Letter: A view of East Cowes by an Overner

It’s long, but a very interesting read from Luisa Hillard, town and county councillor for East Cowes.

inspiration at east cowes marina

We always welcome a Letter to the Editor to share with our readers – unsurprisingly they don’t always reflect the views of this publication. If you have something you’d like to share, get in touch and of course, your considered comments are welcome below. This from Luisa Hillard, Town and County Councillor for East Cowes. Ed

I wasn’t born on the Island. I didn’t even grow up here, although for most of my formative years I did grow up looking at the Island from the shores of Southsea and Hayling Island.

Before I decided to move here my knowledge of the Island was poor, informed only by one school trip to Osborne House and one science expedition to explore the rock pools of (possibly) Bembridge.

Choosing a town wasn’t a difficult choice
My first real savouring (and it has been that) of the Island as a real life community started in January 2007. Choosing a town to make our home wasn’t a difficult choice as the decision was made based on practicality with a little intuition. The best decisions usually are.

East Cowes was a clear winner (believe it or not!). Driving down the hill of York Avenue into the town gives me the feeling of ‘coming home’. I get the same feeling in Ventnor. I think it has something to do with the way the beautiful old trees seem to part and reveal the sea, or at least the masts of sailing boats. It’s a ‘ta-dah!’ moment, particularly on a sunny morning when (West) Cowes is lit up like somewhere in the Mediterranean.

So, on April the 1st (honestly) 2007 we left our friends and family for a new life on the Island because we wanted a good place to raise our children – a better quality of life – full of romping along through woods, fields and beaches with a dog. My Dad fondly remembered childhood holidays here and called it an ‘opportunity’, much to the dismay of my Mum who said that we might as well move to New Zealand!

The East Cowes Masterplan
However, the fundamental reason for choosing the Island was because of SEEDA and their East Cowes Masterplan. They tempted Palmer Johnson Yachts, my husband’s employer, to relocate to Venture Quays. However no super yachts could be built here and by mid-2008 the company had moved back to the mainland. How ironic that a move designed to prevent commuting to the Island ended up with commuting to the mainland but we didn’t regret moving here and neither did we consider leaving.

At that time we had heard that East Cowes was undergoing regeneration and that house prices were likely to rise, so we considered property here to be a good investment for a young, growing family. We were sold a dream – a lifestyle – but despite my optimistic arrival there is a darker side to the process. Neighbours and friends in East Cowes talk very fondly of local history and the ‘glory days’ of industry but there is a sadness to the memories as they state that East Cowes had its ‘heart ripped out’ by SEEDA.

A cultural memory
Over time I have come to the conclusion that East Cowes has a cultural memory that still keenly feels the loss of industry, with the redundancies of those men who had worked for the same companies as their fathers and grandfathers before them. A particular sore spot is the closure and demolition of the old social club and sports facilities. Apparently we were once self-sufficient in squash courts and bowling greens.

Long term residents grieve the changes and whilst I understand this I have to some extent arrived post-demolition; unscathed, my own disappointments linked more to the shiny 3D model of the future East Cowes that was on display in Venture Quays some years ago.

SEEDA failed my family and boat builders
I suppose you could say that SEEDA failed my family and Palmer Johnson Yachts but I have never regretted moving to the Island.

Neither have I ever regretted moving to East Cowes, the heart of which is a really beautiful, green and leafy Victorian and Edwardian town. For a woman like me who has eclectic tastes and appreciates shabby chic it’s a comfortable fit.

However, there is an old saying that familiarity breeds contempt and perhaps this is why so many Islanders don’t appreciate what I see – a town which ticks all of the boxes for an active family with a dog: a beach, woods, recreation grounds, supermarkets, local shops, nurseries and schools. Perhaps for this reason I have felt more at home here than any other town I have lived in. I feel the strong sense of community. I have met the very active activists and been one of them. I feel safe walking around at night.

Regeneration project still on-going
Nine years later and the regeneration project is still on-going. SEEDA have gone, replaced by the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA).

There have been successes, I’m pleased to tell you. I was very pleased to welcome Waitrose, which has added a little gravitas and a rather large short-stay car park (but we have lost the long stay one, which is compounding resident parking issues). The new doctor and dentist building is quite nice too, although the consensus is that it could have been better designed and needs a few extra doctors. The world’s largest Union Jack got repainted.

The building of many new houses has been a mixed blessing – warm, modern housing has been of benefit to those residents who now live there but the expanded population has placed extra strain on the availability of school places and local doctor appointments.

Venture Quays buzzing with activity
In my opinion new houses in themselves don’t and can’t stimulate regeneration without new jobs for the new residents that come with them. Jobs are essential. A strong, local economy is essential.

Amazingly there have been some new jobs (Waitrose plus about 200 industrial) and the green shoots of industry have appeared again in once empty buildings – some companies have come and gone again, like South Boats and Vestas – but others appear to be flourishing. Venture Quays is currently buzzing with activity.

Aluminium welding, an Island speciality, has attracted several boat builders including Shemara Refit who are building the new Red Jet 6. I’m told that all order books are busy – the financial future of these businesses looks secure. In part renewable energy is driving this renaissance of innovation and industry with boats to service off-shore wind turbines and the research and development of turbine platforms for tidal energy.

East Cowes as a centre of excellence for engineering?
I would like to see East Cowes continue its heritage of boat building and all things nautical, but I also look to the future. I would like to see East Cowes develop as a wider centre of excellence for engineering – it makes economic sense to diversify in addition to tourism. Engineering jobs are well-paid, full time and not seasonal.

The Council tried to get us declared as an Enterprise Zone to help this aspiration but that was derailed. Despite lack of support from the mainland the arrival of the Studio School, who specialise in engineering, and the long-awaited ‘Isle of Wight Centre of Excellence for Composites, Advance Manufacturing and Marine Technology’ (imagine trying to fit that on a business card), due to be built at the Technology Park in Whippingham, will be training new skilled workers to meet the national shortage of engineers.

The future of light industry and engineering looks secure on the Island… with the exception of one major detail.

Employment land turned into housing estates
The current government believes that economic regeneration happens by building new houses and therefore has an aggressive house-building policy. The planning authority on the Island has a target of about 500 new houses every year.

There is therefore pressure to locate new sites for housing developments. Brown field sites are the preference, but this often means that employment land is being turned into housing estates.

For the Medina Valley this means that waterfront industrial sites which currently house many small and medium-sized businesses are facing planning applications to replace this high density employment land with high density flats and houses.

Expansion of ferry marshalling yard
In East Cowes this issue is compounded by a proposed relocation and enlargement of the ferry marshalling yard. In principle improvements to the management of ferry traffic during peak times is welcomed by residents of East Cowes, although the queue up York Avenue doesn’t tend to inconvenience us that much as we just go home via an alternative route, if needed.

The main benefits for better marshalling would be improved access to the Floating Bridge (which often has long queues) and encouraging ferry users to wander around town whilst waiting for their ferry, rather than crawling along in their cars.

As you might expect East Cowes has a love-hate relationship with the ferry. We accept that it is an essential part of us but a body part that would be top of our wish list for plastic surgery… a little less obtrusive, a little more beautiful… We wish to be appreciated for more than just our most obvious asset.

Loss of the High Street
Residents complain about the limited number and variety of local shops and I used to wonder why a town the size of East Cowes lacks an obvious High Street. I know the reason now: that the historic, waterfront town centre was bulldozed and what was the original High Street is now Lane 1 of the ferry marshalling yard.

It is clear that such extensive regeneration and revolving land uses (residential-industrial-residential) has happened over the years that it is difficult to grasp our current identity, much like a woman who has undergone way too much plastic surgery and can’t recognise herself in the mirror. The key is in the eyes and in the heart, which beats strongly.

Spirit of innovation at heart of community
‘Once in a lifetime’ redevelopments seem to be rather more common in East Cowes than is comfortable for the average resident, but we aren’t NIMBYs by any stretch of the imagination.

We have the spirit of innovation and creation at the heart of our community.

We are practical people in the most part – a demographic rich in factory workers, skilled trades, carers and nurses – but there is an aspiration to embrace technology of the future. We are after all a town that has been undergoing regeneration since we were first built – perhaps that explains why East Cowes breeds and/or attracts so many revolutionaries and innovators.

I may have been transplanted here but my roots are deep, so I anticipate that I shall live here in East Cowes for the foreseeable future.

Luisa Hillard, Town and County Councillor for East Cowes

Image: dofe_gold_sailing under CC BY 2.0

Thursday, 18th February, 2016 7:50pm


ShortURL: http://wig.ht/2dYn

Filed under: East Cowes, Letter to the Editor

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44 Comments on "Letter: A view of East Cowes by an Overner"

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Tanja Rebel
Thank you, Luisa: This is a very well written letter coming from the heart. I am not a resident of East-Cowes, but go there regularly to tidy up the Frank James Memorial Hospital site, a sore spot in town… It is almost four years ago that the campaign to save Frank James began and the special community spirit of this town was apparent from the very start.… Read more »
Luisa Hillard

The Council has no power to encourage businesses to stay because the council don’t own or control that land. It is in the hands of the Planning Authority who must weigh up the evidence presented by both sides.

We shall find out what the direction of travel is in April.

“The Council has no power to encourage businesses to stay because the council don’t own or control that land. It is in the hands of the Planning Authority who must weigh up the evidence presented by both sides.” Weasel words Luisa? Is not the “Planning Authority” still part of IWC or has that already been surrendered to DCLG? Or… is iWC already and implicitly running scared of… Read more »
You are surely not suggesting that because the Planning Authority is part of the council, that elected members (or anyone else) should exert undue influence over planning decisions? Are you? The Planning Authority should make their decision based on the evidence presented by all sides, but it is THEIR decision – not anyone elses. The RF decision must be based on evidence and nothing else. To do… Read more »

Evidence that then has to be assessed by our elected representatives to verify the opinions of unelected IWC officers andthe evidence’s relevance to IWC Planning policy (also decided by councillors)?

…or are you implying that elected councillors should abrogate that statutory responsibility?

East Cowes
Luisa, reading this, are you FOR or AGAINST Red Funnel’s land grab of all of the deep water access, much more than was ever on the SEEDA plan, and eliminating 200 well-paid marine and maritime jobs? People might think that you are for Red Funnel’s plan. Why is Red Funnel in charge of East Cowes? Small correction – HCA did not “replace SEEDA”. On this issue, HCA… Read more »
Luisa Hillard
I do not wish to be accused of predetermination by assuming a position either for or against until all of the information has been submitted and I have discussed this with officers. I am however aware of all objections so far which are valid planning considerations and continue to represent the views of residents and businesses who have contacted me with their comments. I have spoken out… Read more »
East Cowes

If you’re not on the Executive and not on the Planning Committee, why can’t you advocate loudly for the marine businesses and the residents?

Luisa Hillard
Yes, the planning authority is part of the council but it is not controlled by the administration. It is independent from local political influence to some extent because the recommendations are largely based on national planning policy. The planning officers will not be intimidated by threat of appeal as their recommendation will be firmly evidenced by policy. The issue we have is that the planning authority can… Read more »
Luisa Hillard

I have advocated for the businesses and continue to do so.

The trouble is I think that people believed that the SEEDA plan with its flaws would be implemented however the flaws of that plan pale into insignificance when compared to this one. We won’t make that mistake again! We tried to engage with REd Funnel about two years ago to bring forward a community plan – they didn’t want to know.- they may be abit more receptive… Read more »
Frank James
On behalf of all discerning and appreciative overners and residents with older connections to East Cowes and the Island, I’d also like to thank Luisa for her continuing work to improve life for all of us. This letter, and Luisa’s contributions to other OTW items, are valuable reminders of what we still have, why it matters, and what we need to be thinking about and responding to… Read more »
Black Dog

Early electioneering?

Luisa Hillard

This letter is an attempt to raise awareness of regeneration issues in East Cowes, from a personal perspective.

Black Dog

So do tell just how you will vote for the following:

Floating Bridge charges

Are you suggesting that you have two views? 1. Personal 2. As an IoW councillor. How do they differ if at all?

Surely as an elected IoW councillor you have to represent your constituencies views and not your own or those of your colleagues in the administration

Luisa Hillard
Contrary to common believe an Isle of Wight Councillor has to act in the best interests of the Island, not their own wards, although of course we make sure that our constituents are represented. My personal view is usually the same but not always – sometimes I want to be parochial – but it is my responsibility to make the tough decisions on behalf of residents who… Read more »
Black Dog

Something as large as the proposed regeneration will only be decided by planning – Really? It should come to full council. How will you vote then, given that compulsory purchase could be a very real threat?

Luisa Hillard
@Black Dog You really don’t seem to understand the process. A planning application is decided by the Planning Committee -councillors- based on officer recommendations in a report which details the ways in which an application supports or goes against policy. No planning application ever goes to full council. Also, I don’t get to vote on any compulsory purchase as that is a decision made by the Executive… Read more »
sam salt
Luisa can I ask why you put out this letter now just as the 3 week planning consultation comes to an end? Whilst I understand your passion for East Cowes don’t you think it would have been slightly more professional to have (a) kept quiet bearing in mind your role as a County Councillor or (b) waited until a planning decision was made. I think your letter… Read more »
Black Dog

Is that why you stepped down from the executive?

Luisa Hillard
@islebe I have been talking about the Red Funnel planning application for a long time to local residents who follow me on social media or read my monthly articles. I have been talking with local stakeholders. To ‘keep quiet’ as you suggest would be to do a disservice to my residents who need to know that their opinions are listened to. There is a lot of worry… Read more »

Brownie points to Luisa for standing up to be counted!

It is a pity that she is an exception among elected councillors apart from a couple of others who make useful comments in this blog.


3 vote majority last time.

Frank James

And a big improvement, so probably a larger majority if there is a next time.

Back on topic, what people can still have a say in today is Red F.’s greedy attempt to destroy more Island homes and businesses rather than improve the site they previously took over.

Luisa Hillard

Yes, you are right that I won by 3 votes and that was a miracle considering that I was neither well-known or had any experience.

However, this letter isn’t about elections. Please focus on the regeneration issue.

