Oyster Trestle Development

Whitstable Trestle Development / Updated 17-05-22

Background To The Development

A large aquaculture development is deployed in the inter-tidal zone at Whitstable West Beach, one of the most popular leisure beaches in Kent.  The buoyed foreshore exclusion zone is now approximately 37 hectares and occupies almost the entire length of West Beach, an area traditionally used by the public for leisure and other pursuits.   In July 2018, an enforcement order was issued by Canterbury City Council (CCC) for the removal of the parts of the development that fell within CCC’s jurisdiction (those above the mean low water mark). The landowner, the Whitstable Oyster Fishery Company (WOFC), appealed the enforcement notice and won their appeal at a public inquiry in 2021; as a result of which planning permission was granted by the Inspector hearing the inquiry.   The Whitstable Beach Campaign (WBC) were a Rule 6 Party in the public inquiry.

Oyster Trestle Hazards & Beach Safety

Much of the evidence the WBC submitted, including accident reports, was concerned with the risks that these underwater structures presented to leisure users of the beach, particularly swimmers, windsurfers, paddleboarders etc. 

We have previously shared much of this information concerning hazards & risks with the Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA) and the Marine Managment Organisation (MMO), particularly since the development underwent massive expansion around 2017 .   In 2017, for instance, Julian Brazier MP brought the safety issues to the attention of Sir Alan Massey, then the MCA Chief Executive.   Sir Alan Massey confirmed (10-03-17) that “Our assessment which we provided to the MMO was that the racks posed a navigational hazard to local recreational sea-users, as well as restricting the available sea-room for safe access to and from the slipways used by both the public and the Whitstable Yacht Club.  We recommended that the racks were either removed or relocated further to the southwest”.   Since then the racks have not been removed or relocated but they have expanded more than four times in area without the benefit of a marine licence. 

In the light of these safety concerns the Inspector at the Inquiry attached conditions to her decision which include a Beach Safety Assessment to be carried out by the Whitstable Oyster Fishery Company (WOFC) and approved by Canterbury City Council (CCC) within 6 months of the decision date (25-10-21).   

“Unless within 6 months of the date of this decision a beach safety assessment for the area of the development hereby permitted is submitted in writing to the local planning authority for approval, and unless the findings of the approved assessment are implemented within 3 months of the local planning authority’s approval, the trestles subject of this approval, and all associated equipment, shall be removed until such time as a scheme is approved and implemented.

If no scheme in accordance with this condition is approved within 12 months of the date of this decision, the trestles subject of this approval, and all associated equipment, shall be removed until such time as a scheme approved by the local planning authority is implemented.

Upon implementation of the approved assessment specified in this condition, those measures shall thereafter be retained whilst the trestles remain in position.

In the event of a legal challenge to this decision, or to a decision made pursuant to the procedure set out in this condition, the operation of the time limits specified in this condition will be suspended until that legal challenge has been finally determined”.

Beach Safety Assessment and Public Consultation

The Beach Safety Assessment carried out by the WOFC has now been submitted to Canterbury City Council and CCC’s public consultation period ends on the 22nd May.  We and many other local stakeholders were surprised that the BSA was to be effected by the Appellant (the WOFC), not a marine body such as the MCA or the RNLI, which was our recommendation at the Inquiry and the most appropriate option, guaranteeing a neutral standpoint.  In our opinion the Beach Safety Assessment submitted is inadequate, flawed and doesn’t address the safety concerns raised at the inquiry, all of which were centred on the oyster trestles.  (The Inspector stipulated that the BSA should be “for the area of the development hereby permitted” i.e. the oyster trestles under consideration at the Inquiry).  

Canterbury City Council’s deadline for public comments about the oyster trestle Beach Safety Assessment is the 22nd May.  The submission is currently being assessed & scrutinised by the CCC (with the involvement of the MCA) and is available for marine stakeholders and the public to view on the Council’s website under reference 22/00888.   The Whitstable Beach Campaign considers the development to be hazardous to users of the sea at Whitstable and its location in the inter-tidal zone of a popular water sports beach is ill-advised & dangerous.   The recommendations of the Beach Safety Assessment do little, if anything, to mitigate these hazards.

HISTORY OF THE INQUIRY ARCHIVE

Whitstable Beach Campaign’s objections to the oyster trestle development were made principally 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…
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The presence of oyster trestles on the Whitstable foreshore is a wholly modern construction and Whitstable Beach Campaign objected 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 was heard in July 2021 in a Public Inquiry which lasted for 9 days by an Inspector appointed by the Secretary of State.

WOFC were 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 draft 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 was wholly undemocratic and meant that any concerns the public had about the development couldn’t be heard without a formal application being made 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 also delayed the appeal 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 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.  In the event, the Inspector did not award costs against either Canterbury City Council or the WBC.

It should also be noted that the WOFC subsequently dropped their request for CLEUD and the appeal became, in effect, a retrospective planning application. 

We campaigned against this development for two principal reasons: loss of public amenity (and public safety issues resulting from this) and because of environmental concerns.

Loss of amenity and public safety.

The sea area that the development 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 was (and still is) how can such a hazardous development of this nature be built slap bang in the middle of a seaside resort? All other aquaculture developments of this type are situated in remote areas. 

Environmental damage.

Our other very important concern was (and still 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 that the oyster species 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 and predicted. 

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. Mr Green, the owner, has been complaining in the media about the Brexit aftermath 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 in the Public Inquiry was that Canterbury City Council’s planning jurisdiction only extends to 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 many of 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 argued (alongside many others) that 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. Incidents have been reported many times, some including youngsters and many involving experienced sailors caught out in unexpected weather & sea conditions.

Beach Warning Sign – Cornwall

After many complaints from the WBC and reports of accidents and incidents from the public, the Marine Management Organisation carried out a Navigational Risk Assessment (NRA) in 2017 (since when the size of the development has grown approximately fivefold). There were between 1000 & 2000 trestles in 2017, there are now nearly 6000 trestles and over 2000 poles in the more recent “pole & line” development. 

However, the NRA pricipally considered risks to 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. This NRA was published almost two years later after FOI requests and a formal complaint to the Information Commissioners Office. Unfortunately this was too late for it to be properly considered in the Public Inquiry. This flagged the same safety concerns that were raised in the 2017 NRA and a recommendation that the pole & line section was removed to reduce the level of risk. The mitigation measures recommended in both reports are yet to be fully implemented.

Trestles

Take Action 

  • Join us on Instagram @whitstablebeachcampaign
  • Sign up for our newsletter and updates by emailing whitstablebeachcampaign@whitstablebeachcampaign
  • Canterbury City Council’s deadline for public comments about the oyster trestle Beach Safety Assessment is the 22nd May.  The submission is currently being assessed by the Council and is available for marine stakeholders and the public to view on the Council’s website under reference 22/00888.   The Whitstable Beach Campaign considers the development to be hazardous to users of the sea at Whitstable and its location in the inter-tidal zone of a popular water sports beach is ill-advised & dangerous.   The recommendations of the Beach Safety Assessment do little, if anything, to mitigate these hazards.

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