Sea-Change:  Wivenhoe Remembered   

The Barrier

Compromising with a complete abomination – Alan Tyne

And then about ’89, there began to be talk of a barrier being built, and consultations started to happen. And I know that several of us, right from the Day One, when we first started going to meetings in Colchester, with people from the National Rivers Authority, we became convinced that they were going to do this – this was no consultation, they were going to do it, and that was all there was to it, really. And then it would be best if we tried to work out where the Club’s interests lay, if they were going to do that. And there were some people who wanted to fight them and try and stop it from happening – and I could understand that. The whole idea is a complete abomination, and of no great practical use at all really, apart from people who want to build houses on land that’s liable to flooding! Yes, that was always the score, it was to open up development further up-river, it was nothing to do with protecting the citizens of Wivenhoe!  

So whilst we might have sympathy with the view that the barrier should be resisted, on the other hand, we also had to try and talk with the devil and try and see what we could get out of this. And eventually after many months of meetings one of the National Rivers Authority people said, ‘This is off the record, you understand, but we think if you were to really push us hard, we might provide you with an alternative Sailing Club further down river. Now, we haven’t said that.’ So we did push them, and we said we wanted a Club out of it. And then everything sort of went quiet for a while, and suddenly they came up with a set of architect’s plans/drawings, which showed something like the Royal Corinthian Yacht Club at Burnham, with splendid stainless steel balustrades and all this kind of thing, and all made of concrete! The Club refused, saying, ‘What we want is a piece of land. Give us a piece of land. We’ll build our own. And we want it to look like an East Coast boat shed, made of weatherboarding and all this kind of stuff.’ I’ve still got the letter upstairs somewhere.

Then the Colchester Planning Officer backed the Club. So they eventually came back with a plan to provide us with the building that we now have – almost exactly as it is now. They gave us a 120-year lease, for £20,000, which is just a peppercorn rent. We had to raise about thirty-odd thousand pounds, because not only did we have to buy the lease at £20,000, we had to buy all the furnishings and stuff for inside it, and we needed to try and raise about £30,000, and we had about £10,000/£15,000 in the bank, and we needed to raise the rest. So we got stuck into issuing loan notes, and running jumble sales and coffee mornings, and suddenly put the bar prices up, and we used to charge for events that we hadn’t charged for before, and we raised it with ease, and came out well ahead of ourselves.  

Negotiating the Barrier –Brian Sinclair

I was Vice-Commodore when Andrew Diggens, the then Commodore, spotted that… yes, that’s right, 1988, that they were proposing to build a barrier across the River Colne, and this was going to completely stop easy access to the lower part of the river, with regard to dinghy racing – bearing in mind that it was still primarily a Sailing Club. And so they raced every weekend, and they started off the old starting hut, but as soon as you got to where the barrier was going to be, you’d got this great funnel where the tide was concentrated, and in certain conditions – when the wind was very light – you’d got a job to make over the tide anyway, against the tide. And so Andrew got in touch with Anglian Water Authority, who were then the people who were going to do it, and we had a meeting with them, and we thought, ‘Well, we need to sell our situation.’ And we just happened to have a video of the Wivenhoe One-Designs Jubilee Regatta Race – their 50th Anniversary Race. And so we showed these people the video with, for the first time ever, all the remaining Wivenhoe One-Designs on the water, and we paused the video at exactly the place where the barrier was going to be built, and there was the river full of boats. And so the Anglian Water chappie said, ‘Mmm. We’ve got a problem, haven’t we.’ And we said, ‘Well, yes.’ And that’s when the negotiations started. So we had a lot of talking, and we said, ‘Well, can we have a starting hut below the barrier?’ And initially they said that would be a possibility. But then that didn’t happen. Because there was a developer in charge of the site really, the Cook’s site, because that was owned by Zurich Development, and they said, ‘No, you’d better have a proper Sailing Club down there.’

And so this went on through my Vice-Commodoreship, and then as I became Commodore, we then started having lots of heavy meetings, and so I found I was chairing all sorts of meetings, where we were meeting with planners and developers and by then, I’d had yet another career change! I’ve had five, I haven’t mentioned them all. But I was with my final job, which was with BT, on a planning/engineering group, and I was having these great lengthy phone calls at work with the National Rivers Authority, who’d now taken over the project, and people, and I said to my boss, one day, after a 35 minute telephone call – which had been incoming – I said, ‘I’m really sorry.’ He said, ‘I’m not the slightest bit worried.’ He said, ‘Your work’s not suffering, you’re learning so much about negotiation. All the time your work doesn’t suffer, and I don’t get into trouble, you won’t get into trouble, because you’re learning by it.’ And I was so grateful for that.

