Chairman’s Report for the AGM 2nd April 2008

Ladies and gentlemen. 

At the time of my dictating this report it is intended that it should be read for me by our new Life President, Peter Chitty, due to the fact that for professional reasons I need to be in Cyprus early on Thursday morning.  He will have given you his first opening welcome to the meeting in his own words in his new capacity as Life President.  Peter continues to attend some of our committee meetings and provides valuable continuity.  I am grateful to him for that.

I am sorry not to be able to be here tonight to hear Joanna Close Brook’s talk on Buckland Rings, with which she and I have been associated since 1987 through little-known Buckland Trust which ran the small museum at the Toll House Pub and was the blueprint for what I believe is now a leading local museum, the Lymington Museum.

I think I first gave my Chairman’s report for the AGM in 2002.  I do not think there was much to report in those days but there has been more and more to deal with over the years.  Major issues have been and in some cases continue to be:

  • The Webb Site and its public meeting;
  • The density of development under PPG 3;
  • The flats resulting from that policy and the public meeting resulting from that issue which led to the acceptance by the New Forest District Council of a petition from that meeting and an amendment to its policy;
  • The question of the Pinetops development;
  • The preservation of the Old Infirmary Masters house;
  • The demolition of the Canon Street School;
  • The recent issue of the ferries.

The last two issues of the Cannon Street School and the ferries are matters to be reported to you at this meeting.  In my Chairman’s report for the last AGM I reported that we had commenced Judicial Review proceedings against the New Forest District Council. 

The newsletter has recently come out and those of you who have been able to read through the report on the Cannon Street School issue will know that the summary is that in the course of our legal complaint against the Council it is our view that we exposed a flaw in the Council’s decision-making process and that in other circumstances the decision to demolish the school might not have been made.  Obviously, the clock could not be put back, and at that stage the school was being demolished and for us to proceed to a full hearing to prove a point would have been beyond our resources. 

We brought matters to a close on the basis of total barristers’ fees for both ourselves and a contribution to those of the Council totalling £3,406.  I have to take responsibility for the fact that this is more than I anticipated when we started the case. However, we left a position with the Council where we withdrew on mutually agreeable terms which did not leave us beholden to the Council in any way and I was thereby able to report the matter fully to you in the last newsletter.

The exercise has eaten into our resources and I hope that Peter Chitty as our ex-treasurer will forgive the fact that some of his hard earned reserves were used in this exercise.  However, I think the overall feeling of the Committee is that the exercise, although expensive, was worth it to show our commitment to take action where necessary in any circumstances that might arise in the future. 

Obviously, if we were to commit ourselves to anything other than modest expenditure we would need to start an appeal to cover ourselves for funds.  However, the point has been made, and given other similar circumstances we are prepared to take action to either challenge the Council or any statutory body, or if necessary support them, if such action is to be in the interests of our Members and Lymington’s residents, whose interests are not being properly taken into account.

Due to some quick thinking by Members of the Committee, the old Bell Tower from the school has been bought by the Society and is available to be installed at some appropriate location in the future. Any suggestions would be welcome.  Members will be able to see it if they visit Buckland Manor Garden on the visit scheduled in June.

It was proposed a year ago at the last Annual General Meeting that the annual subscription should be increased to £10.  I did not think it constitutionally appropriate to make an increase without prior notice at that meeting but that notice has now been given for this meeting and the proposal will be made to increase the subscription.  I believe there are some generous Members amongst us who pay an additional sum with their basic subscription and to them I express my thanks.

The other major issue is the ferries which had not raised its head at the last AGM.  In fact initially I wondered whether it was our role to get involved.  However it does come under the Society’s aims, possibly slightly stretched, but my major concern has been that, rightly or wrongly, it appeared to be a subject which was being swept under the carpet by the statutory bodies involved.  This led to third public meeting, and possibly the most successful of all given the numbers involved, and the opportunity that it gave to all parties involved to make their points known and to realise the strength of the concern in the Town about the ferries.

Members may wonder what our policy is in relation to the ferries at present.  Your Committee’s policy is to make sure that the issues surrounding the introduction of the new ferries were put into the public arena and that the decision-making processes of the relevant statutory bodies were carried out fairly.  Since our meeting, Desmond Swayne has had an adjournment debate in the House of Commons to which the Minister, Joan Ruddock, had to reply in detail.  He referred to our meeting as showing the strength of feeling in the Town. 

