A Postcard from Bembridge and St Helens.

The Bembridge and St Helens area has an interesting history. The Harbour has been known historically as Brading Haven. In Roman times, small trading ships were worked up the Eastern River Yar to the quay at Brading. The estuary was much larger and extended across the area which is now Brading Marshes, forming a much larger inlet or estuary. In early medieval times Bembridge village grew from a few dwellings on the point to become a collection of hamlets and Brading was an important port for the Island. The Bembridge peninsular was cut off from the main Island by water or a marshy area near Brading, at the top of the Haven, and was known as “Binbridge Isle”.

The topography of the harbour we know today is largely due to the draining of a major portion of the old Brading Haven for agriculture. The drained portion forms Brading Marshes, now a nature reserve. There are four documented attempts to drain the Haven, the most recent of which was completed in the 1870s and shaped the current harbour. The main embankment was eventually built for the railway and lies inland of the current embankment road. The result was disastrous for the future of the harbour; the smaller area has a reduced tidal prism (the amount of water flowing in and out on each tide) and most of the flow of water from the Eastern Yar River was blocked with sluice gates. The reduced tidal prism, combined with the sluice gates, limited the capacity of the tide to transport sediment through and out of the harbour estuary, causing the serious silting with which the Harbour Company and harbour users struggle today. Dredging is essential to keep the harbour open. Silting is further exacerbated by the north westerly longshore drift along the beach on the Bembridge side of the entrance some of the beach protection groynes are over 100 years old and have been allowed to fall into disrepair. Sand is carried by both wind and longshore drift along the beach in the direction of the harbour entrance. Currently there is an organised initiative to raise money to rebuild the groyne on Bembridge Point on the
south easterly side of the harbour entrance. Without a major seawall or strong groyne reaching from the harbour entrance out towards the St Helens Fort, total prevention of the longshore drift would be impossible, but the rebuilding of the main Bembridge Point groyne may well be successful in reducing the build-up of sand inside the harbour entrance. This is a large undertaking and estimates are nearing a quarter of a million pounds.

Currently the harbour is privately owned and the owners have recently invested in a dredger which will greatly assist in keeping the harbour open, hopefully ensuring the continued success of Bembridge Harbour as a sailing, fishing and watersports venue.

The Solent Protection Society (SPS) maintains a strong policy regarding the view of coastal land from the sea and this includes maintaining the wooded aspects of the Island shore, minimising development and associated lighting in the coastal woodland areas. The SPS therefore responded strongly to the planning application by Aria Resorts, which has bought the Priory Bay Hotel and who applied for a number of “tree houses” and chalets to be built in the woods immediately above Priory Bay. SPS is pleased to report that the campaign was successful in preventing houses being built in the woodland.

The Bembridge and St Helens area has much of interest to the naturalist. The harbour is a Ramsar Site and the immediate area lies within the Solent European Marine Sites conservation zone. The recently designated Bembridge MCZ (Marine Conservation Zone) covers the offshore coastal area and is considered one of the most biologically diverse marine reserves in the country. The RSPB Brading Marshes Reserve has been under a major management programme for some years to create and maintain the area primarily for waders. The proximity of the relatively peaceful and organically rich mudflats, combined with the careful management of the invertebrates and water levels on the marsh, has provided an important habitat for overwintering and breeding waders. Bitterns were heard booming in the reedbeds last year and are believed to have bred this year, and a recently released white tailed eagle (sea eagle) was photographed on the marsh at
the end of August.

The harbour, marsh and coastal area comprise a mosaic of interesting SSSIs including the St Helens Duver fixed dune and grassland, several saline lagoons and the Whitecliff Bay to Bembridge Ledges SSSI with its interesting limestone tidal rock formations and clay outcrops. This all makes for a wonderful yearround birding, botanical and general natural history experience for all ages and levels of expertise.

The historian is spoilt for choice. The Roman Villa at Brading is very well curated and presented. The huge Bembridge Fort on Culver Down (National Trust) was completed in 1867 to deter attack from the French under Napoleon lll. It was active in both world wars. There are also the remains of the World War ll gun emplacements on Culver Down, all of which speak of more recent history. In previous centuries the fleet would anchor off St Helens to collect local water which was proven to stay fresh for longer than mainland fresh water on extended voyages. Nelson is rumoured to have spent time in St Helens! The Solent offshore forts were also built to protect the Solent from the French fleet. St Helens Fort was built in 1859 to give protection to ships in St Helens Roads anchorage. Fortunately a major attack by Napoleon lll never came.

Reconfiguration of Buckler’s Hard Yacht Harbour

The Beaulieu River marina at Buckler’s Hard will, over the next two winters, undergo major reconfiguration with a £2m investment. The project will be carried out in two out of season phases, with the first beginning this October and offering improved facilities and a greater number of more convenient walk-ashore berths by March. The second phase will begin the following autumn, with completion of the extended marina providing an extra 66 berths and additional large moorings by March 2021.

