A fine catch of controversy

A fine catch of controversy

John Wall, dealmaker and investor, has always undertaken voluntary work. He now supports young people and, controversially, a fishing community.

In his support for the young people, John Wall, past chairman and president of Northumberland Lawn Tennis Association now chairs a North East development committee of The Princes Trust. This helps up to 3,500 young people a year into jobs or business in this region alone.

In Prince Charles’s currently financially stretched charity activities, the trust shows a £2.6m excess of expenditure over income. More income from the private sector will be vital. Wall is also secretary of Beadnell Harbour Fishermen’s Society, caught up in a planning row over its wish to have three high-price homes built beside the shore there. Sir John Craster, who championed rural and coastal livelihoods, gave the fishermen of supported the harbour in other ways.

On receiving a lifetime recognition recently in the North East Accountancy Awards, Wall admitted at the presentation he’d never actually worked as an accountant, though qualified.

“I’m good at interpreting accounts and forecasting from them,” he explains. Subsequently, however, he was asked to be secretary of the society and to look after its accounts. The books have only about 10 entries in and 10 out a year and Wall quickly foresaw recurring crisis. Commercial fishing there has slumped, with white fish virtually extinct and most catches now crab and lobster. The village economy rests today on tourism and the fishing of six families operating three boats and two cobles.

picturesque Beadnell the 18th century harbour in 1951, expecting it to be maintained.

It’s the only west-facing harbour on the entire east coast, so it easily silts up and dredging is costly. When the harbour wall collapsed 10 years ago villagers fundraised – but £300,000 was needed. Wall, a permanent resident of Beadnell for many years, wasn’t into coffee mornings but said he’d try to help. He discovered a government grant of up to 80% could be had for shoreline protection and through the county council he learned match funding from Europe was also available if another 20% could be found. In the end, the harbour was restored by 100% grant funding.

The £30,000 that locals raised.

“A hardy breed, fascinating people whose lifestyle goes back generations,” Wall says. Three years ago, with harbour dues from catches scant, WalI tackled the problem. The society’s few assets include some land Sir John also donated.

Through a development partner now, the society wishes to sell this as sites for the three controversial homes. Wall says: “All money from the land sales would go into the society, a charitable trust, which could forever then look after the harbour.

My vision, being a financier, has been to get enough now to create the necessary investment stream. We could pay future dues, dredge and insure. If the harbour silts up it cannot be used as a working harbour, nor can we allow public access to the piers because we need public liability insurance.” Fishermen and holiday visitors would then be penalised, he argues.

But a Save Beadnell Association of 40 or so members claims the housing development would be “misplaced” and, like the parish council, opposes it. Wall contends families who’ve lived in Beadnell for generations – fishing folk and others – back his society, and that many opponents are “part-time” villagers from the 70% or so of second homes there.

Altogether 400 local people and 2,000 visitors have signed an objecting petition, according to James Williamson, a leading campaigner.

The association has said it would buy and maintain the harbour to avoid the development, but the rival society claims no plan of purchase has been put forward, so no guarantee for the harbour exists.

Partners of the society in its proposal include developer Countrylife Homes, architects idPartnership, and law firm Dickinson Dees, for whom Wall acts as consultant on strategy and development.

There is further controversy in this normally dormant coastal village, stemming from an unrelated planning application to the county council by the Duke of Northumberland through his estates office. He wishes to build a holiday complex of 40 homes for short-term lets and a watersports and visitor centre, recreational facilities, and a car and boat park on farmland beside Beadnell Bay. This has been passed amid numerous objections. On November 4, the county planning committee considers the fishermen’s ambition.