Sorbon Estates who own the pontoons which are blocking the Friday Street slipway have finally confirmed that contractors have been appointed to remove their pontoons at the start of April subject to river conditions and the work should just take 1 week.
Resident Mark Rowberry, The Henley Society and the River Thames Society have been campaigning to get the slipway open again for the last couple of years. In December a Freedom of Information request was made to the Environment Agency (EA) to ask for information on their discussions with Sorbon and a complaint was made to the Ombudsman against the EA. The FoI request was passed on to the Information Commissioner Officer after no response was received from the EA.
Last week the EA finally responded stating, “I regret to inform you that we will not be conducting an investigation into the matter at this time. This is due to the fact that the contents of the negotiations with Sorbon Estates contain information related to without prejudice conversations, which are protected under legal privilege. As a government body, we are bound by legal and ethical considerations when it comes to handling such information. There were a number of verbal conversations and face to face meetings for which we have no documented minutes. The email correspondence between Sorbon Estates and the Environment Agency regarding Friday Street Slipway Henley-on Thames were without prejudice and fall under legal privilege.”
Planning permission for the pontoons was given in 2011 to replace the old moorings and increase the number of moorings from 14 to 16. At the time the EA made no objections to the planning application. Sorbon filled in the slipway with concrete in the summer of 2020 and the Town Council had to remove it in December 2021 after repeatedly asking Sorbon to carry out the work. The Council billed Sorbon for the work.
Katherine Croom, Managing Director of Sorbon Estates, commented, “We have been in discussion with the Environment Agency whilst we assess the best solution for the watering hole and how it can be reinstated in the least impactful way. Whilst we are naturally disappointed to lose a section of the pontoon, we are respectful of the role the Environment Agency plays in protecting and improving the river and will always work in collaboration with them.”
John Dutson of the Environment Agency added, “It has been a pleasure to work with Katherine and Sorbon Estates team to agree the reinstatement of the Friday Street slipway.”
Mark Rowberry said, “Let’s hope that all parties now keep to their word and the slipway will open ready for small boat owners and paddleboarders to use the slip way this summer.”