@ Luisa Well put Luisa we have lived in EC for the past 30 years and find that it has been a great place to live . Our sons were brought up here and one still works in boat building .We have seen many changes in those 30 years some good some not so good the large extension of GKNs Osborn works with all the new technology… Read more »
Luisa Hillard
I am glad that I have been able to accurately capture the feelings of my fellow residents in East Cowes, such as yourself. I fully agree with you that East Cowes is under-rated and a well-kept secret! I believe that there has been a lot of confusion about how many jobs could be lost and/or created. Red Funnel have obviously tried to put forward their plans in… Read more »
Morris Barton OBE
Well thought out letter which for me as a long time county and town councillor for East Cowes who I hope was and is progressive and positive injects a breath of optimism My family can trace its ancestors on the Island back to 12th century and I have children grandchildren and great grandchildren living here. We need to have confidence in our ability to fight for a… Read more »
Frank James
On that subject, a recent comment on the Red F. application/ land grab, as follows: Since writing to oppose this application I have again looked at it, and at the applicant’s recent requests for support, and at comments submitted since I last wrote. I see evidence that the proposal would destroy some, and seriously harm other, existing homes, deep water access, the public slipway, thriving businesses, and… Read more »
John shaw
The principal rationale being put forward by Red Funnel and some councillors is that what is good for RF is good for the island. This may be true to some extent as we are an island and therefore rely on the ferries. However this should not give RF carte blanche to do as they please. They are a private company whose primary (sole?) Interest is profit. The… Read more »
Tanja Rebel
The Red Funnel Application must be opposed with all its might util Red Funnel comes up with a plan that is beneficial to residents, the environment and the Island as a whole. My suggestion to Red Funnel is that they return to the drawing-board, devise a new plan – in congruence with local residents’ and local businesses’ wishes and – and put it out to Public Consultation… Read more »
Tanja Rebel
Once again, I kindly urge Red Funnel to listen to residents and businesses in East-Cowes! Together you can come up with a plan that will be far more satisfactory for everyone. The round-the-table approach might be more laborious and take a bit longer, but it will lead to far better results for all involved. If not else, it will make it so Red Funnel remains welcome on… Read more »
Tanja Rebel
The talk about a new link can be debated for a long time to come. However, right now it is over-shadowing an imminent threat: The blatant land grab by Red Funnel against the will of local residents and businesses. Lets solve that problem FIRST! And no, a fixed link will not solve this issue as it is a long way in the future – if it ever… Read more »
I read with total disbelief Luisa Hillard’s fairytale interpretation of what her duties are as an Isle of Wight Councillor. She appears to understand neither the basic tenet of being an elected representative or the Planning process. Her letter suggests that the Planning Committee must always abide by the views expressed in the Planning Officer’s report and whatever that report says ‘goes’, whereas the whole point of… Read more »
Luisa Hillard
@Brutus You clearly appear to have misunderstood and misrepresented me on every issue. I shall be stating my position regarding approval/rejection at the Planning Committee – something that I will not state now as it has no benefit except to put me in a position of predetermination. I have consistently represented the businesses and Dover Road residents to both the Executive and to Planning officers. I have… Read more »
Geoff Lumley

Luisa. As you are not a member of the Planning Committee and Julia will not be taking part in the decision, neither of you are bound by pre-determination. Your residents deserve to know where you both stand on this. Just as my residents always knew where I stood on Pan Meadows and Asda well before I addressed the Planning Committee.

Black Dog

Your last paragraph says it all. Just following orders??? Councillor.

I always get suspicious when I read letters like yours. Councillor Lumley is right, time to let your electorate know where you stand For or Against? Quite Simple

Black Dog

Very well put Brutus. I agree with everything you have said.

One might also remember that “In December the Leader of the Isle of Wight Council said in a public meeting that Officers were to receive training in Neighbourhood Plans when Towns and Parishes that have worked and adopted plans have been using them in commenting on planning applications correctly. Officers have been ignoring them.” How much confidence can we have in recent planning decisions (or those councillors… Read more »
@Luisa. ‘Contrary to common believe an Isle of Wight Councillor has to act in the best interests of the Island, not their own wards, although of course we make sure that our constituents are represented.’ Surely, you and Julia Baker-Smith are the only representatives East Cowes has? Julia Baker-Smith in her role as Chair of the Planning Committee has to remain impartial so can be discounted. I… Read more »
Luisa Hillard
@sandancer Julia Baker-Smith will be speaking as a ward member on this issue, the same as myself, and will therefore not be chairing the committee for this agenda item. I tried to put forward a factual, balanced and impartial view, neither for or against the planning application. I was trying to explain the wider context. What is good for East Cowes will be good for the Island.… Read more »
The shape of things to come in the RF application if the Indies follow the Fareham Tories example? “Landowners will be forced to sell hundreds of acres of land so work on a major housing development in Hampshire can begin, a council has agreed. Up to 6,000 new homes are planned on 1,000 acres (400 hectares) of land close to the M27 in Welborne, Fareham. The borough… Read more »
Red Funnel Rebel
East-Cowes is a charming place To live there is totally ace That is why it’s a blooming disgrace Red Funnel wants to level the place Lived-in houses, a charming pub Where you can get some welcome grub Are making way for a marshalling yard Who cares at all if it hits them hard? Not Red Funnel it seems to be It’s almost as if they do it… Read more »