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HIWWT issue statement

Debbie Tann, CEO of Hampshire & IoW Wildlife Trust has issued the statement below. Well said, Debbie!

Following the disappointing outcome from the Hampshire County Council Decision Day last week, there remain unanswered questions around the reasons for our bid being rejected. Some of the information published since does not reflect the full picture, and some elements of our proposal have been misrepresented or misunderstood. I feel it is important for everyone to have a right to reply and I owe it to the many hundreds of people who supported our bid, through making a donation or responding to our survey, to provide some more detail as to what happened and to tell our side of the story. In October 2022, the Trust responded to HCC’s original proposals following questions from our members and supporters. We were subsequently invited to meet with senior HCC staff and members in November, and at that time we were encouraged to consider making a bid for the nature reserve along with Haven House. At the Decision Day meeting on 8 December the Trust was mentioned favourably several times, with the overall sense that HCC was grateful for the Trust’s interest and keen to work constructively with us and the local community to find a favourable outcome. It is worth mentioning that the Trust has a longstanding interest in the area as freehold owners of Upper Titchfield Haven and in fact we have been discussing the long-term challenges at Titchfield Haven with HCC and others (including the Environment Agency and Natural England) for years. In 2017 we jointly commissioned WWT Consulting to undertake an independent review which looked at how to improve long term financial and environmental sustainability of the site. The key conclusions from that review remain valid today and in fact many of its recommendations informed the bid we submitted in June. Work began in earnest in January. We signed a Non-Disclosure Agreement with HCC to allow us to share confidential information. We launched a joint fundraising appeal with the Titchfield Haven Community Hub (THCH) which raised vital funds needed to pay for consultants, legal advice, a new building condition survey and a red book valuation for Haven House. (Thank you to the 275 people who donated). We worked closely with THCH as they developed their business plan for a café, community centre and holiday accommodation at Haven House, which showed they would make enough of a profit to contribute a modest amount to the running of the nature reserve. We took this into account as we undertook our own independent analysis of the costs of running the nature reserve, considering wildlife and habitat management requirements, and reviewing the onsite infrastructure – the bird hides, boardwalks, paths, and fencing. We also ran a public survey which provided invaluable insight into how people felt about Titchfield Haven and the Trust’s potential role in taking it on. (Thank you to the 915 people who shared their views with us). The outcome of our independent analysis was not dissimilar to the County Council’s own assessment – that the nature reserve was costing far more to run under the current operating model than the income it was generating, even with profits from running Haven House. With annual revenue costs of £310k (£225k in staff costs which the Trust would have to take on due to TUPE rules, £55k for habitat management, £30k for ongoing infrastructure repairs) and an immediate capital investment cost of £789k to replace damaged and ageing infrastructure, we could see why the County Council was wrestling with financial sustainability and could see no other option but to sell the buildings to provide at least a short-term capital fix. But the Trust doesn’t think short term, we have been managing land for more than 60 years and we want to ensure we can continue to do that for the next 60 and more. The capital sum generated from selling Haven House and Haven Cottage would last a few years but at some point, there would be a big hole in the finances again. In addition, there will be increasing risks to management costs at Titchfield Haven in the context of climate change, coastal erosion, flooding, and rising water levels. To maintain the current habitat will become increasingly expensive, including sluice water management, culvert repairs, path improvements and bridge repairs. Many of the ecological features at Titchfield Haven are not in favourable condition today, and climate change and external pressures are some of the reasons for this. Our changing climate will make it increasingly difficult to maintain the status quo, putting the wildlife at risk as well as the budget. We therefore came up with a strategic vision, not dissimilar to that envisaged by WWT Consulting back in 2017. Our proposal was based on the concept of rationalising and consolidating some of the onsite infrastructure and looking for ways to reduce ongoing running costs, as well as bringing additional land forward. With additional land more income could be generated through nature-based solutions and green finance to support the nature reserve, as well as create new habitats, adapt to climate change, buffer and mitigate the impacts of development in the area, and help tackle wider environmental issues like pollution in the Solent. However, we were not given the opportunity to present our ideas for discussion even though we had asked for this. As a result, the HCC report for the Decision Day meeting contained a number of statements which suggested that our proposal was not fully understood. Describing our proposal as “unviable” without having any dialogue with us when it was clearly presented as a vision for exploration and discussion is a significant disappointment. The statement published after the Decision Day misrepresents what we were proposing as well. We fully understand that the County Council would not wish to simply give away land assets and we had expected to open a dialogue to explore a financially acceptable deal. We would also argue that nature and climate are equally important purposes as those currently delivered on the land in question. Government commitments to nature recovery will demand land use change in the coming years and there are few more suitable locations than this in Hampshire to show real leadership on this issue. The Trust knows only too well that managing land for wildlife can be hard work, costly and full of risk – but it’s what we do. Our proposal was a genuine attempt to come up with the right answer to solve a longstanding challenge that HCC has been wrestling with for years – and at the same time create real opportunities for nature recovery and climate adaptation. Short-term thinking and fear of change are two of the key reasons why as a society we are not tackling the nature and climate crisis with the urgency it needs. Local authorities need to be bolder and braver and think about long-term environmental sustainability and climate adaptation now, rather than leaving it until it becomes even more of a problem. The one positive outcome is that HCC has stated it wishes to work with the Trust to develop a stronger working relationship for the benefit of future land management and nature recovery in the wider Titchfield area. Despite our bid being rejected, we genuinely hope there is still an opportunity to do something transformative for nature and climate in the lower Meon Valley in the near future. We are grateful for the support of our members, supporters, donors and the local community in developing our proposal and we were heartened to see how much support the Trust has had from people who wanted us to step in and give Titchfield Haven a new lease of life. We have been offered a follow up meeting with the County Council so it will be interesting to see what happens next.

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