Build­ing a fu­ture by the sea

Country Life Every Week - - Letters To The Editor -

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

Fol­low @agromenes on Twit­ter

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