Oyster Trestle Development

Whitstable Trestle Development 

Public Inquiry started 26th July 2021 and has now finished.

Whitstable Beach Campaign is objecting to the oyster trestle development on the following grounds: 

  • Industrial farming of Pacific Oysters by Whitstable Oyster Fishery Company on the trestles on Whitstable foreshore is a new introduction. It is not part of Whitstable’s oyster heritage that is fishing for native oysters out at sea.  
  • The Pacific Oyster is an invasive non-native species and shouldn’t be grown in a nationally and internationally recognised environmentally sensitive area without any environmental assessment. See More…
  • Serious safety concerns created by the vast array of metal trestles and poles have been ignored, affecting recreational water users – swimmers, families, sailors, paddle boarders. 164 members of the public reported incidents in a survey in early 2020. See more..
  • Razor sharp Pacific Oyster shells are starting to appear on our beach and pose a danger to people using the beach. In other places, like Brightlingsea in Essex, the beach became unusable for leisure due to pacific oysters colonising the beach. See more…
  • Expansion continues today despite 3 years of an on-going planning enforcement appeal and with no permission in place. Whitstable Oyster Fishery Company has plans to continue expansion eastwards across the foreshore and beach to the harbour. See more
  • Whitstable Oyster Fishery Company threatened in the press that the council tax payer will foot their legal costs if they successfully win their appeal. See more…
  • Private profits at the expense of the town and our environmentally important habitat. Whitstable Oyster Fishery Company claimed in 2019 that 80% of their oysters are exported. 20 tons of oysters were exported to Hong Kong in May 2021. See more…

How you can support this campaign is below. 

DCIM100MEDIADJI_0055.JPG

The presence of oyster trestles on the Whitstable foreshore is a wholly modern construction. Whitstable Beach Campaign objects to this industrial scale development on multiple grounds.

The trestles are used to cultivate an invasive non-native species called the pacific oyster (also rebranded as the ‘rock oyster’) which is distinct from the local native Whitstable oyster upon which Whitstable’s historic reputation as an oyster producer was built. Native oysters exist exclusively on sub tidal oyster beds far offshore. 

A tiny number of what we believe were ‘test’ trestles first appeared in 2010. In 2016 Whitstable Oyster Fishery Company (WOFC) started on a significant programme of growth. It erected the current oyster trestle development, growing it rapidly to 30 times its original size without any planning permission.  In 2017 Canterbury City Council asked WOFC to apply for permission, but in 2018 they chose instead to apply for a Certificate of Lawful Existing Use or Development (CLEUD). CLEUD can be applied for if a development has been in situ unchanged for 4 years or more without any objections from the local planning authority.  WOFC claimed the oyster development had existed for over 4 years however the CLUED application was refused by Canterbury City Council and WOFC appealed the decision.  This appeal is being heard in July this year by an Inspector appointed by the Secretary of State.

WOFC have also been clear about their plans to continue to grow the oyster trestle farm across the foreshore and beach. James Green, Managing Director of WOFC, in  an interview with Global Aquaculture Alliance said  ‘This year, the Whitstable Oyster Fishery Co. will produce around 100 metric tons (MT) of oysters, which will equate to around 1 million shells. In 2019, the harvest is expected to triple to 300 MT. Green’s ambition is to continue the growth, reaching 500 to 600 MT within five years.’ https://www.aquaculturealliance.org/advocate/aquaculture-put-oysters-back-in-oyster-town/

In May 2021, WOFC refused the extension of the current Whitstable Yacht Club lease saying that they are planning on extending the oyster trestles eastward to the harbour. They have also submitted plans to construct a large shed right on the beach adjacent to the RNLI station to facilitate oyster processing. 

By pursuing the CLEUD route, the Company cleverly avoided the normal public consultation process that a planning application would provide.  We think this is wholly undemocratic and means that any concerns the public have about the development cannot be heard without making a formal application to take part in the Public Inquiry.  Despite the CLEUD process not allowing for public consultation, in 2018 232 members of the public, 8 local and environmental organisations including Kent Wildlife Trust and RSPB, wrote to Canterbury City Council and objected to the development. 

By using the CLEUD process, as well as circumventing public consultation, WOFC were also able to avoid any of the environmental assessments that would be required for any planning application in an environmentally protected area like Whitstable beach. These assessments should have been carried out before any development of the site under the Habitat Regulations. 

WOFC were able to delay the appeal last July arguing they needed to gather more environmental evidence to support their case. So from 2018, when WOFC’s CLUED application was refused and their appeal was lodged, the farm has continued to grow exponentially. It has increased in size by three fold, without permission, and we understand it is now the largest oyster development in the UK covering over 15 hectares of the foreshore.

The Company has recently issued threats in the press stating they will be seeking to reclaim its £800,000 costs from the Council and those who “have helped pursue the enforcement action” i.e. the Whitstable Beach Campaign.  However, Canterbury City Council Planning Department are simply carrying out their statutory duty and the Whitstable Beach Campaign have a legitimate democratic voice as ‘Rule 6’ participants in a process that the WOFC chose to follow. 