Anyway, the end result, after lots of negotiation, was the new Sailing Club building that you see now. Obviously there were other people involved – Andrew Diggens who has now moved up to become President – but I was leading it as Commodore by then. Alan Tyne was, by then, Secretary, and he’s always been a brilliant Secretary for the Club, he’s done a good job there. Ray Hall was very much involved – he was my Vice-Commodore. So it was a long hard haul, and I know that the Sailing Club was extremely unpopular in certain quarters of Wivenhoe…It was considered that we’d sold out. It was considered, and I’ve had this said to me, that we could have stopped the barrier. I honestly think that anybody with an ounce of common sense, knows perfectly well that nobody was going to stop the barrier. It was going to come, and the only answer was to do the best you could under the circumstances. So the Sailing Club doesn’t own the building, it’s a leasehold building from the now Environmental Agency, and they had 125 year lease on it, so it won’t worry me!

Barrier meetings –Peter Hill

The other event which that should refer to was also the building of the barrier, because that was mooted in the late 1980s. A consulting firm called Posford Duvivier was mandated by what was then called the National Rivers Authority – now the Environmental Agency – but the NRA and their consultants were mandated by the government to find a way of protecting valuable property, and the valuable property was deemed to be Colchester, not Wivenhoe. But that was another Inquiry that Wivenhoe went through. And I can’t remember which year it was, but it would have been late Eighties, I attended something like 60 meetings in one year, where the subject of the barrier was either the sole agenda on that evening, or like the Town Council meetings where it was always part of the meeting.

Public meeting –David Craze

During the time I was involved in the Wivenhoe Society, I would think the biggest issue by far, is the barrier. We decided, as a Society, that we ought to have a Public Meeting, which I chaired, in the British Legion Hall, and it was, literally, standing room only. There were as many people outside as in. The feeling of the village against this blot on the landscape – as they saw it – which wasn’t really there to benefit Wivenhoe, it was there to protect Colchester, so that they could build on the flood plain off of Cowdray Avenue, and also have a marina up at the Hythe, and build – as they’re doing at the moment – on the Moler site. That building could not have happened if they hadn’t got the barrier built. And there were pay-offs. Obviously the Sailing Club would have to move – they got a Sailing Club out of it – but to me, one of the lovely things about the community, in those early days, was the Regatta on the quay, and the start of the races. Well, you can’t have that now. I mean, if you’ve got to tack backwards and forwards, and then suddenly try and get through a barrier it spoilt it, tremendously.

That meeting is one of the most difficult ones to chair, but I thought I chaired it well enough, and I allowed everybody to have their say, and it was overwhelmingly against. Overwhelmingly against. I wasn’t a Councillor then, but we certainly made it quite clear to the Town Councillors, what the feeling was of the village, and I think they were a little put out, because we stole one on the Councillors, they hadn’t even had a Public Meeting themselves, or a chance to discuss it, and we just felt it was so big an issue, we ought to find out what the local feeling was, and it was just so anti. The fact that the people on the quay would benefit didn’t really matter, because if you bought a house on the quay, you knew what the score was – that you could be flooded – and you had your sandbags ready, and the electrics – instead of the ring main being around the skirting board, by law, had to be up high, in case there was flooding, but that was part and parcel, you wouldn’t buy the house otherwise. and so the locals accepted that as something that was going to happen. so we fought long and hard against it. And then when it became painfully obvious that they were going to build it, we then fought long and hard to make sure that there was a minimum amount of disruption to Wivenhoe, and I have to say that we did manage to get a haul road built downstream of the barrier, to bring in most of the stuff, so it didn’t have to come through the village and down through all the small streets. And a lot of stuff was brought by sea, so up the river. And then we said, ‘Right, well, if we’re going to build this, we want a Sailing Club out of it,’ etc., etc.. Obviously it’s fantastic compared to what it was. I think it’s being downstream, in a way, just means that on Regatta Day not so many people go down there, whereas here, you just go down to the Quay, you’ve got the pubs there, and it had all the stalls, and it was a tradition. I’ve seen postcards, in the Thirties and the Forties, of Regatta Day, where it is absolutely packed! Fantastic! It really was. So I do miss that.

The barrier under construction: 

Picture by Sue Murray

Picture by Jonathan Grose

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