The Henley Society and the River Thames Society are campaigning for two of the pontoons that were installed in 2011 by Sorb0n Estates to be removed from across the Friday Street slipway so that small boats can be launched from there. They now have the support of John Howell, Henley’s MP and Chair of the River Thames All Party Parliamentary Group.
In 2011 the SODC Planning Officer, SODC Conservation Officer, Henley Town Council or the Environment Agency objected to the new moorings which replaced old rotten wooden ones but instead of fifteen jetties, the planning application was for sixteen. A spokesperson for the River Thames Society said, “SODC have no excuse for failing to notice this at the time. They were asleep on the job and should never have granted this planning application.”
John Howell MP wrote to Sir James Bevan, CEO of the Environment Agency saying: “A developer, Sorbon Estates, bought some moorings a few years ago, which run parallel to the riparian bank partly opposite to the entrance to the Friday Street slipway. This company applied for planning permission from South Oxfordshire District Council for new improved floating pontoons to provide access to its customers’ boats; and it also applied to the Environment Agency for the necessary accommodation licence.
“Regrettably neither SODC nor the EA noticed that, unlike the previous owner’s floating pontoons which had always left a gap opposite the Friday Street slipway, Sorbon Estates’ new floating pontoons were planned as a continuous line, thus blocking off the access to and from the slipway. Sorbon Estates do not own the land of the slipway nor the river-bed leading to the centre of the river.”
John received a response from Emma Hill, Acting Area Director – Thames from the Environment Agency, “We are aware of the ongoing frustration of your constituents in Henley over the lack of access to the Friday Street Slipway. We have also had recent correspondence with Henley residents and Sorbon Estates. The team that manages the accommodations on the non-tidal Thames continues to be short-staffed and is having to prioritise their workload. We are in the process of recruiting and will of course progress this matter with the pontoon owner. Once a resource has been established, we will determine all the historical actions that led to the current pontoon configuration and work with the owner to address the local community’s concerns.”
Chair of Henley Society Geoff Luckett said, “We think it is important to get this long-standing public amenity back into use for the benefit of Henley residents and visitors too. Henley Town Council’s initiative in getting the concrete removed is to be applauded but we now wish to see the offending pontoon removed so that boat users can get their craft into the water. We will continue to badger the Environment Agency to get a resolution.”
Sorbon Estates concreted the Friday Slipway in without permission in August 2020. Henley Town Council had it finally removed in December 2021 and sent the bill to the Sorbon Estates for payment.