It should also be noted that the WOFC have now dropped their request for CLEUD and the appeal has become a retrospective planning application. 

We are campaigning against this development for 2 main reasons: loss of amenity and public safety concerns resulting from this, and for environmental reasons.

Loss of amenity and public safety.

The sea area the development increasingly occupies is an area that has been used for water sports and leisure for literally hundreds of years (the first bathing machines were advertised in Whitstable in the 1800’s).  In recent years the appeal of Whitstable as a seaside resort has increased and brought prosperity to the Town.  

Incidents and accidents involving people either swimming, sailing, paddle boarding etc and coming into contact with the trestle have increased as the development has grown. We carried out a survey in early 2020 and one of the questions asked about accidents/incidents involving the trestles. 306 people completed the survey, 164 people reported incidents and accidents involving the trestles and 148 of those gave details.  This is in addition to incidents reported at Whitstable yacht Club, incidents reported to us by windsurfers and we worry many others go unreported. 

Our concern is how can such a hazardous development of this nature be built slap bang in the middle of a seaside resort? All other developments of this type are situated in remote areas. 

Environmental damage.

Our other very important concern is the damage being caused to the environment. Our foreshore has some of the highest environmental protections in the UK. It is an internationally recognised Ramsar site, SSSI, MPA & MCZ and is considered a UK priority habitat all because our mud flats are considered a very rare and fragile habitat for migratory birds, according to Kent Wildlife Trust, Natural England & RSPB. 

The problem is the oyster being grown on an industrial scale is not the Native Oyster for which Whitstable is historically famous; it is the Pacific Oyster.  The original Native Oyster that grows out to sea in the sub tidal waters and is fished using boats, is now seen as an environmentally important species and initiatives in the Thames area are being supported to grow this species. 

By contrast, the Pacific Oyster is classed as an invasive non-native species and projects funded by Natural England and Kent Wildlife Trust are being run just along the coast at Herne Bay with volunteers working to destroy this species. Due to rising sea temperatures pacific oysters can now breed. The WOFC’s own science reports have stated that even triploid (‘sterile’) oysters have a reversion rate of 0.06%. This sounds insignificant except that with over 6.5 million oysters currently being grown in Whitstable, potentially thousands will revert to being fertile (diploid) and could each spawn 50 – 200 million eggs. WOFC is additionally laying oysters directly on the foreshore for several seasons to grow. Even those that do not breed will embed themselves in the foreshore and grow by producing razor sharp shells that protrude vertically, posing a serious risk to the public, especially bathers in the shallows. Sadly, we are already witnessing a significant increase in the numbers of Pacific Oysters starting to colonise the foreshore, as we had feared. 

We are also very concerned about the amount of marine litter generated by the development. Whitstable’s Marine Environmental Group’s monthly beach cleans have been collecting large numbers of rubber bands and plastic bags used by the farm. 

See evidence from Kent Wildlife Trust and Natural England

Commercial greed is winning, putting in jeopardy the environment & public safety, because the Pacific Oyster grows so much faster and more prolifically than the Native, generating far bigger yield and financial profit. 

Pacific Oyster shells, Cornwall copyright Keith Hiscock

The Company has stated previously that 80% of the oysters are sold abroad and very little is sold in the UK. Recently Mr Green, the owner, has been complaining in the media about the current Brexit crisis affecting the shellfish industry and threatening to destroy the industry and yet the farm continues to expand. A very important environment and vital amenity to the Town is being lost to the profits of a single private business.

A further complication is that Canterbury City Council planning jurisdiction only applies as far as the Mean Low Water Line, beyond this is the sole jurisdiction of the Marine Management Organisation (MMO).   Similar to terrestrial planning permission, a marine license from the MMO should be approved prior to building on the seabed. This process would have addressed all the safety, environmental and community concerns.  However, the WOFC have self-declared they are ‘exempt’ from having to have a marine license because the development isn’t fixed to the seabed (which it is) and isn’t a danger or obstruction to navigation, which we have argued alongside many others it most definitely is.

This huge development, which Mr Green has stated he intends to further increase in size, now forms a substantial barrier on our foreshore, which all water sports and leisure users have to navigate around. There have already been 4 incidents in recent weeks that we know of, one involving two 15 year olds.

Beach Warning Sign – Cornwall

After many complaints from us and reports of accidents and incidents from the public, the MMO carried out a risk assessment in 2017 when the size of the development was about 5 times smaller than it is now. There were between 1000 & 2000 trestles in 2017, there are now nearly 6000 trestles and over 2000 poles. 

However, the report only considered commercial vessels using the harbour, which we argued was ridiculous, and ‘not fit for purpose’.  The MMO carried out a further risk assessment  in October 2019 and were assured that this time recreational and water sports would be a consideration. To date, the MMO has not published the findings. We have made numerous requests, including Freedom of Information requests,  and a formal complaint to the Information Commissioners Office.  The MMO claim that they cannot publish it whilst their investigation into the oyster trestle development is still on-going.

Trestles

Take Action 

%d bloggers like this: