Friday, 22 March 2013

Tender Proposal - update

Following my newsletter yesterday, a vein was struck and an outpouring of emotion was heaped upon the council via many emails. And I have to say that some of you are terrifically eloquent. I muddle through with a limited skill set, but you guys?! Passion flowed through your finger tips as you too felt compelled to challenge a council proposal that threatens the place that you so obviously feel ownership of. For sure, what's very clear, is that your vision of Polzeath, is a long way from that of the council. 

Anyway, following your efforts, it seems only appropriate that I give you an update, keep you in the loop as it were. Well I can report that the very latest news is that, erm, there is none! Nope, no word from Council Villas. In fact, returned e-mails even suggest that the decision makers are on holiday until the 2nd April, a date that conveniently falls after the bids are to be submitted! That's a bit disappointing - I had some more questions. I did manage to contact one of main men by phone earlier today, but it was his day off and he wouldn't discuss it. If I had hair, I'd pull it out, so I'm grinding my teeth. Grrrrrrr. 

Alongside the letters cc'd to me were offers of free assistance from procurement experts and lawyers; other councils; and plentiful coverage in national and local media. To all of whom we say thank you very much (I will respond to every e-mail I've received with a personal reply - if you've written but haven't sent me a copy, I'd be grateful if you would). But the thing is this. We don't want a legal battle; nor be on the front page of the papers; nor headline a radio news bulletin. Our business has been built on reputation alone, we like to do things word of mouth. We run a surf school and live a beach lifestyle. And all we want to do is to able to continue our business established 18 years ago, under the guidance of a competent council who's opinion and actions we trust. In a council that embarks in dialogue and consultation with those with experience.

What's absolutely clear from your comments is that what you want is a safe beach to enjoy - and it's up to us as the activity providor to work with the land owners to ensure that happens. Wouldn't it be great if the council put the tender process on hold for a moment and took some time out to consider all the points you've made. If you've written, thank you for taking the time. If you haven't, but you'd still like your view to be considered, please write to - and copy to

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Council policy threatens Polzeath safety

Hm, where do I start? Normally, as you well know, my heart is full to the brim of goodwill and my soul energised by the constant swish swash of a restless ocean in my lug holes and the fragrant waft of a salty sea breeze up me nostrils. Over the past week however, both myself and Janey have been a touch despondent. "Oh why, Petey? Wherefore art thy sadness cometh hence?" (yep still reading those Bronte sisters!). It's good of you to ask. Thanks.

To cut a long story short, an e-mail arrived from the Cornwall County Council, informing us that our spot in the beach car park is to go to tender and that by the 29th March our bid should be in! So that's three short weeks notice - to prepare a business plan for a seven year tenure! Why so last minute? The last time our patch went to tender was six years ago, but that followed lots of consultation and heads up. It grates a little bit that before we arrived in 1995, it was just a patch of sand with zero value. We got our heads down worked hard and made something of that patch of sand and now not only do we have the pleasure of parting with £20,000 each year to park there, but every now and then we have the privilege of bidding for our own business. It is what it is and we get on with it. The timing and timescale is, how shall I put this nicely..... mildly inconsiderate on the basis that this will be our 19th year, our contribution to the local community is legendary and there's much to do at this time, but as I say, hey ho.

But it's not this part of the e-mail that has affected our general joie de vivre (oui je parle francais, et mon petit lapin s'est cache dans le jardin ... repetez. Mum and Dad please note that school wasn't a complete waste of time!). No, there was a little surprise. Actually a big surprise. Not like a jack in the box surprise, more of a fundamental.... oh my god (sorry, omg if you're under 16). The tender isn't for one surf school, but for two. The second to be sited only a few yards from us, slap bang in between the exit and the entrance of the beach car park! I had to read it again. And again. I've read it more agains.... sometimes scratching my forehead, othertimes whilst banging it against hard objects like my man shed, the bedroom wall or fridge door. I say fundamental, because this is completely and utterly butterly in contradiction to what we, the council, and the RNLI have worked towards for the past 10 years.

"So what's the problem big Pete?" Simples. Two main areas. Firstly, for the past six years, because of the over crowding in the surf, we've been restricted by the council. As in, the number of participants that we could teach was restricted at certain times of day and certain tide heights, sometimes up to 75% on previous years. For any business that's a massive hit, but we've always viewed our business as long term, so we worked with it and around it, encouraging our clients to have lessons at alternative times. Times that to be honest suited both parties as it was quieter. Our maximum participant numbers were also restricted to conform with a mathematical formula devised after some considerable head scratching by Prof Green at Edinburgh University and not insignificant handing over of green backs by the council. (Don't ask if he's the same one who was found in the Ballroom with a candlestick, because that would make you look silly,you're thinking of Rev. Green. And in anycase, we all know it was Mrs. Peacock in the kitchen with some lead piping. Someone bit one of her sponge fingers apparently!). Years and years of consultation between us, the council, the RNLI and other surf schools to ensure that there was a happy balance between commercial beach activity and safety took place. It was a huge, massive issue. Ensuring the beach was firstly, safe, and secondly had a reputation of being safe was of paramount importance to all stake holders - beach users, shop owners, local residents, caravan parks owners, cafes etc. And last year, after all those years and years, for the first time I think we can all stand proud and tall and say that it was the best year ever. Peace and harmony abounded. They was joy from all four corners of Polzeath, or Hayle Bay as it's historically known and locals like to refer to it.

