In the late 1980s Jonathan Peel expressed concern about the deteriorating state of the yard and suggested that a group from the Norfolk Punt Club should consider trying to save the yard to avoid it either becoming beyond repair, or falling into the ownership of a hire boat fleet.
The history of Cox’s Boatyard from 1995
I spoke to Steve Rose, who was running the yard, and said that when he was considering retirement would he please let me know, as I might be able to see a way I could help him.
In 1995 Steve told me he was not in good health and asked me if I was serious in the comment I had made. By fortunate coincidence, I knew I would be retiring as Senior Partner of a leading firm of Norwich accountants that autumn and pursued the matter. I approached various members of the Norfolk Punt Club and others and put together a Consortium of eight individuals who were prepared to invest and try and save the yard. I emphasised that I was not confident that the yard could be saved and they must be prepared to lose all their money. I refused to allow anyone who would find this a hardship to join the Consortium. We further agreed that the Consortium members should be charged by the yard on exactly the same commercial terms as every other customer.
I did the due diligence work with a Norwich solicitor pro bona. It was clear that Cox’s Boatyard Limited was insolvent. It did, however, have a corporate lease from the Cox family and we negotiated a fresh, longer lease prior to taking over the company and running the yard for £1.
When we took over the yard, there was almost no work for the employees and the moorings were half full. There was very little quay heading, the wood above the bank walkways was rotten and dangerous, and the banks were uneven with many holes. The yard generally was a health and safety hazard and we were faced with many potential difficulties.
I was joined by Mike Evans and Tom Harmer as Directors and we formed a good team as Mike had a lot of marketing experience and Tom is an excellent boat builder and engineer. We recruited Eric Bishop as Manager from R. Moore & Sons of Wroxham, and set about restoring the yard. We developed a pile driver on a raft and that first winter we all spent many hours quay heading part of the yard. The following winter we did the same and also worked on the road and car park.
We were always conscious that the buildings were deteriorating and those at the entrance to the yard were an embarrassment. However, because we held the yard on a lease rather than as a freehold we considered that the reconstruction of the infrastructure should be the responsibility of the landlord – the Cox family. We asked the Cox Trustees to join with us in remodelling the yard and initially rebuilding the disgraceful toilets, but they were not prepared to do so. We decided that if we were to inject significant funds from retained profits into the infrastructure, then long term the Cox family rather than Cox’s Boatyard Limited would benefit. In 2004 we therefore negotiated with the Cox Trustees the purchase of the freehold of the yard with a 21-year loan from them.
Once we held the freehold, we developed the new toilet block. We approached North Norfolk District Council and the Broads Authority to join with us in the development, provided they would contribute to running costs so that the toilets could be open to the public, but they were not willing to contribute. Accordingly, we built the toilet block from retained profits and it is only available to berth-holders.
The next stage is to modernise the buildings so that they are suitable for a boatyard in the 21st century. We have had long consultations with the Broads Authority planners and our advisers, and the Broads Authority Planning Committee approved our plans in June 2011.
David Adler – Chairman Cox’s Boatyard Limited