Since opening in 1971 and with one subsequent extension, the yacht harbour has remained largely unaltered. The new plans, which have been approved by the Marine Management Organisation and New Forest National Park Authority, will accommodate current market requirements while continuing to preserve the harbour’s unique character.

The private custodianship of the Montagu family has protected the Beaulieu River for over four centuries, as one of the few privately owned rivers in the world. The Beaulieu Estate is working with agencies including Natural England and the Environment Agency to continue to protect its unique habitats and species. Beaulieu Enterprises Managing Director Russell Bowman said: “The reconfiguration will keep a similar look and feel to the existing yacht harbour, while providing a greater choice of berths and better accessibility in the future. We recognise that the Beaulieu River is a very special place and are committed to undertaking the project in a sensitive and sustainable way. Its unique character remains of paramount importance to us.”

A restaurant, bar and tea shop are nearby at the 18th century shipbuilding village of Buckler’s Hard, with its Maritime Museum. Reconfiguration of Buckler’s Hard Yacht Harbour Specialist marina consultancy Marina Projects, based in Gosport, has been appointed to manage the project and the work is being carried out by locally based Walcon Marine. The project designs have included environmentally friendly features. Walcon fitted the first pontoons for the original marina nearly 50 years ago and much of the current infrastructure remains in good enough condition to re-use for the future. New designs will also enable existing piles to become a key part of the refurbishment, where they are able to be re-used. The project will also trial the replacement of some of the river’s swinging moorings with environmentally friendly alternatives, disturbing less of the river bed and using floating ropes instead of chains.

Bembridge, Red Funnel and the Coast Path

At the June SPS Council meeting, the Isle of Wight representative reported on Woodside Bay, namely the development next to it.  SPS had objected to the unlawful certificate which had been applied for.  No decision yet made.

Bembridge Harbour had produced a final Section 106 Agreement.

Red Funnel had applied for Planning Permission for the new commercial ferry and ground investigation had started.

The Coastal Path consultation would not be published until the end of 2018.

Fishbourne Terminal

Wightlink’s new high level loading ramp at Fishbourne.

Wightlink have been granted planning permission to build aa new loading ramp at Fishbourne. While broadly supportive for the benefit of the Island SPS had concerns and some of these were specifically mentioned in the Officers report. SPS is pleased that our environmental representations were, to a large extent accepted.

For full report click here     Wightlink Article for website.


Bembridge planning. The SPS response


These comments have been submitted in response to the revised application under  TCP/11822/Y-P/00637/14. The comments are from the Solent Protection Society (SPS) which exists to protect the Solent for future generations. We have already commented on the earlier 3 applications and where still relevant the same points are repeated below, modified when appropriate by the information in the revised application.

Harbour wide Issues 

This is an Outline application which, we understand, only seeks approval for Landscaping and Layout with Access, Appearance and Scale left as Reserved Matters.

Given the sensitivity of the Harbour and its conservation designations this should have been a Full application not an Outline one.  There are no landscape details other than a broad description and this is inadequate for an approval of this aspect. Some information related to Access, Appearance and Scale is given and we will comment on the information presented as we consider that the aspect of Scale in particular is highly relevant in this location and that the views from the sea and across the harbour are vital considerations.

Any approval given to Layout must in the view of SPS make clear that any significant variation from the drawings finally submitted at Outline stage concerning Appearance and Scale will require a full application not an application for approval of Reserved Matters.

  • Access. It is understood that no access points are significantly changing but we would hope that Highways advice will form part of the Outline evaluation as this could result in loss of important landscape features for which mitigation will be required.
  • Appearance. SPS would expect to see more detail on this and more information about the appearance in the wider context, but the proposed materials and architectural form, subject to the comments below, would seem appropriate at this stage. SPS would expect a high standard of design to be a condition of the Outline approval.
  • Scale. This is a significant aspect of the impact on the wider landscape and the view from the Solent. The introduction of 3 storey high blocks of terraced housing at both Bembridge Marina and Duver Marina are significant matters of scale and there is insufficient information in the form of say photomontages to judge the impact in the overall context of the harbour.
  • Landscaping. There is inadequate drawn information and this would be difficult to provide without the detailed building and site proposals. SPS do not consider that Landscaping should be included in any approval but should be subject to the same conditions as suggested for the other Reserved Matters and tied to the requirements set out in the Ecology report.
  • Layout. SPS considers that the proposed footprints and uses on each site are broadly appropriate subject to the detailed comments below on a site by site basis. There should only be minor alterations in any Reserved Matters application such that they  do not change the proposed scale, massing and location of the proposed buildings (if approved) as the sensitivity of these  are critical  to the overall appearance and ambiance of the harbour.
  1. Overall. All these areas of the harbour need reinvestment if they are not to fall into further decline and SPS recognise that the investment has to be supported by some form of commercial return unless a philanthropist comes along. In principal SPS are not opposed to the areas selected being redeveloped in some form. In the overall context of the harbour they do not represent a significant area of land or a large scheme, even taken collectively but SPS does have some reservations in detail which are set out on a site by site basis below.


