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.


  1. Well spoken. I fully support you.

  2. Thankyou James for that article. This whole saga of shutting up people who object to his way of thinking, which has been going on for some years, needs bringing to the attention of high ranking MP's to bring it before Parliament.
    Just my opinion of course.

  3. Keep up the good work James, I fully support you and thank you.

  4. Richard Harvey2 July 2017 at 16:57

    If only the other members of the Broads Authority behaved as you do,instead they sit on their hands and ignore whats going on.

  5. The BA do like to shut people up even when those people are telling the truth. Perhaps the BA, or at least some higher up in the BA, are trying to stifle the truth.

    At least two people have been "banned" from posting on the Visit the Broads NP facebook page for posting the truth.

  6. thanks for being brave enough to keep challenging James - it's really appreciated on the Island