of moored boats at that location, which demonstrates that boats have not always been mooring there.
On the basis of the solicitor’s advice, [Officer 1] and [Officer 2]’s negative response to [Member]’s comment that there has “always been mooring there” appears to me to be factually correct in regard to the river moorings at the western end of Thorpe Island.
There was no attempt to address the remaining 10 concerns, or answer my question about why the Broads Authority is so keen to abandon these mooring rights in perpetuity.

Instead, the Chief Executive has referred the matter to the Chair of the Authority and the Monitoring Officer, on the grounds that he believes my questions to be a breach of the protocol on member / officer relations. This is in spite of the fact that I have made clear that I am asking these questions as a member of the public, and not as a member of the navigation committee.

For the benefit of anyone wanting to investigate this in more depth, I've put a collection of documents on to Google Drive. This includes the (redacted) correspondence between the Authority and myself. Anyone can look at them by following this link.

I will add to this over time, if more documents come my way.

Readers should note that this article represents my personal opinions and should not be construed as being the view of the Navigation Committee. They are made in my private capacity as an individual, and not as a co-opted member of the Navigation Committee.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Thorpe Island - Episode 4…

Readers might recall from Episode 3 that I have raised 10 instances of Broads Authority members being misled over the past 6 weeks, in respect of the proposed new planning policy for Thorpe Island.

Unfortunately, the Chief Executive is refusing to investigate these clear misrepresentations of fact and has instead given me an ultimatum to prove that officers had an unlawful motive – or withdraw my comments. He continues to duck all of the questions and instead persists in claiming that I’ve alleged a hidden, illegal, agenda - which I have not.

In place of investigating the issues I raised with him,  he’s raked back through my dossier (the one which the former head of communications reported doesn’t exist), and found a comment which I made on the EDP website 16 months ago: 
“I have at least 4 documented instances of officers altering the wording of legal documents (including the 2009 Broads Act and the Thorpe Island Section 52 Agreement) in order to change their meaning to persecute individuals.” (EDP 29th February 2016)
to which he responds:
“May I take it from this that you accept that your previous public allegation … made in a post on the EDP website, has no foundation, is unconnected with your recent allegation and is withdrawn? … You appear to be continuing to promote the view that officers are deliberately misleading members with a specific motive behind it.”
I wonder why he should suddenly raise this matter, over a year later, despite showing no interest in investigating it at the time?

He continues:
I would be grateful if you could confirm the following: 
1) Whether you are alleging any unlawful or illegal behaviour on the part of officers of the Broads Authority. If so, can you please produce evidence of this, including the documented evidence of officers altering the wording of the Broads Act and the Section 52 Agreement referred to in your post of February 2016 so that I might fully investigate the matter;If you are not alleging unlawful or illegal behaviour on the part of officers then please can you retract it in an email circulated to members.

2) If you are alleging that officers have wilfully misled members, then please can you indicate what you believe the motive behind it to be so that again I might investigate this further and could you provide me with any evidence that you have to support your claim.
Or alternatively if you are no longer making allegations about officer behaviour, can you please retract your allegations in an email circulated to members.
So, instead of addressing the legitimate questions which I’ve raised, the Chief Executive of this publicly funded authority has decided that now is the time to investigate something which should have been dealt with over a year ago, and which is of only passing relevance to my current questions which relate to far more recent events.

And I have an ultimatum which says that if I’m not prepared to provide evidence to support an allegation which I haven't made, then I must withdraw the allegations which he refuses to answer.

I have clearly stated the misrepresentations which were made to members - both verbally in the May committee meeting, and in the briefing note on the eve of the June meeting. I am seeking a point by point explanation of each item, detailing either why my understanding is wrong, or why the officers felt it necessary to mislead members.

However, protected by a Chair and Vice Chair who will do whatever it takes to preserve collective responsibility regardless of the public interest, the Chief Executive is able to act with total impunity as he ignores the misrepresentations and focuses instead on silencing the person asking the questions.

Readers should note that this article represents my personal opinions and should not be construed as being the view of the Navigation Committee. They are made in my private capacity as an individual, and not as a co-opted member of the Navigation Committee.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Thorpe Island - Episode 3

Note: The original version of this article contained an error - I believed that the bridge was not mentioned at the May 2017 planning committee meeting, due to background noise on the recording. In fact, the bridge was briefly mentioned (see revised point 5) and I am happy to make a correction.  This only came to light two days before a code of conduct hearing against me 16 months later, when I was provided with an official transcript of the meeting. Amazingly, the Chief Executive did not notice my mistake last year - despite allegedly spending 3 days “investigating” my concerns including “listening carefully to the recording”.

