Why would the MP so fervently obstruct an IOW fixed link campaign, while at the same time, using his position to protect the two powerful ferry companies?
What we know at the moment…
It has become apparent (with evidence) that the MP had a predetermined agenda to assist Red Funnel and Wightlink, as set out by previous IOW Council leader – David Pugh since 2009. The two first became aquainted after Bob Seely had failed to secure a seat at Broxtowe, Nottinghamshire in 2005. David and Bob have assisted each other politically, with David carefully orchestrating the arrangements for Bob to become IOW MP. These arrangements included having the IOW Conservative Association pay for Bob Seely’s campaign to become an IOW Councillor. It was during this time as councillor, he became nicknamed ‘seldom seen Seely’ due to the infrequency of participating with council business / meetings. An island address on the island was essential for the image also, as Bob Seely had never lived on the Isle of Wight. A converted garage on a farm was rented to fulfil that requirement.
Previously, David had lost his seat as councillor and thus council leader due to his ‘conflicts of interest’ of being a council leader, while also operating a political lobbying and consultancy company at the same time. It has come to light that David’s lobbying company ‘Chine Consultancy’ has IOW ferry company – Wightlink as it’s major client. As an example of work carried out, the planning and political considerations of Wightlink’s new ferry terminals at Portsmouth and Fishbourne were dealt with by David Pugh. This has been confirmed by David’s wife – who is also fellow company director. In a witnessed conversation during March 2017, she stated clearly that:
“You’ll never get a fixed link while Bob Seely is MP, because Wightlink is our major client”…
… while also explaining that Bob Seely is now rewarding David for orchestrating the MP’s campaign, by lobbying for David’s clients in Westminster. Bob Seely is now the conduit for ‘Chine Consultancy’ at Westminster, who’s client… is Wightlink. An explained example of Bob Seely’s work in Westminster for David Pugh and Wightlink, has been the negotiations to have Islandline train service receive government funding to retain the Ryde PierHead connection with the line to Shanklin. This connection is essential for the viability of Wightlink to operate it’s ‘FastCat’ service at the end of Ryde Pier. According to David’s wife and Chine Consultancy Director – Rachael… Wightlink apparently sought the funding from government through chair of KILF (Keep Islandline in Franchise) – David Pugh and David handed it on to Bob Seely …Read more. David was asked repeatedly on social media, whether he had been on the payroll of Wightlink either directly or indirectly? David refused to deny or confirm it.
The cousin of Bob Seely, was instated as a Director of Red Funnel just five months after the MP was elected. Patrick Seely now works for Red Funnel as a non-executive Director… read more It would appear that Bob Seely’s position as MP has facilitated his cousin’s post on the Red Funnel Board.
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 has autonomously obstructed due process. As yet after numerous requests to do so by many constituents, Seely has not made one mention of the subject at Westminster. The IOW Transport Infrastructure Taskforce that investigated both ferry companies has now been disbanded by Seely… it now does not exist. In it’s place, the IOW Transport Taskforce has been implemented that includes both Red Funnel and Wightlink as main stakeholders.
During October 2017, the new MP was interviewed by Anne Lovelock of Sunshine Radio.
The interview is a good indicator of the MP’s thoughts and ideas regarding the island.
These are excerpts below to save time. Seely explains his 15 year plan for the isolated island.
1/ Seely speaks about his unsuccessful Mp campaign to be an MP in Nottinghamshire in 2005, before his chance on the Isle of Wight. (2 mins)
2/ Seely’s biography explains where he has lived in the past. (1 min)
3/ Seely claims that he would choose to extend the unsustainable (which loses £4million p/a) Island Line railway to Ventnor and Newport over becoming a government minister. (30 secs)
4/ Seely claims that his personal passion for the arts, will regenerate the island. (50 secs)
5/ Seely claims he spends his time giving lectures about his passion…. the arts. (40 secs)
6/ Seely claims that art and ‘mindfulness’ will solve the problems of cross Solent healthcare. (3 mins)
7/ Seely explains his ideas on future housing on the island. (2 mins)
8/ Seely explains that he’s never been to an IOW festival, but 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. Seely also claims the Fixed Link “ain’t gonna happen“, but can not give any reasons why? (4 mins)
9/ Seely 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/ Seely explains that these plans will culminate after 15 years (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.
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: