Headline Image: The Marine Management Organisation and the Port of Dover agree a media response to revelation of an unminuted meeting between senior executive officers from the two organisations.
[Headline Image: CC 2.0 Generic via Wikipaedia]
By Andy Brockman
The increasingly bitter row which has pitted the management of Britain’s busiest port, Dover, against independent environmental and heritage bodies and local protesters in East Kent, over the Port of Dover’s plan to dredge upto 2.5 million cubic meters of aggregates from the Goodwin Sands, has taken a major new turn with the revelation that the then newly appointed Head of Licencing at the Marine Management Organisation held at least one unminuted meeting with the Chief Executive of the Port of Dover, thePipeLine can reveal.
The news of the meeting, which came to notice via an entry in the departmental blog authored by the new Director of Marine Licencing, Ms Trudi Wakelin, has led to concern on the part of campaigners that the Port of Dover had been given privileged access to the head of the licencing process which was not available to other parties in the process to determine the controversial licence application.
An engineer by training, Trudi Wakelin joined the Newcastle based Marine Management Organisation in February 2017 from the Broads Authority, which administers the famous Norfolk Broads. There she had spent twenty years, rising to the position of Director of Operations and it appears that the bulk of Ms Wakelin’s career has been spent in East Anglia. Her biography, published on the government website, also reveals she holds a diploma qualifying her as a Harbour Master.
That same biography also offers this summary of the role of Director of Marine Licensing at the Marine Management Organisation,
Director of Marine Licensing, MMO
The Director of Marine Licensing is accountable for the marine licensing team. The director is responsible for ensuring integration of licensing activities with marine planning and compliance and enforcement, and has a particular focus on ensuring the delivery of timely, cost proportionate and evidence based determinations providing an excellent customer service through a user friendly system.
Much of the work undertaken by the Marine Management Organisations is routine, comprising the processing of license applications related to construction and other commercial activities in the marine environment which are required under the terms of the Marine and Coastal Access Act [MCAA]. However, once in a while an application is made which is highly contentious. Usually these controversial applications relate to allegations that a proposed activity or construction would have a significant impact on the natural or historic environment. One such controversial licence application is the bid by a charity, the Maritime Heritage Foundation and its contractor, Florida based treasure hunting company Odyssey Marine Exploration, to undertake what campaigners allege is the commercial salvage the wreck of HMS Victory, lost with all hands in the western English Channel in October 1744. However, the most contentious industrial application before the MMO currently is probably the bid by the Port of Dover to dredge 2.5 million cubic meters of sand and gravel from the western Goodwin Sands off the coast of East Kent.
The Port of Dover argues that the use of material from the Goodwin Sands is vital to the economic viability of the £250 million Dover Western Docks Revival Project [DWDR] and that this project is, in turn, vital to the regeneration of the Port of Dover, providing additional ferry capacity, and a marina as well as commercial opportunities such as shops and restaurants and the jobs which come with them. The Port of Dover also argue that in any case, exhaustive environmental assessments have shown that removing, what the port management says represents around one-quarter of one percent of the total material present within the Goodwin Sands, would have negligible long-term effects on the ecosystem of the Sands.
Summing up the corporate view, in August 2017 Mr Neil Wiggins, a non executive director of Dover Harbour Board, told the BBC,
“Damage to the environment will be limited and temporary. The sands are shifting sands, and it’s anticipated to recover quite quickly.
“The specific area we’re looking at has been dredged previously, so had there been historic artefacts of interest, or plane wrecks, they’re not there any more.”
Opponents of the scheme counter this view by saying that the Goodwin Sands is a closed ecosystem, of highly mobile sands and objects, where the effect of dredging on the local populations of Seals, feeding seabirds and fish such as Sand Eels are uncertain and that dredging also puts at risk an unknown number of ship and aircraft wrecks, in what is possibly the most sensitive marine heritage environment in Britain.
Indeed, in September 2017 Historic England, the Government’s statutory adviser in heritage matters within territorial waters, including issues affecting the Goodwin Sands, came out against the application by the Port of Dover as it is currently configured, telling the MMO,
“We recommend that you do not issue a Marine Licence for this proposed project as there are important matters regarding risk to the known and unknown historic environment that are not adequately addressed in the present application.”
The Port of Dover has also found itself in opposition to the grass roots Goodwin Sands Save Our Sands campaign, which has grown from an operation coordinated by a few local people around a kitchen table, to become an effective campaigning group deploying independent expert advice to question the assumptions and data in the Port of Dover’s application and to hold the Port of Dover and the MMO to account publicly for the process of granting any licence.
It was largely in response to the activities of Save Our Sands campaign that in August 2017 the Port of Dover launched its “Deliver for Dover” campaign. The campaign included the use of controversial, so called, “attack” advertising in the local press, suggesting that the Nimbyism on the part of residents of neighbouring coastal town Deal was putting jobs and the future prosperity of Dover at risk to the tune of £500 million. The campaign also included this outspoken attack on the Save Our Sands campaign which was carried on a “Deliver for Dover” website,
“The Goodwin Sands have been dredged extensively for commercial use since the Second World War; for example, twice the volume we require for the development was used in the construction of the Channel Tunnel. And it’s the best environmental option for a development of this size. But even though Port proposals would leave more than 99.7 per cent of the sands untouched, a Deal-based protest has taken exception.”
Anti dredging campaigners accused the Port of Dover of trying to personalise the campaign and divide the local community of East Kent, pointing out that it was not just the Deal based Save Our Sands campaign which opposed the dredging application, but also a number of elected local authorities and national expert bodies such as the Nautical Archaeology Society.
It was into this deeply polarised environment that Trudi Wakelin ventured when she visited the Port of Dover and the port’s chief executive Mr Tim Waggott, during the Summer of 2017.
In her blog, dated 16 October 2017, Ms Wakelin wrote how she had visited various stake holders of the Marine Management Organisation in order to better understand her department’s marine management activities and, as she put it to,
“…get a deeper understanding of how we can best work with them.”
She then cited the Port of Dover as the principle example in describing her orientation tour,
“A good example of this was my very constructive meeting with the CEO of Dover Harbour Board. He wanted to make sure the MMO has a good understanding of his business and how important it is to the local community. I went to see his operations and it was fascinating to see the piling rigs at work and the wider context of how he manages his ferry and port operations.”
So far so apparently innocuous. However, it was Ms Wakelin’s next paragraph which ignited the current row,
“As an engineer by trade, it’s always of interest to me to understand how things work but it was even more fascinating to see the all of the logistical elements that go into the successful running of a port. It also gave the CEO comfort and reassurance that we were ready and willing to listen and understand him.”
Campaigners say it therefore defies logic and common sense to suggest that the CEO of the Port of Dover and his staff did not take the opportunity to, at the very least, explain the background to the licence application and why it was, in their view, so important to the future prosperity of the Port of Dover and that it is this concern which forms the context for Ms Wakelin’s offer of “comfort and reassurance” to Mr Waggott that his position was being taken seriously.
In short, the allegation is that the Port of Dover may have been indulging in an attempt at some light touch lobbying of a senior officer of the Marine Management Organisation, outside of the live application process for a dredging licence.
In an attempt to clarify what actually happened and which issues were discussed during Trudi Wakelin’s visit to the Port of Dover thePipeLine asked the Port of Dover a series of questions including,
- Can you confirm that Ms Wakelin visited the Dover Western Docks Revival [DWDR] project, the procurement of sand and gravel for which is currently the subject of a licence application at Ms Wakelin’s employer, the Marine Management Organisation?
- Was the visit made at the invitation of the Port of Dover?
- Did Mr Waggott raise, mention or discuss with Ms Wakelin the fact that the current plan for completion of the DWDR project requires the Port of Dover to dredge sand and gravel and that the Port of Dover hopes to obtain that material from the Goodwin Sands.
- Were notes, minutes recordings, or other records were made and/or kept of the conversations between Ms Wakelin and Mr Waggott and/or other officers or staff of the Port of Dover during Ms Wakelin’s visit? If not, why not?
Citing Ms Wakelin’s blog post we also asked the Port of Dover,
- The blog entry implies that Mr Waggott/the Port of Dover, communicated to Ms Wakelin that they are concerned that their point of view is not being heard by the MMO. Has Mr Waggott/the Port of Dover communicated such a concern to the MMO?
- Was the “comfort and reassurance” given to the CEO the Port of Dover with regard to the DWDR project and what was it’s nature?
- Does the Port of Dover accept that, by visiting Mr Waggott and the Port of Dover, but by not visiting any of the local councils and other groups opposing the dredging licence application, Ms Wakelin may have given the impression that the Port of Dover was being given special treatment during a live and controversial, licence application process?
- Given the risk that a visit to one party in a high profile, highly controversial licence application, but not others, might be regarded as professionally inappropriate, and that such a perception of special treatment to one party could form part of the grounds for any potential judicial review if a dredging licence is granted by MMO, does the Port of Dover accept that it was unwise host Ms Wakelin’s visit?
In response a spokesperson for the Port of Dover did not deny that the company had invited Ms Wakelin, nor that concerns about the Goodwin Sands licence application may have been discussed during the visit.
The spokesperson for the Port of Dover did tell us,
“I can confirm that Trudi Wakelin did visit the Port of Dover this summer  as part of her wider engagement with the ports sector.
As this was an informal introductory meeting and port tour to highlight the range of activities undertaken there are no specific notes of the visit.”
Unminuted meeting piles on the pressure at the MMO. Construction and piling in progress at the Dover Western Docks Revival Project in 2017.
The Marine Management Organisation was somewhat more expansive in its responses to our questions, although in most respects the organisation was equally uninformative.
thePipeLine began by asking the Marine Management Organisation a series of questions regarding Ms Wakelin’s visit to the Port of Dover, starting with a request to confirm the visit took place and at whose invitation it took place?
The MMO also did not deny that the visit took place at the invitation of the Port of Dover. However, the organisation did tell us,
“Trudi visited Dover Harbour Board and as part of her visit saw piling rigs in action.”
However, the MMO spokesperson emphasised that,
“She did not visit the DWDR project. The photos she took were actually not part of any visit or meeting but during her travelling time.”
Critics of the visit have noted that this response is worthy of Sir Humphrey Appleby of “Yes Minister”fame, because it is somewhat disingenuous to claim that, while she was clearly in a place to witnessing the piling rigs in action on the DWDR site and to even photograph them, Ms Wakelin did not actually “visit” the DWDR project which takes up a significant portion of the western half of Dover harbour. Neither are critics convinced that any photographs she took are somehow neutral because they were taken in travelling time and not during a formally constituted meeting.
The spokesperson for the MMO added,
“The visit was part of a series of engagement visits to marine operators in England. As Trudi is relatively new to the MMO, she has set out an expansive engagement programme to meet and visit a diverse set of stakeholders.”
Reading between the lines of this comment, it has been suggested that the response might indicate that Ms Wakelin, who has spent most of her career in East Anglia on an inland waterway, albeit a complex one, may be lacking experience and contacts on the wider national stage where the MMO acts along the coast and out to sea to the edge of the UK Exclusive Economic Zone.
thePipeLine next asked if Ms Wakelin had also visited Historic England and/or Natural England in parallel with the visit to clients such as the Port of Dover in order to understand better their role as the statutory adviser on historical and natural environment issues with regard to marine licences?
The MMO responded,
“Trudi meets regularly with Natural England and has met with Historic England as part of a larger group (via our quarterly Stakeholder Focus Group that includes stakeholders from a variety of marine sectors).”
In other words, in contrast to the visit to the Port of Dover, Ms Wakelin met the two most important statutory advisers in the course of regular engagements. She appears not to have made a specific effort to visit them in the field as part of her orientation when taking up her new post in the same way she met the management of the Port of Dover.
We then asked if the CEO of the Port of Dover, Mr Tim Waggott, raised, mentioned or discussed with Ms Wakelin the fact that the current plan for completion of the DWDR project requires the Port of Dover to dredge sand and gravel and that the Port of Dover hopes to obtain that material from the Goodwin Sands?
We added; did Mr Waggott also discuss opposition to the scheme from a number of local councils, expert and civil groups and if he did, did Ms Wakelin report the contacts to her superiors.