Wightlink have agreed to carry out the reports which they are being asked to carry out which currently is an Environmental Assessment for English Nature. The Harbour Commissioners have obtained a new report which I believe will be published shortly.  The issue of an Environmental Impact Assessment is still not resolved.  From my discussions with the Council I am aware that they are relying very much on their legal opinion as to this. 

I can say that in the interests of openness I have made a request to the NFDC for the disclosure of that legal opinion which they are dealing with under the Freedom of Information Act and will give a response to you in due course. Don MacKenzie has written letters to the statutory bodies asking for such a full assessment.

Whilst those processes are being properly carried out, with or without our pressure, then I believe our purpose is to remain objective and to await the outcome of those reports.  If the ultimate decisions appear to fly in the face of the reports and common sense then we may change our position to be more proactive in resisting the new larger ferries.  However, whilst many of our individual Members may have strong views against the ferries, whatever the ultimate reports and decisions, this Society’s policy, during my time as Chairman, has been to be objective and constructive and not to be a mouthpiece purely for individual views or interests. 

It is that policy I believe which has gained us the respect of the Authorities such as the NFDC in accepting our petition on flat developments in the Town and in now starting to take into account our views as an amenity Society in relation to major new developments.

An example of this has been the involvement by the NFDC in a meeting with ourselves and the Council Planning Officer and the Developer and other interested parties in the Pinetops development greenbelt issue, and to take preliminary views which may assist the owner of the site in making a further application that might be accepted by the various interests in the Lymington and Pennington.

That leads me on to our new relationship with the Pennington Residents Association.  We have informal co-operation with them in which one of three of their Committee Members regularly come to our Committee meetings.  This enables us to coordinate our ideas and representations.  I have to say that our thinking may not have been exactly the same over the Pinetops issue, but we have not fallen out, and I welcome their attendance at our meetings and I hope some or all of the Pennington Residents Association Members are here tonight.

That brings me on to your Committee.  I will not be here tonight to ensure their re-election en bloc but I hope I can rely on Peter Chitty and yourselves to ensure that that happens.  I have been a member and chairman of many voluntary committees both local and national over the past 30 years.  I have to say that I have never been on a Committee which has had so many diverse talents and where everyone is taking the strain evenly.  It is one of the few Committees I have experienced where as Chairman one does not have to concern oneself with all the issues, and can rely on others to be responsible.

You are asked to elect your Committee who will then elect or confirm their officers on the grounds that they think that those officers are the right people to do those tasks.  The current position is as follows.

Myself, Clive Sutton, as Chairman, and you will have to judge me tonight by what Peter Chitty has read you.

Ivor Johnston, as the Society’s Secretary.  He is the person who tidies up all the loose ends and reminds us what needs to be done so that the rest of us do not have to worry about it.  The Committee meeting Minutes and agreed follow-up correspondence are often on our e-mails from him almost before we have got home! An invaluable support for a Chairman.

Derek Sheffer, who is not here tonight, but as Membership Secretary has also taken on the role of Treasurer.  He has caught and held many new members and anyone who is prepared to take on the role of Treasurer to any committee needs effusive thanks from the Chairman.

Don Mackenzie, as press officer.  He is probably the most public face of the Committee and our publicly pro-active member and encourages other members in the newsletter, social events, speaks on planning matters and is proactive in many of our campaigns.  He will be leading a short discussion on one or two items of interest.

Nic King, who manages to field the planning applications and guide us through them.  I should have said that in addition to all the major issues the ongoing individual planning applications need to be considered, analysed, reported on, thought about and representations made.

Jonathan Hutchinson, recently on the Committee, who is backing Nick King in this onerous task.

Nigel Seth-Smith, who has very successfully taken on the task of Social Secretary and has dealt with the newsletter. He will be giving you a report.

Rose Tainsh, who came on the Committee because of her success in the Bath Road planning appeal and is always willing to help out where she can particularly with the newsletter delivery.

Joe Bloggs, who I hope will come forward to offer his or her services by coming along to a Committee meeting and seeing whether he or she likes us and fits in and can add something and then be formally elected at the next AGM, unless that Joe Bloggs feels like putting himself or herself forward at the meeting tonight.

I have laid it on a bit thick, and if anything have underplayed your Committee members merits, because I will not be here, and I want you all to know how hard, efficiently and effectively your Committee work for this Society.  I hope the Society is now thought of, and will continue to be thought of, as a hard-working, respected and responsible Amenity Society for the Town.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your support here tonight.

Clive Sutton

Chairman Lymington Society 

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