Looking for John Shaw? Expect a visit from the police…

July 9, 2015 by combehavendefenders

Hollington Valley, Oct 2014

Hollington Valley as it was before SeaChange arrived

This is an account from Emily Johns of Combe Haven Defenders.  It should be explained that we have tried multiple times to talk to or meet with SeaChange in order to ask some questions about their use of public money and destruction of green spaces.  They don’t answer our emails or letters or return our calls.  Nobody is ever available to speak to us.  The CEO, John Shaw, is rarely seen in public.  When SeaChange held a ‘consultation’ last week about their next new road, there was nobody from SeaChange present.  This is a company which is funded entirely from public funds: should we as the public not be able to hold it accountable?

Earlier this year I spent my days in Hollington Valley watching the felling of hundreds of trees. The people who came and stood in the valley were quite powerless to stop the chainsawing. The week before, Gabriel Carlyle had put in a legal challenge to the planning permission for the Queensway Gateway road, that allowed the destruction of the woods and meadows of a designated nature reserve.

Shortly after the council’s lawyers – and SeaChange – received notice of the legal challenge, the nature reserve was removed. Not quite every single tree. Two were left: a massive holm oak and an ash facing each other across the valley. These two contain nesting bats – when the bats are gone these two are marked for the saw [note: SeaChange have agreed not to fell these trees for the time being following protests and interventions by a lawyer].

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Emily in front of the holm oak, the last tree standing in the west of the valley

The spring that rises at the head of the valley next to the badger setts had diesel poured into it on the first day of felling. I phoned Hastings environment department and informed them. The next day I phoned Hastings environment department again as nothing had been done and the diesel had flowed down the stream. Still no action was taken so I phoned the environment agency at 9.30pm. They took the contamination of a water source seriously and laid mats the next day to soak up the diesel. The algaes and liverworts are dead and there are now oil rainbows on the water working their way down to the wooded gill.

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Oil in the spring

I have been drawing the Hollington Valley over the past weeks. Sitting and listening and looking. I heard the woman who lives in a cottage in the wood who woke to find the wood gone. She was distressed and displaced. I listened to the dog walkers of Baldslow: their outrage that their bluebell woods and rabbity meadows have been destroyed so wantonly. I listened in the dawn chorus to a man stunned by the loss of his childhood roaming lands who remembered trying to stop the green tunnelled track of Baldslow Lane from being bulldozed to make a road when he was seven by climbing into a thorn tree.

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The big oak, now gone

I listened to residents from Emmaus who had used the nature reserve as their back garden – a place to take new arrivals, a place to calm and earth people who have lost everything and need a good safe place to start growing again. This is the sitting room for residents who work hard all day for £35 a week, and in the evening have the good things that can be had on that wage of companionship and a beer around a campfire in a bluebell wood with the evening chorus all around.

The day that Seachange felled the last of the trees I sat and looked and drew the stumps of an ecosystem that had not just been made up of plants and birds and mammals and reptiles but of human communities too. I talked to someone that day who said: John Shaw, head of Seachange, lives just over there, in spitting distance of Hollington Valley. I went to look for John Shaw.

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The big oak after SeaChange

In all the destruction of Combe Haven and the wild sites to the north and west of St Leonards I have never had the opportunity to talk to John Shaw. His company receives public money, our taxes, his company receives our land (the promenade to build Azur), his company profits from the empty projects that have gone into receivership such as Lacuna Place in the middle of Hastings, but I his client cannot meet him. So I thought, here at Baldslow where John Shaw is a member of the community and part of this ecosystem we should be able to talk. I wanted to let him know that I was very sad that day. I thought maybe I would tell him about the people I had heard talking in the valley.

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John Shaw, CEO of SeaChange, receiving an honorary degree in Law from the University of Brighton for ‘significant contribution to improving the local economy’

Well, I couldn’t find John Shaw.  I knocked on a door and the woman who answered said he didn’t live there and that I shouldn’t be asking for him.

A few days later I was visited by two huge policemen in stab proof vests who sat in my front room to give heavily reiterated “friendly advice” that on no account must I look for John Shaw.

On discussing with these men in my house how we could possibly have an accountable public expenditure and planning system when there are no opportunities for communicating with the companies we are employing, they recommended that I arrange a meeting by email.  I told them we had tried to contact him many times, and he didn’t respond.  But I emailed him anyway, requesting this meeting, and am waiting yet.

In subsequent weeks before the General Election numerous people whom I didn’t know came to my door to talk about politics and community and accountability. This is called the democratic system, an honourable process of communication and calling to account, of respectful speaking face-to-face. Why is John Shaw exempted from this dialogue? If I asked them to, would Hastings police have hunted down a Tory canvasser who had knocked at my door?  I wonder.

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