The Whitstable Beach Campaign’s most recent initiative is an application to secure Town Green status for a large part of Whitstable beach extending from Reeves Beach to Seasalter. In this initiative we are supported by the Whitstable Society. Our primary concern is to ensure access to the beach in perpetuity. At present this access could be denied by the private land-owners (or future land-owners) of the beach. This is evidenced by the recent signage warning the public that there is no right of way seaward from the footpath.
Although privately owned, Whitstable beach is wholly maintained from the public purse at the cost of millions of pounds including the sea defence works (the most recent taking place in 2006/7 at a cost of £7M), the replenishment of the shingle, the replacement of the groynes and even cleaning. We believe that public access to it should be a right, not a favour.
The recent tightening up of Town & Village Green legislation means that this might be the last opportunity to apply for Village Green status for the beach so the support of the town residents is of great help to the campaign. The deadline for evidence forms has now passed but we have collected over 400 witness statements from within the parish of Whitstable from people who have used the beach during the 20-year period from 1992 to 2012.
Applications have previously been made by veteran campaigner Anne Wilkes (with the support of the Whitstable Society) in 1968 and 2002 and she successfully claimed Village Green status for some sections of the beach, but not for all of it. The current application land stretches from Daniel’s Court to Reeves Beach and includes West Beach.
The Public Inquiry for the Whitstable Beach Campaign’s application to register Whitstable beach as a Town Village Green continues at The Marine Hotel, Marine Parade, Tankerton, Whitstable, CT5 2BE starting at 10am on 3rd October for 3 days: Monday 3rd, Tuesday 4th and Wednesday 5th and then continues the following Monday 10th for 3 further days; Monday 10th, Tuesday 11th and concludes Wednesday 12th.
The Beach Campaign applied to register the beach in September 2013 after Whitstable Oyster Fishery Company (WOFC) notices appeared on many of the Groynes near the High Water mark saying: ‘PRIVATE LAND, DO NOT TAKE SHELLFISH, NO RIGHT OF WAY SEAWARD’. The Campaign was very concerned that these notices posed a serious threat to people’s use of the beach. They effectively warn that no-one has the right to go beyond the position of the notice and therefore access to the sea for swimming or paddling etc, is private and out of bounds.
The Inquiry has so far heard evidence from 13 witnesses including Councillor Ashley Clark in support of the application and witnesses from Canterbury City Council (CCC).
Canterbury City Council are objecting on sea defence grounds but strongly support the Beach Campaign’s case that a “natural right” exists for people to access the beach and both the Beach Campaign and the Council have produced evidence that the beach has been used for recreational purposes from about 1738, when a news article referred to the first bathing machines.
CCC barrister, Mr Wilmhurst, argued that in more recent times the beach has effectively been under the control of the local authority as the beach defences are wholly maintained by CCC at taxpayer’s expense, as is the beach cleaning, safety and information signs and all the foreshore services. CCC also supports the events that take place on the beach; the Biennale etc, and the beach is also insured by CCC. So it is understandable that members of the public believe that the Council, not the WOFC, owns the beach.
When the Inquiry resumes in October the first three days will be the Beach Campaign presenting its last witnesses and then James Green of the Whitstable Oyster Fishery Company will give evidence in objection to the application.
One of Mr Green’s main objections is that a Town Village Green would prevent the WOFC from developing their oyster business. Mr Green states that in order to expand their business they need to construct ‘Agricultural sheds on the beach’. They also intend to build an ‘education centre’ on the beach to ‘educate young people and others about the oyster fishery as a way of promoting its oyster fishery business and this would require building on the beach.’
The Beach Campaign have submitted evidence which shows that industrial premises on the East Quay owned by the WOFC and previously used for grading oysters and also incofporating an education centre were granted change of use following an application by WOFC. The premises now operate as a restaurant, late night music venue and bar.
Canterbury City Council are also submitting a new statement to the Inquiry from the planning department. It details numerous international, national, local designations and policies that combine to protect Whitstable beach and ensure that inappropriate development does not take place. According to the Council, Whitstable beach is now classed a Flood Zone 3b, the highest category as defined by the Environment Agency. It is therefore considered a functional flood plain and therefore ‘no development will be permitted unless exceptional justification can be demonstrated’.
The last three days of the inquiry have been set aside for legal representations from CCC barrister, Mr Wilmhurst, QC Vivian Chapman representing the WOFC and lastly George Laurence QC representing the Whitstable Beach Campaign. The Beach Campaign also receive enormous legal support from Solicitor Elaine Sherratt and students at Kent Law Clinic.
The Whitstable Beach Campaign would like to encourage everyone to support us at this important inquiry. Never before have the people of Whitstable been denied access to their beach, access has always been free and unrestricted throughout the Town’s history. Public funds have created our current beach, public funds maintain, repair, clean and insure it. Any attempt to deny access must be prevented. Town Village Green status is the best way to secure access now and for future generations.