So what this new tender for a second surf school (the third at Polzeath) represents... is a complete reversal of policy. A complete disregard of all the really good, conscientious and well meaning work that was done. The tender document is very interesting. Gone is the emphasis on safety. The previous tender document listed two pages of safety criteria that our operation would need to fulfill. It set the tone right from the off. The new one stresses that the height and weight of the new stack of cash will be the main priority. I quote, 'the tender sum will be the key criteria.' Wow, what a statement!! Makes you want to weep. And we surely will, when the reputation of Polzeath as a safe beach will flow away like an ebbing tide. And it's not for a trial period, give it a year and see how it goes. It's for the next seven years.

As for the second area, well I'd question the reason for siting a second operation right slap bang in the middle of the entrance and exit and the chaos and HSE risks that the council are encouraging by doing so. On many occasions we've enjoyed visits from excited councillors on a day out, swarming around our trailer like japanese tourists armed with cameras and clip boards, noting our NOP in helping our clients negotiate the car park exit safely. The proposed new site is on a completely different level. If our location represents a feet first leap off the 1m springy board, the new one represents diving off the 10m fixed board in the handstand position ie. there's a good chance someone's going to get hurt and I wouldn't want to be the first to give it a go. But to be honest, the first problem area I mentioned before, is so much bigger, that I can't really get excited about this second one. It's such a non starter.  But as a bankrupt once told me, "If you're going to go down at all, you might as well go down big!"Seems this path is destined for our beach under the guidance of the current leadership of this council department.

The tender document states that the 'Cornwall Council holds a Duty of Care to those who use the beach that they own / lease.' I understand that the council needs to raise money, I get that. But what we're not talking about here is a burger van. This is something far more sensitive, far more relevant, far more fundamental. It's about you, your children and family members enjoying a safe surfing environment and having confidence that the beach is being managed by a department focused purely on the basis of ensuring best practice regarding beach safety, rather than one of pursuing revenue collection. I've run Surf's Up! for 18 years and have been at the forefront of improving and promoting beach safety throughout this time and it pains me to say that I have no confidence in a council that chooses and is happy to acknowledge putting profit before safety, and neither should you. The new change in council policy scares me. It takes me back to 1995 when we first drove on to the beach car park with our Honda Civic pulling a small trailer. Haven't we learnt anything? Weren't the restrictions put in place for good reason? The 180 degree shift in policy sets a precedent, not just at Polzeath but throughout the county. It's a watershed moment for our beaches. And that should scare you too. For the council to advertise for a new surf school to open and operate on a beach where the current surf schools presently restrict trade is beyond reason and dangerous. 

So what's the reality? Polzeath Beach will go from two restricted surf schools that work together, to three surf schools going head to head without restrictions. And it'll get worse each year for the next seven. With high licence fees, the winning bidders will have to trade at good levels just to keep heads above water (no pun intended!). Expect more flags, more trailers, more congestion, more bodies carrying boards through the car park, and touting of lessons to holiday makers. Surf wars will be inevitable. Polzeath will resemble a permanent competition zone and have the feel of a time share resort. And that's just the top of the beach. At the water's edge and in the surf, a rainbow of 200 - 300 lycra vested eager participants fighting for a wave or a piece of sand to receive instruction. Casual surfers should head elsewhere, I know I would. And I'd take my two boys with me. There's absolutely no way that the RNLI who lifeguard the beach would support this.

Okay deep breath. I know, it's been a while since I've lead the troops into battle. But this cause is a valid one if you love Polzeath beach as we do. We're not bothered about competition. Competition was the best thing that happened to us, we were forced to raise our game a few years ago and off the back of it, good things happened. Competition gets you up in the morning, helps the focus. No, this is about safeguarding the beach and establishing a fundamental understanding between you, the tax payer and those who are employed on your behalf, the decision makers at the council, that financial gain should never be put above safety.

So what can you do? Write today to - I'd copy it to Let them know your views. This is your opportunity and potentially the last one you'll get until 2020. I'd encourage them to put the current tender process on hold, to take stock, to consult. I'd question why beach safety is no longer the priority and that 'the tender sum will be the key criteria.' For something so big, this feels like it's being rushed through and not enough thought has gone into it. 

Thanks for taking the time to read this. I hope this is important enough for you to take a bit more time out to make your view known. Perhaps forward this letter to friends, if they love Polzeath, they too may wish to make comment. Polzeath's reputation is that of a safe surfing beach suitable for families. It's the flagship of Cornwall. Let's keep it that way. 

Pete (Surf's Up founder - 20 years standing waist deep teaching in moving water)