to Isle of Wight History Centre Archive of Monthly News Items
As previously featured in the History Centre

April - June 2020

;April 2020
The coronavirus lockdown has inevitably resulted in the shutdown of heritage venues throughout the Island. They will be hoping they can reopen before summer is out. It might create difficulties for some if the lockdown continues.
   The most prominent shutdowns have been the council's museums and their other heritage venues. Some staff will maintain a limited facility to meet enquiries, albeit mostly working from home. The Archaeology Service will continue to support the planning process. It is nevertheless a developing crisis and there are no guarantees this situation will be maintained.
  Many venues, such as heritage centres, are manned by volunteers and do not rely on an entry charge, so hopefully their closure will not create too many financial difficulties. On the other hand, museums which charge for admission may do so to cover some overheads. They might suffer financially if their closure is extended. Major venues like Northwood House have already been forced to cancel existing bookings, presumably with a loss of revenue, although government support measures might help.
  Perhaps the most unfortunate closure has been Carisbrooke Castle Museum. They had spent much time and effort in arranging for the exhibition of Saxon treasures discovered on the Island. Many are on loan from the British Museum and have not been seen here since their discovery 150 years ago. Carisbrooke Museum was forced to close just a few days after they issued their press release promoting the exhibition's opening. It was due to run until November.

Saxon exhibition The Saxon exhibition room at Carisbrooke Castle Museum.

May 2020
Through unplanned historical evolution, Newport Harbour has become the town's last outpost to be free from intense traffic, retail and development, providing escape into a spacious atmosphere of heritage and boating. To the council, it was seen as a space waiting to be exploited, and so started a protracted programme culminated in the Newport Harbour Masterplan. The council claim the plan is the result of public consultation but some might be surprised to learn that Islanders are crying out for yet more housing and hotel accommodation, and they want it all over their harbour.
Newport Harbour
   The natural development of the harbour had seen a lazy progress towards its heritage aspects, with the development of the Bus Museum and the Classic Boat Museum. Once the council had sold off a harbour site for the Premier Inn, it was clear their ambitions lay in a different direction. In fact, marine law covering harbours was designed to prevent just such a development and the sale emerged as an illegal act. The following years saw the council seeking an exception to the law so they could pursue commercial development of the harbour.
  There was a public consultation on the council's application to overcome the restrictions but the exercise fell well short of an enthusiastic drive for public participation. The body dealing with the council's application was the national Marine Management Organisation and their review process included taking public objections into account, but it is doubtful whether the crucial importance of this opportunity and the method of objecting was widely understood by the public. In consequence, the council were able to avoid what could have been a full public inquiry into the harbour's future.
  Once the Harbour Masterplan project had been established, any public consultation was framed by the council's regeneration programme and a predetermined commercial development. The option of rejecting the entire concept did not really exist.
  Manipulation of the public consultation was revealed when the Harbour Masterplan team were presented with a major heritage proposal for the site. In spite of a significant relevance to their plan, their response was to ignore it and act as if it had never happened. When this apparent malpractice was exposed, they claimed it was due to incompetence, rather than an intentional deception. Either way, it might question whether the operation was fit for purpose (This matter will be covered more fully at a later date).
  At the heart of the harbour debate lies the issue of whether the council ever had the cultural capacity to consider if the existing harbour environment was something the public appreciated and would enjoy seeing mildly extended. The Newport Harbour Masterplan is an answer to a question that was never asked.
  The Newport Harbour Action Group have highlighted a wide range of problems arising from the masterplan. Their objections are detailed here

June 2020
A proposal that may provide a more financially viable solution to the record office problem, while enhancing the heritage of Newport Harbour, sounds like something worth considering. Why then would the council take such desperate measures to ensure the idea never sees the light of day?
    The development of Newport Harbour had been a long term ambition of the council and the harbour masterplan project was the final phase in achieving that end. The project called for a public consultation. Coincidental with the consultation being opened, the council were seeking yet another location for the new record office, having predictably abandoned its proposed Seaclose option.
   A proposal arose from the public for the new record office to be located at Newport Harbour. The idea was unique in that it suggested the close location to the existing record office could allow piecemeal development over a number of years, thus overcoming the one-off capital expenditure difficulty that had thwarted numerous previous proposals (December 2017). It was accepted that the idea needed further analysis and it seemed sensible to raise the proposal as part of the Newport Harbour public consultation. It was submitted and formally logged into the consultation in December 2017.
   It turned out the proposal presented an unexpected and unwanted element for the Director of Regeneration, Chris Ashman, and his harbour masterplan team. They had paid lip service to a heritage element in the project but a substantial structure would seriously interfere with the commercial development they had anticipated. The harbour record office proposal mysteriously vanished from the public consultation. It would have never again seen the light of day, but for a public intervention forcing its resurrection 18 months later.
  Once the masterplan team were obliged to acknowledge the proposal, they needed to concoct a reason for ensuring the idea did not even get as far as a basic analysis, for fear it might prove worthy. The situation called for somebody to make the tricky case that it was in the public interest to suppress a matter of public interest. Enter Sean Newton.
   Mr Newton avoided any assessment of the harbour record office proposal. His case relied on the new council plan for a record office at Westridge, raised while the harbour proposal had been suppressed. By applying a radical first-past-the-post method for arriving at the best solution, he could now claim they already had a plan and therefore had no reason to consider an alternative.
   Unfortunately those advising Mr Newton had cruelly denied him one piece of critical information, namely that the Westridge plan was sure to be abandoned, just like all other record office projects that had gone before.
  When the inevitable occurred, it left Mr Newton without his case. Undeterred, he developed a convoluted new reasoning. Essentially he claimed that, although the council no longer had a planned site for the record office, they might have one in future years. If the harbour record office was considered and accepted, it would inconveniently rule out the possibility of future plans, albeit future plans that would be traditionally abandoned.
    The subtle layers in Mr Newton's reasoning are not easily fathomed and it turned out to be his parting shot. Whatever the case Mr Newton or Mr Ashman might make, it is painfully obvious the motivation behind it has nothing to do with a genuine interest in the Island's heritage facilities or a public preference.
   We will probably wait in vain for an Island council officer with the stature and commanding confidence to openly consider a public proposal, without a fear of the outcome. Meanwhile, in the second division, it's all about sterile dogma, saving face, internal politics and a pitiful elitism.
   It would normally fall to the Chief Executive to set an example. Unfortunately the Chief Executive's connection with Newport Harbour involves presiding over a cover-up to avoid revealing that his authority allowed a harbour heritage asset to be reduced to rubble.
   Welcome to Isle of Wight politics.