The MMO stated,
“Trudi did not discuss the application and she is not the decision maker. The case team involved in the Goodwin Sands aggregate dredging application were not involved in this meeting. The meeting was part of a wider effort to learn more about how our stakeholders operate and in no way connected with the ongoing determination of the marine licence application.”
Central to the controversy over Trudi Wakelin’s visit to the port of Dover is the issue of whether the content of her meetings and conversations with Mr Waggott and other personnel at the Port of Dover were minuted or recorded in any way. Therefore thePipeLine also asked, if no records were made or kept, why was this allowed to happen, particularly given the sensitivity and public interest in the Goodwin Sands licence application and the organisations legal role in administering the Marine and Coastal Access Act?
The MMO confirmed that,
“No notes were recorded during this visit. In meetings and site visits where we learn more about marine operators it is natural for us not to take formal notes of the meeting as there is no real need for them during such general engagement.”
We commented also that the blog entry implies that Mr Waggot or other representatives of the Port of Dover, communicated to Ms Wakelin that they are concerned that their point of view is not being heard by the MMO. We asked the MMO, if Mr Waggott or any other member of the management or board of the Port of Dover had indeed communicated such a concern to the MMO?
The MMO did not respond to the question directly. Instead they told us this,
“As the marine regulator such engagement is an essential part of our responsibilities. It is important that the MMO engages and educates all sectors active in the marine environment on marine regulation in order to balance economic growth whilst protecting the environment and contribution to sustainable development.
When appropriate the Marine Licensing team routinely visits companies and stakeholders in order to build industry knowledge and improve our processes. (We often provide updates about these sessions online.)”
We then asked if the “comfort and reassurance” given by Ms Wakelin to the CEO the Port of Dover, which Ms Wakelin described in her blog, was related in any way to the DWDR project and to the Goodwin Sands licence application and what was it’s nature? The MMO said,
“See answer above – the discussion centred around the MMO’s general understanding of ports and harbour activities. Port operators are among some of the businesses the MMO has visited as part of our routine knowledge-building and engagement exercises.”
We also asked for the MMO’s response to the suggestion that, by visiting Mr Waggott and the Port of Dover while not visiting any of the elected local councils and other groups opposing the dredging licence application, Ms Wakelin may have given the impression that the Port of Dover was being given special treatment and privileged access to senior officers of MMO, during a live and controversial, licence application process?
The MMO denied any suggestion of special treatment stating,
“No. We are happy to meet with any interested party who would like to express their views about the marine licensing process, but not to discuss the specifics of a case. We must ensure that public consultation is carried out in the proper and legal manner and are unable to become involved in public debates during the application process.”
The MMO emphisised that, in their view,
“Ms Wakelin is not the decision-maker on the licence application and the case team involved in the Goodwin Sands aggregate dredging application were not involved in the meeting.”
It is this issue of even handedness, with all parties being treated equally and given equal access to the same level of staff at the Marine Management Organisation is central to concerns about Ms Wakelin’s visit to the Port of Dover. Therefore thePipeLine asked, given the risk that a visit to one party in a high profile, highly controversial licence application, but not others, might be regarded as “professionally inappropriate”, does the MMO accept that it was unwise for Ms Wakelin to visit the Port of Dover and the DWDR project?
The MMO responded,
“No. Ms Wakelin is not the decision-maker on the licence application and the case team involved in the Goodwin Sands aggregate dredging application were not involved in the meeting.”
thePipeLine concluded by asking the MMO if, in the light of these questions and the perception of a “professionally inappropriate” visit, will Ms Wakelin now recuse herself from all aspects and processes relating to the determination of the Port of Dover’s licence application regarding the Goodwin Sands?
The MMO emphasised that,
“Ms Wakelin is not the decision-maker on the licence application and the case team involved in the Goodwin Sands aggregate dredging application were not involved in the meeting.”
In a final comment on the controversial visit the MMO gave thePipeLine this statement,
“We are currently considering the representations received as part of the consultation process and ensuring any outstanding matters are addressed before we make a determination.
Although we aim to determine licence applications within 13 weeks, in some cases, such as where significant representations have been made, the process may take longer as it is important we take into account all relevant representations.
Once we’ve determined the outcome of the application all relevant information will be published online via our Public Register.”
In order to check whether Trudi Wakelin’s orientation visits extended into specialised areas of the MMO’s licencing process thePipeLine also contacted Historic England, the UK Government and the MMO’s, statutory advisor on heritage matters within the twelve mile limit [as the Goodwin Sands are]. We asked Historic England if Ms Wakelin had also visited Historic England as part of her orientation tour?
A spokesperson for Historic England gave us this response on behalf of Mr Chris Pater, the Head of Marine Planning for Historic England,
1) Ms Trudi Wakelin (Director of Marine Licencing at the Marine Management Organisation) has not made any visit to me at Historic England to discuss the detail of this proposed project.
2) Ms Wakelin has not discussed the Port of Dover licence application for the Goodwin Sands directly with Historic England.
3) The MMO as the Competent Authority for the Marine Licensing regime, as provided for through the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, will be expected to complete all necessary processes as necessary for them to make a decision and that their decision-making will include taking advice from interested parties such as Historic England as we have done to date when requested.
Meanwhile the Save Our Sands campaign have written to the Marine Management Organisation to express their concerns about Trudi Wakelin’s meeting with Tim Waggott formally.
In a letter dated 6 December 2017, which has been seen by thePipeLine, Save Our Sands told the MMO,
“To be perfectly clear, we fully understand that it would not be appropriate for local stakeholders to meet with Trudi to discuss the specific aspects of DHB’s marine licensing application or its ongoing determination. Nor do we require from you or Trudi another explanation of the general marine licensing process. What we and other local stakeholders do require is for Trudi to meet with us all to account for her conduct in engaging in what appears to be, prima facie, an exercise in partiality and bias in offering, in her own words, “ … comfort and reassurance …” to DHB.”
As this article was in preparation thePipeLine was told that Ms Wakelin has offered a meeting to the members of the Save Our Sands campaign and other interested parties in East Kent including local councillors. However, negotiations over that meeting have stalled over the location.
The MMO have proposed that any meeting takes place in London. However, the campaigners argue that London is difficult for some potential participants to reach, especially local councillors from East Kent who have full time jobs. More important than that, the campaigners also say that any meeting in London is not the equivalent to an extended meeting on site in Dover, which Mr Waggott and the Port of Dover appear to have enjoyed.
To borrow a line from the Trump administration when trying to play down the controversial meeting in Trump Tower with Russians promising scandalous material about Hilary Clinton, according to the statements of both the Port of Dover and the Marine Management Organisation, there is no “There” there, when it comes to Trudi Wakelin’s unminuted visit to the Port of Dover and her conversations with CEO Tim Waggott.
The whole thing is a big “nothing burger”.
However, this is a “nothing burger” which could see the Marine Management Organisation in court in front of a Judge.
This is because the visit and what critics of the visit see as the equivocal and incomplete responses of those involved when questioned about it, raises important issues of due impartiality and the integrity of the MMO’s licencing process.
Indeed, a legal expert consulted by thePipeLine told us that it would be possible to argue that Ms Wakelin’s visit was certainly naïve and could be said to be “professionally inappropriate”.
Our expert concluded that the questions hovering over the visit are sufficiently serious that the episode could potentially form a ground for a Judicial Review of any decision on the part of the Marine Management Organisation to grant the Port of Dover a licence to dredge the Goodwin Sands.
And there is one final area of the current controversy which the critics of Ms Wakelins visit and the MMO’s response to the questions it raises, would like to find out about. That is the answer to this question.
If the Director of Marine Licensing at the Marine Management Organisation, whose job description states that,
“The director is responsible for ensuring integration of licensing activities with marine planning and compliance and enforcement, and has a particular focus on ensuring the delivery of timely, cost proportionate and evidence based determinations providing an excellent customer service through a user friendly system.”
…has no role in the MMO’s most contentious current application as the MMO states she does not. A decision which could define the organisation’s policy towards the most archaeologically and environmentally sensitive sites at sea for years to come. Just what does the Director of Marine Licencing actually do?