Building a future by the sea
EXACTLY 950 years ago, William of Normandy landed in Pevensey Bay in East Sussex and, by Christmas, was crowned king of England in Westminster Abbey. That same abbey stands today, but what of the Pevensey Bay he left behind? A beautiful aspect had met his eye when his fleet sailed in from Dives-sur-mer, with the lovely sweep of the bay and the wooded South Downs rising away into the distance. This indeed was a land worth claiming. It was a rural scene that would last down the centuries, changed only in that the Downs became even more lovely, grazed by the famous Southdown sheep.
Sadly, it didn’t last. Today, the whole place has been vandalised. If William had seen the barbarity of which the British are capable, he might have taken fright, turned round and gone back home. The monstrous outline of truly awful architecture dominates the bay. Flat upon flat built huggermugger round the harbour, imaginatively called Sovereign Marina North and Sovereign Marina South. The advertisements for these properties say they ‘command superb views over the harbour, out to sea and the surrounding countryside’. There’s no mention of how much they’ve destroyed the view from the sea and from the surrounding countryside. A beautiful part of England destroyed not by invasion, but by the natives.
The whole development was built round the marina and its justification was to provide homes for boat owners who would use its facilities. Now, with further and further extension, there is a wide range of owners, but the marina remains central. After years of argument with the Environment Agency, which reached the doors of the High Court, there is even a hard-won agreement on paying for necessary flood defences.
Having experienced all that hassle and recognising the real intrusion of so large a development on the local environment, you’d have thought the harbour owners would have an exemplary environmental policy. Not a bit of it. Its content is exclusively about rubbish and the fact they offer full recycling facilities. Well, of course they do—that’s the irreducible minimum. But there is nothing about energy, water or climate change, there’s no best-practice charter for boat owners and certainly no reference to anything the company is doing to improve the local environment or its biodiversity—no tree planting, no schools programmes, no marine projects and no community involvement.
Now, this could just be one of those businesses whose owners and shareholders had not yet caught up with the standards of behaviour expected of public companies, but this is no ordinary business. It’s owned by a charity—and not just any charity: the massive Wellcome Trust is Britain’s biggest medical investor. Wellcome’s raison d’être is to improve people’s health. It rightly makes much of its concern for the environment and of the work it does to show how intimately well-being and conservation, biodiversity and nutrition are all linked. In sum, it proclaims: ‘Our planet, our health has been a strategic priority for us since late 2015.’
Well, not down at Eastbourne, it hasn’t. Of course, Wellcome could be doing all these things under cover and only admitting to the recycling bins, but that would be odd because it makes much of its commitment to public engagement and spreading information about its research findings. What better laboratory for this than the captive audience of its marina? It can’t do much about the intrusive high-rise flats and gated communities that others built around them, but it could make its harbour an example of good practice and a real influence for good.
‘England destroyed not by invasion, but by the natives
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