My first article on Jenner’s basin – which was intended to close an unhappy chapter in the history of Thorpe Island and express sorrow at the loss of moorings – resulted in two code of conduct complaints against me, both of which are still under investigation. One of them – a lengthy tirade by a senior officer – included a long appendix featuring details of my contributions to public internet forums and screenshots of my “friendships” on social media. This, from an Authority which described allegations of keeping dossiers on members as “a worrying untruth”. [Update September 2018 - the BA have decided not to determine those complaints, rather than dismiss them or make a decision].

These complaints follow a series of attempts to control the behaviour of members and to isolate, marginalise and discredit the ones who will not be controlled. This includes carrying out an “investigation” of BA members who might have had any form of contact with the Save the Island group, demanding copies of private and personal emails and other correspondence in confidence, and then circulating selected responses amongst all members in order to discredit the “offenders”. The Chief Executive attempted - on two separate occasions - to have at least one of these members removed from the Authority by their appointing Authority. Fortunately, the council leader concerned refused to accede to this clear affront to democracy.

My second piece, concerning the new draft policy for the island, resulted in a “briefing note” being sent to members of the planning committee on the eve of their June meeting, which continued the theme of misleading them about the decisions of the appeal inspectors, action taken for trespass and the historic mooring situation at the western end of Thorpe Island. 

I emailed members, concerned about the way that they were being comprehensively misled in order to persuade them to sign up to a new planning policy which continued the assault on mooring rights on this stretch of the river Yare. As usual, however, the response of certain members was to refer my email straight to the Chief Executive’s censorship department, rather than perform their public duty to scrutinise the actions taken by officers.

Instead of taking responsibility for investigating the misleading statements made to members, Dr Packman has demanded that I either prove an unlawful motive for these actions, or retract all my comments. It’s as though he thinks it’s ok to mislead members, as long as nobody can prove an illegal motive for doing so.

I’ve never claimed an unlawful motive, I’ve simply asked why the Authority is so desperate to prove abandonment of mooring rights on a navigable river, that it would spin a web of untruths to convince members to support a policy which extinguishes these rights in perpetuity. If it wasn’t in response to the relentless pressure from objectors, then what was the reason? Whatever the motive, the action is not to the benefit of navigation stakeholders, and there is no obvious wider public interest being served.

I’ve replied to the Chief Executive, asking him to respond to the following points:
  1. At the May planning committee meeting, the committee were told unequivocally by the Authority’s two most senior planning officers - in response to a direct question from a member - that there had not been any mooring at the western end of Thorpe Island. This is not true.
  2. At the same meeting, members were told that the 2012 planning inspector had said that the width of the river, and concerns over the amenity of residents, precluded mooring on the island side of the river. This is not true.
  3. At the same meeting, the chairman told members that there was no means of accessing the mainland from the western end of the island other than by dinghy. This is not true - there is a bridge. Officers supported the Chairman’s statement, in the full knowledge that it was untrue.
  4. At the same meeting, officers led members to believe that the policy could not permit any use other than that indicated by the appeal inspectors. This is not true.
  5. At the same meeting, officers claimed that it would not be possible to establish visitor moorings on the island side of the river, because the bridge was “private” and could not be used for accessing the mainland. This is nonsense - the bridge is in the same ownership as the island itself.
  6. In an email to planning committee members sent on the eve of the June meeting, officers claimed that any rights to moor on the river had been abandoned and that this point had been proven through the courts. This is not true.
  7. In the same email, officers claimed that owners of riverside dwellings have an automatic planning consent to moor a boat at the bottom of their garden, but that such a right does not extend to owners of marinas, boatyards and other commercial operations. This is not true. 
  8. In the same email, officers claimed that the right to moor on the northern (mainland) side was proven by the evidence of photos and corroboration of local people, whilst suggesting a lack of similar evidence to demonstrate the same right to moor on the island side. This is not true.
  9. In the same email, officers alleged that action for trespass was taken because Norwich City Council were "interested in trespass mooring over their land where someone was receiving a financial gain by using their land rather than domestic use”. This is not true. The action was instigated at the express request of the BA, as a more expedient means of dealing with specific moored boats than using the planning process, and had nothing to do with financial gain.
  10. In the same email, officers tried to dodge my legitimate and important concerns about the risk of Norwich City Council claiming trespass anywhere on the River Yare, by claiming that trespass is in some way related to financial gain or commercial activity. This is not true. If it was true, this would leave the Dockyard and all boatyards & moorings between Norwich and Hardley Cross open to the threat of trespass action.
Membership of an unelected quango like the BA is a privilege which comes with clear responsibilities to act in the public interest, and stakeholders are entitled to expect that members - especially the Chair and Vice-chairman - will scrutinise the decisions of the executive rather than defend them at all costs. The Chief Executive, meanwhile, has a duty to uphold all three of the Broads Authority’s statutory purposes, and the public should have confidence and trust in his ability and willingness to do so.

I will share his responses to my questions on this blog.

Readers should note that this article represents my personal opinions and should not be construed as being the view of the Navigation Committee. They are made in my private capacity as an individual, and not as a co-opted member of the Navigation Committee.