Newly elected in 2017 – Bob Seely (BS) opposes a Fixed Link …. according to his web site.
The MP’s cousin – Patrick Seely is a non executive Director of Red Funnel. The MP’s close friend, advisor and Bob’s campaign manager since 2009 David Pugh… owns lobbying company ‘Chine Consultancy’, whose major client is reputedly Wightlink. (The company refuses to release client list).
His first comments described the fixed link idea as “Airy Fairy”during a ‘politics panel’. At this time BS had not had reviewed any of the PRO-LINK plans. He asked the question “Do we want to entirely change the Island”? Residing in Oxford and having never lived on the island, BS appears to ignore how the island is changing from largely vibrant and successful some decades ago, to ever increasingly deprived. PRO-LINK’s intentions is to reverse the decline.
During January 2018, BS proposed a “Call for public service Ferries”. The IOW ferry companies, have no obligations of service and would therefore demand British taxpayer subsidies for perpetuity, which would ultimately support the already, extremely highly profitable company shareholder dividends. From that article:
“Kevin George, Red Funnel’s chairman and chief executive, said: “If the government is prepared to subsidise services that support a service obligation then we would be happy to review such a scheme. However, without such funding the idea of a service obligation or regulation is in reality a hollow promise.”
“A spokesman for Hovertravel said: “We are more than willing to work with the local MP to explore how increased funding and support can be used to assist the Isle of Wight.”
PRO-LINK was hopeful that the new MP would research more thoroughly, the predicament the island is in and act logically. However, the cousin of Bob Seely – Patrick Seely, is on the board of Directors at Red Funnel, which may cause a conflict of interest through probable collusion if the MP decides to seek government funded subsidies. In 2014, Patrick Seely led a consortium to take over Wightlink, while funding the better ferry campaign, that ultimately failed with just 2,200 online supporters.
It seems now, that instead of the MP simply not understanding the subject… other emerging potential conflicts of interest, are now giving the public the impression that the MP has alterer motives to obstruct any competition to the ferry companies.
PRO-LINK expect that similar to the previous MP, BS will eventually concede that the only way to break the institutionalised ‘Duopoly’ of the ferry companies, is to introduce competition that offers fast and immediate, 24hr/365day, affordable freedom of reliable cross Solent Transport. The Fixed Link Tunnel will not require subsidies and will conversely, provide income for the Isle of Wight, Hampshire and UK PLC.
During 2016, the ‘IOW Transport Infrastructure Taskforce’ was commissioned by the IOW Council via central government funding, to undertake a comprehensive study of cross Solent transport. The conclusions were clear… the report recommended that a Fixed Link Study must be undertaken. Since then, the IOW Council have also officially endorsed support of a Study, joining Christopher Garnett OBE, who chaired the Taskforce along with several major island stakeholders. All islander surveys and polls are in favour of a fixed link.
However, even with the support of all the above, the MP appears to be autonomously obstructing due process and as yet after numerous requests to do so, has not made one mention of the subject at Westminster.
During October 2017, the new MP was interviewed by Anne Lovelock of Sunshine Radio.
The interview is a good indicator of the MP’s thought processes:
These are excerpts below to save time. BS explains his 15 year plan for the island with isolation without a Fixed Link.
1/ Bob talks about his unsuccessful campaign to be an MP in Nottinghamshire in 2005, before his chance on the island. (2 mins)
2/ Bob explains how long he has lived on the Isle of Wight. (1 min)
3/ Bob explains that he would like to extend the unsustainable (losing £4million p/a) Island Line railway to Ventnor and Newport. He also claims that he’s not concentrating on becoming a government minister. (30 secs)
4/ Bob claims that his personal passion for the arts, will regenerate the island. (50 secs)
5/ Bob explains how he spends his time giving lectures about his passion…. the arts. (40 secs)
6/ Bob claims that art and ‘mindfulness’ will solve the problems of cross Solent healthcare. (3 mins)
7/ Bob explains his ideas on future housing on the island. (2 mins)
8/ Bob explains that he’s never been to an IOW festival, but how he’d like to bring the Bestival back to the island, despite existing cross Solent Transport causing its loss. He also explains that the ferries are expensive, but isn’t aware of how to solve that. Bob also claims the Fixed Link “ain’t gonna happen“, but can not give any reasons why? (4 mins)
9/ Bob explains his ideas on how to contain students on the island for University education. He also explains that the Island has the cheapest housing in the South of England. (4 mins)
10/ Bob explains that these are all 15 year plans. (1 min)
With the evidence provided…
…. the belief is that the MP’s present policies generated through an emotive personal passion for the arts and unwillingness to accept the beneficial foundations of fixed link connectivity… while also protecting both IOW ferry companies from competition, will be a disaster for the island. The MP appears to be wilfully ignoring the “Elephant in the room” problem of all important cross Solent connectivity.
To view the previous MP – Andrew Turners’ previous and present day thoughts on a fixed link … Click here
THE WESTMINSTER MEETING REPORT AND SUBSEQUENT EMAILS:
REPORT ON THE PRO-LINK (Carl Feeney) and ABLE CONNECTIONS LTD (Carl Feeney and Tim Cooper) MEETING WITH BOB SEELY on 12th December 2017.
Having read Mr Seelys reasons against a fixed link prior to the meeting at Westminster, Able Connections Ltd formulated a response to present to the MP at Westminster:
The first objection is that it will “cost vast sums of money,” saying that “the Island cannot afford it.” The ferry companies turned over more than £110m last year. That clearly represents that the Solent economy can afford to spend enormous sums of money crossing the water. Our forecasts, carried out in accordance with Department for Transport requirements, show that it would require only a 60% increase in cross-Solent people movements to generate sufficient revenue to pay back construction costs within 20 years. We believe therefore that the scheme is affordable. We have worked with KPMG’s Deal Advisory team to understand how the scheme might be funded and financed. We believe that there is a range of possible financial mechanisms which align very closely with Government objectives.
The cost is large – £3Bn – and it is right that it is hard to justify spending this much money on a population the size of the Isle of Wight. However the benefits of the scheme extend across the whole Solent region, including the deprived areas around Gosport and the industrial and commercial centres around Park Gate and Whiteley. Furthermore, the tunnel is not the only item of infrastructure proposed for the Solent region. Significant enhancements are being considered to develop tram and rapid bus services. The tunnel is complementary to these schemes; it makes them more deliverable and it increases their benefits once built. It also unlocks land for housing on the mainland. When considered in the context of the current plans for the Solent region and the population served, we believe that the cost is proportionate.
The second objection is that the Island’s “19th century infrastructure would not be able to cope with the inevitable increase in traffic”.
In order to address this, it is helpful first to consider what the Island will look like in 20 years time without the tunnel. The current forecasted population growth on the Isle of Wight (without the tunnel) is around 10,000 – 15,000 people over the next twenty years, almost exclusively in the over 65s. This will happen because cheaper housing makes the Island an attractive place to retire to and because people are living longer. It will impact Island infrastructure in different ways. We have sufficient schools and healthcare facilities; the sewers do not need major upgrade; our energy could probably do with being greener, but there is no threat to our supplies from the mainland, and our broadband works. Indeed we believe that most of the Island’s infrastructure could cope with the forecast increase in population. The infrastructure which will be put under strain by this population growth (which will happen without the tunnel) is housing and transportation. The Isle of Wight Council is currently developing plans for additional housing which distribute developments over the whole Island. These are not sufficient to meet demand and further development will be required. Recent housing developments and those which are coming forward are all car-centric, and the Council has no plans for additional public transport. Indeed it does not even propose to update its highway forecasts until 2019 at the earliest. We believe that this is too late and urge you to apply pressure to the council to accelerate this important work.
The true statement about infrastructure is that in 20 years’ time, the Island’s “19th century” transportation infrastructure will not be able to cope with the forecast population growth, period. Worse, because of the demographics of the growth, there is unlikely to be sufficient economic growth to pay for any enhancements.
The tunnel proposal is an improvement on current plans for a number of reasons.
1. It includes proposals for public transport, extending many miles from the tunnel portals on both the mainland and Island sides. This will mitigate many of the highway impacts of population growth by providing viable alternatives to private car use, even for highway trips which do not use the tunnel. Future autonomous electrically powered vehicles, will not be encumbered by ferry mode cross Solent transport.
2. We welcome the opportunity to engage with the council about how this project will allow them to develop housing schemes which are well-integrated with public transport and which will therefore generate fewer trips than would be the case under current plans.
3. It will stimulate economic growth, leading to more revenue to the council to provide services.
The pressure on the Island’s transport infrastructure is going to increase as its population grows. We believe that the tunnel allows us to manage that growth in a way which gives better outcomes than current plans.
The tunnel will allow the Island to meet its housing needs in a more sustainable way than current plans. However we do not accept the assertion that the tunnel means the Island will be subjected to overwhelming pressure to accept housing from Hampshire. The Solent authorities are planning a major new development at Welbourne, north of Fareham. Let us take the view that this is the land facing most development pressure in the region and compare it to the Island. The cost of getting to the Isle of Wight (combined time and fares) means that land on the Island is currently less accessible from Welbourne than Royal Leamington Spa. The tunnel will bring it closer, but not to the extent that it faces pressure to become a dormitory suburb. For commuters it will become as accessible as land in west of Salisbury, and for businesses it will become as accessible as land around Basingstoke. In other words, we believe that the proposed tunnel with its relatively high toll will bring the Island the best of both worlds; businesses get closer and more efficient, but the demand for land for housing becomes no greater than is felt by the rest of the south coast.
Loss of services.
It is disingenuous to claim that improved connectivity will result in a loss of services. No school or supermarket or GP or restaurant or theatre or police station or cinema or fire station on the Island is going to close as a result of the fixed link. These services generally rely on their proximity to the people they serve, and are often ideally planned within walking distance. Indeed, by its very nature the fixed link will increase the services available to Islanders by allowing them to access services not currently available on the Island.
There are two services which may be affected. The first is St Mary’s Hospital. Planning for St Mary’s lays outside the scope of work that Able Connections can undertake, but as part of the wider conversation about the impact of the tunnel we welcome a conversation about how we can retain the benefits of St Mary’s (such as A&E, maternity care and local support for minor operations), whilst being honest about its failings (such as the struggle to retain talented junior staff, and the many problems that arise from patients having to go to Southampton or Portsmouth via ferry or helicopter for major surgery). The successful community hospital in Lymington is a very attractive model for what could be achieved. We believe that you will have an opportunity to talk about the Fixed link implications to Steve Parker – Medical Director next week when also discussing ‘acute service redesign’
The second service which may be affected is retail facilities. Different retailers will be affected in different ways. The tunnel will not greatly affect access to the retail parks at Gunwharf and West Quay, as these are in the city centres where they will continue to be most easily accessed by the passenger ferries, and so will be no more competition than they are today. Access to the superstores at Whiteley will improve, and this might affect trade at superstores (electrical goods, carpets, furniture, cars etc). We believe that by making the Island more accessible to destination shoppers in south Hampshire, the link will benefit retail in the Island’s villages. These shops tend to be independently owned, and the money spent in them is more likely to stay in the economy, bringing even wider benefits to the Island.
Finally, although not numbered as one of the objections, there is reference to the detrimental environmental impact of the tunnel. “Environment” covers many different things, and schemes need to be assessed both for their construction and their operation. We summarise here the main impacts of the scheme, which we believe will give a net benefit to the environment when compared against the “do-nothing” scenario.
CO2. The tunnel will be constructed using concrete and this will generate carbon emissions but will have a life of 100 years+. In operation it will require power to operate lights and ventilation, which will generate emissions until renewables become more commonplace. It will support a vastly expanded public transport network which will reduce congestion on major roads, reducing carbon emissions. The net effect of these needs to be assessed but we believe it will show a net operational reduction in CO2 emissions in the Solent region when compared with a do-nothing scenario.
Habitat. The tunnel portals and access roads shall be constructed in made and agricultural ground and will result in very little loss of habitat. Further studies are needed to define the northern portal with the M27, and environmental considerations will form a major part of how options are assessed. The need for ventilation shafts also needs to be determined, and certain configurations may require shafts in the Solent which will disrupt the seabed. However, this particular scenario may be negated due to the advent of low emission vehicles. The spoil from the tunnel can be cleaned and used to construct new wildlife mudflats. The tunnel will provide access to land for housing which is integrated with transport and therefore allows more sustainable land use for both housing and transport.
Air Quality and Noise. A twin-bore, dual-carriageway configuration of tunnel would remove 15-20% of the HGVs from the centres of Southampton and Portsmouth. By enabling an expanded public transport network all configurations, it will reduce congestion on major roads, which brings air quality and low noise benefits. By placing growth in highway trips in a tunnel we reduce highway noise in the region.
Construction Impacts. The proposed construction methodology minimises the number of HGV movements generated by the scheme to the extent that we aspire to send no spoil by road. The major tunnelling work takes place away from homes and should not generate significant levels of discernible noise.
Heritage. We are not aware of any impact on any scheduled monument or site of archaeological importance affected by the works.”
The Able Connections Ltd Letter to Bob Seely, after the meeting on the same day:
Thank you for a very productive meeting, and for giving us so much of your valuable time. It was good to hear about your plans for the Island and to find so much common ground between us. The Island is an amazing place and all four of us round the table shared a commitment to working to preserve and enhance its many assets. We attach a copy of the document we left with you. We’ll tidy it up and then publish it via the ProLink Facebook page and Solent Freedom Tunnel website as a direct response to the comments on your website. This conversation is important and it needs to happen in public. We all agree that it should be conducted without recourse to any of the fallacies which mar serious debate – so no ad hominem attacks and no straw-men. If you feel we’ve made those or any other errors, please let us know.
We touched on a few points which we think are worth documenting;
We’ll close simply by repeating the sentiment from our earlier email. It is a pleasure to have an MP who appreciates the challenges and opportunities which arise from the uniqueness of the Island’s representation at Westminster. We very much hope that we will be able to work with you as you seek to preserve and enhance the quality of Island life.
Tim and Carl
Bob Seelys response on the 14th December 2017:
Tim, Karl,Hi and thank you for your time, and I hope that we can perhaps now have a constructive dialogue.I am concerned with the first point you raise. I think there is a misunderstanding. Initially, I understood that the ‘understanding’ with the Council was that no one would object to a study into the proposed cost and impact, but that it was going to be organised by yourselves. In the wording of the document below, you are now saying that I and others need to be actively supportive and part of a process. That is a very considerable change, both in practical involvement as well as percieved support to the project. I feel I am being engineered into a position that I am not comfortable with. You need to be discussing this with the IoW Council and mainland Councils as a first step. I did make clear that I have limited time, and that, as we both agreemeent, the numbers are not currently there.I welcome your thoughts on the above. I am aware that there is room for nuance.I have talked already to the Sec of State Transport. He has questioned whether there could be funding this year, he believes it unlikely, and suggested that even at a very initial stage, the Treasury would need to be involved. I will take the matter up again in February, but as I made v clear, this project cannot be my priority.Kind regardsBob
The Able Connections Ltd reply to Bob Seely on the 14th December 2017:
As you say, there is room for nuance. We are certainly not trying to engineer anyone into a position they’re not happy with. In fact, I hope it’s the reverse. During a complex study like this, conclusions arise as the work progresses which were not foreseen and which might be objectionable to some parties. The earlier people see the results, the better the opportunity to deal with objections. It is very sad when major schemes have detrimental effects baked into them for no better reason than they were discovered too late to be put right. My motto for stakeholder engagement is “go wide, go early”.
The fixed link will only happen if it is the right thing to do (by which I mean, out of the available responses to the ongoing demographic challenges we face, it is the response which makes the Island most prosperous in a way which best supports and enhances its character). To determine that, we need to proceed with everyone’s involvement. You’ve made a very clear statement on your website the reasons you would object to a fixed link. We will ensure that any study addresses these, but we don’t want you or anyone else to be trapped – you need to have the opportunity to be involved and modify your view as work proceeds. How you choose to do so is your choice, but my point about the need for a better understanding of the do-nothing remains valid and I will continue to seek ways to work with you and the council to establish that common view.
We would welcome the opportunity to meet with Treasury. Is this something you can help facilitate?
Tim and Carl”
Re: Treasury. Not yet. Let’s talk again in late January please.
What happened after the above email exchange is quite extraordinary.