  1. 3. Flooding. This is a significant factor with depths up to 1.4m predicted. The applicant has proposed measures to flood proof the individual properties but has not solved the problem of access in the case of a flood for emergency vehicles, evacuation etc. The EAs position in the past has, SPS understands, been to resist any form of new residential development in Flood Zone 3 unless there is safe and dry access in and out, which as far as SPS can see is not the case here. The applicant is relying on early flood warning and evacuation before the flooding occurs. This has not been accepted by the EA in the past for new build residential and to do so now would set a precedent which would, if granted, need to be clearly circumscribed.    More residential development increases the risk of future problems for the emergency services and may well lead to a demand for further flood defences which could well have a significant impact on the shoreline particularly at the Duver Marina. This is therefore a serious concern for SPS. We note that the EA has yet to comment on this aspect of the application.


  1. 4. Protected Areas. The areas proposed are already under development and so the proposals are unlikely to have a significant impact on the adjoining protected areas provided the mitigation measures in the ecology report can be maintained. However buildings such as the old boathouse are little used and so more intensive use may have an impact on the adjoining water area. The area is a sensitive site within SEMS, and the lagoons hold species listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. (Starlet Sea Anemone)”. SPS welcomes the additional ecology information which is well presented and supports the idea of the silt pond as additional mitigation which will enhance the mosaic of habitats and SSSIs in the vicinity of Bembridge Harbour. SPS also welcomes the proposals to reduce light pollution as much as possible and will look at this more carefully when the reserved matters are considered.


  1. Timing. It is important that improvements are developed in advance of or in parallel with the residential development. SPS would expect to see suitable conditions to ensure dwellings are not occupied until agreed improvements have been completed.

Site Specific Issues

1 Site 1. Duver Marina.

  • There are no views from the sea or harbour illustrated and this should be sought from the applicant so that a proper assessment of the impact on the Solent and its tidal rivers can be assessed.
  • Subject to seeing this, SPS is concerned that the 3 storey terrace block  of housing in its proposed form will be over dominant  and detrimental to the appearance of what is at present a somewhat disjointed but picturesque collection of smaller scale buildings. While some effort has been made in the revised application to articulate the skyline and reduce the impact of the gable walls beside each terrace, in the view of SPS this is not sufficient and the skyline needs to be broken by at least one if not two of the units being limited to 2 story. This may reduce the number of units by one.
  • SPS supports the need to try and maintain local small scale marine industry and is concerned that if further residential development is permitted at The Duver it will give rise to conflict with boat repair and overwintering activity leading to further loss of marine facilities.
  • The proposal to base the harbour office here and rebuild it is supported
  • The proposal to build residential property increasing the risk from flooding with inadequate evacuation will create a demand for further flood defence and is therefore not supported unless a satisfactory means of evacuation is devised such as raising the Duver access road.
  • The proposal to improve the sewerage arrangements and other marine facilities is supported.

2 Site 2. Bembridge Marina.

  • The proposals are generally at the far end of the harbour and adjoin the main residential areas so there is no objection in principal to some development in this location.
  • The intensity of development, however, results in very limited external space around the buildings particularly the block of 5 and could result in a slab like appearance at the end of the harbour when viewed from a distance. The scale and form could therefore be more varied. Again a view from the harbour in context would be helpful to see the scale and massing before a final decision is taken. A photomontage of the proposed outline should be sought and made available to objectors. No effort has been made in the revised application to address this point so we would suggest that gable walls on each side of terraces are reduced on these blocks too and that at least one or two units in the centre are reduced to two stories. This may mean a reduction of one unit overall. The somewhat mediocre architecture of former housing around the harbour should not be taken as a precedent to follow.
  • There remains a concern about flooding, however, there are more defences at this point and the increase in units relative to existing housing is less significant. It will be a balance between EA advice and other considerations as to whether the increased risk for evacuation is justified.
  • The floating shower and toilet facility will add to the apparent density at the end of the harbour but is not considered significant from an SPS point of view.
  1. Site 3. Selwyn Boat Yard and Old boathouse.
  • The proposal to create 6 small single storey light industrial units is reasonable and SPS have no objection to the proposal in principal as they will have a minimal visual impact on the Solent. We note there is now no turning area at the end which may give rise to some practical problems.
  • These units are not considered high risk from a flooding point of view but could lead to a demand for increased flood defence from occupiers which SPS imagines could impact on the banking particularly on the SE side. The ambiance and visual character of the landscape banking should not be jeopardized and should be conditioned accordingly.
  • The Proposed house is isolated and so the flood risk issue for evacuation is more significant here. The overall detail is even vaguer for this building and it will stand out above the houseboats, we think, though no sections are provided. It has been kept long and low and only 2 storey and it has trees either side but it would have to be an exceptional piece of architecture to justify a property visually here, particularly as Natural England’s conditions may mean it moving further up the slope. As it is only a single property there is more chance of an evacuation plan being effective provided the use of the house is limited to owner occupation only, but we remain concerned that any new flood defences will change adversely the quiet, natural serenity of this area.
  • There is insufficient detail to grant an Outline approval in such a sensitive location in the view of SPS. This house should be subject to a full application and perhaps a split decision should be given on the application, if Outline approval is to be granted to the industrial units, with a refusal for the house due, as a minimum, to lack of information. It would be wrong in our view to establish the principal of residential development on this site without full details including detailed ecological impacts and mitigation, if not an EIA, once foundation details are known.
  • We note that the applicant states that development of the industrial units is dependent on the grant of planning approval for the house. In the view of SPS specific harbour improvements should not be tied to specific sites gaining residential approval. We are not party to the detail of the business plan but as this is now rightly a single application, the income generating development and the improvements should be viewed in the round across all sites.
  • SPS is concerned that the mitigation plan and the CEMP may not be properly monitored considering the lack of ecologically trained personal in the E Wight. A contribution to the cost of monitoring could be a condition of approval.
  • The ecological report regards the scrub composition to be removed to make the carpark at Bembridge Marina as “not unusual”. This is true, but since the RSPB have recently removed so much scrub and trees from the Brading Marsh, low level cover for birds and mammals of this type is not as common in the immediate surroundings as it was previously.   Care should be taken therefore not to suburbanise the carpark, and that the current species mix should be retained around it.
  • SPS is concerned that the public access along the old railway track is maintained in the future.

Redevelopment at the Folly

Redevelopment of the river bank in the vicinity of the Folly Inn, a popular spot for visitors on the River Medina above Cowes on the Isle of Wight is overdue. A planning application has been made, and Solent Protection society has made the following submission.


TCP/01419/U – P/00102/14
Folly Works Folly Lane East Cowes Isle Of Wight PO32 Proposed mixed use development comprising hotel and associated infrastructure formation of jetty creation of new access road with junction to Beatrice Avenue and works to Folly Lane construction of 14 business units shop and cafe river users facilities ecological enhancement and mitigation works including works to foreshore construction of residential development comprising 82 houses and a building containing 17 apartments (99 dwellings in total)


The Solent Protection Society, formed in 1956, exists to safeguard the amenities of the Solent area and do everything possible to preserve their beauty for our own and future generations.  This includes the tidal estuaries and the lower tidal reaches of the rivers feeding into the Solent .

The Society welcomes the proposal to bring forward appropriate development for the Folly Works brownfield site and is broadly supportive of the scheme proposed, which has been carefully thought out and provides good background information.

The Society does, however, have some concerns particularly in relation to the river frontage and these are set out below:

  1. SPS consider that the front riverside houses are too close to the bank such that they will be disruptive to the tranquil zone, over dominant in the river scene and with a lack of variety in the elevational treatment and roofscape.
  2. There is a concern about light pollution particularly from the extensive glazed areas  to the river frontage houses and so it will be important to have a denser tree screen than shown along the frontage and to ensure that this is maintained in future by suitable planning conditions.
  3. Smaller or screened window areas, particularly at first floor level, would also help to reduce light pollution of what is generally a dark and peaceful environment at night, and which would be more sympathetic to the bird and other wildlife of the area.
  4. SPS support the riverside walk that extends from Newport to the Folly and would wish to see public pedestrian access provided across the frontage of the proposed scheme and extended up the northern boundary to meet the existing footpath to Whippingham. Continuing to use Folly Lane does not achieve any improvement.
  5. SPS consider that while the hotel is below the tree line when seen as a straight elevation from the opposite bank it will appear more dominant from the river. It appears over large in relation to the Folly Inn and so the bulk should perhaps be stepped down sooner at the southern end.
  6. The hotel together with the business units are, however an important part of the mix on the site and SPS would expect planning conditions that limit the extent of housing/flats that can be built without the full infrastructure, employment and hotel uses being developed in advance.
  7. SPS would not expect to see further pontoons within the river or associated with the new pier
  8. The scheme proposes more houses than originally proposed such that the site is looking over developed. We would strongly advise that the numbers should be reduced in order to give more space for a controlled tree screen along the river frontage – as proposed in the areas behind.


Additional views of the proposal can be seen by clicking here . An enlarged version of the site plon can be seen by clicking here..