by CJ Stone
Photograph shows the Neptune prior to the 1988-’89 works. Note the steepness of the beach.
I moved to Whitstable in 1984. It was a different town back then. The main difference was the beach. It was – literally and physically – a different beach. Unlike today, it was nearly impossible to walk the length of it due to the large differences in height between the groynes. There were drops of 10 foot or more in certain places where parts of the beach had been washed away.
The steps on the seaward side of the Oyster building sat in front of one such drop. It was like a swimming pool there, several feet deep. At high tide the sea came within a few feet of the building and you could actually dive off those steps. I know, because I did it.
All that changed when the beach was reconstructed in the late ’80s. Parts of it were dug out and large oblong bales of stones in plastic netting, many tonnes in weight, were laid down, over which shingle was poured. The old groynes were dismantled and replaced with new ones. The work continued for nearly two years, from 1988 to ’89, during which time there was an almost permanent presence of heavy construction vehicles, diggers and lorries on the foreshore.
Further replenishment work took place in 2006, and more work is due in 2021. If you can walk almost the entire length of the beach now, from Admiralty Walk to Tankerton, with only the harbour to get in your way, it is entirely because of the work done previously. It is also this that accounts for the spacious areas of shingle at the landward side of the beach adjacent to the footpath (called “the berm”) that we now take for granted. Prior to 1989 those areas didn’t exist.
All of this was done at public expense, of course. The putative owners of the beach, the Whitstable Oyster Fishery Company, are the beneficiaries of that work, not the instigators. As far as I know, they did not pay for it except in the way all the rest of us did: through our taxes. That goes for every aspect of the beach: its maintenance, its cleaning, its flood defences. None of it is paid for by the owners. All of it is paid for by the public.
Old photographs of Reeves’ Beach show that it was raised during the construction work. Prior to 1989, the pathway on the seaward side of the sea wall was several feet above the shingle, which sloped away at an acute angle towards the sea below. It was not, as it is now, a raised flat area on a level with the path. The entire beach was much less stable back then, much more liable to the constant erosion of longshore drift, as well as the occasional catastrophic shifts that could see whole sections washed away during high tide and stormy weather. No-one would have considered building anything on Reeves’ Beach prior to the work. It would have been impossible.
The fact that the Whitstable Oyster Company are now seeking a licence for an extensive area of decking able to seat up to 120 people on the area of the beach outside the Forge is entirely due to the work carried out in 1989 and 2006, which, as I say, was done at public expense. In which case, maybe if the licence is granted, the public can take a share of the profits? Certainly the amount of rubbish such a development will generate will have to be cleaned up by someone. Currently that “someone” is Canterbury City Council. Will the Whitstable Oyster Company be charged for this service?
We all remember large crowds gathering on Whitstable Beach after the Oyster Company provided a takeaway service for alcoholic drinks after lockdown in March. We’ve also seen the grotesque levels of littering and other antisocial behaviour on the beach since restrictions were lifted more recently. If the licence for such a large area of seating on the beach is allowed, then we can expect more problems of this nature more frequently. We can also expect more development as this would set a precedent.
The Whitstable Beach Campaign has written to all its supporters to register their objections to the application.
We include the text below:
New threat to Whitstable Beach
Licensing application by Whitstable Oyster Company for a large outdoor seating area on Reeves Beach.
Deadline: July 29th 2020.
Dear Whitstable Beach Campaign Supporter,
As you know, the Whitstable Beach Campaign was founded nearly twenty years ago with the sole aim to preserve the unspoilt nature of the beach and protect the right of access to it. We believe that the beach, which is privately owned (but publicly funded), is vital to the community as it is a much-loved open space which should be protected for all time.
We would like to notify you of a licensing application for a large outdoor seating area on Reeves Beach, adjacent to The Forge, one of the many food & drink outlets operated by the Applicant, the Whitstable Oyster Company (WOC). The new development will seat up to 120 customers and the location of the seating area is shown on the plan attached, along with the licensing application from the WOC. A planning application in respect of this change of use has yet to be submitted.
In our opinion, this development would have an adverse effect on the nature of the beach and establish a planning precedent that could lead to its wholesale commercial exploitation. The planning application associated with this licencing application, but which will be considered separately, describes decking across the extent of the beach to be used for new seating. (We will notify supporters when the separate planning application is lodged).
Please take the time to consider and comment on this proposed development; the impact on the beach, should the proposal be successful, would be significant and permanent.
To respond to this new licencing application, you must give reasons for your comments which must relate to one or more of the following 4 licensing objectives:
a) Prevention of Public Nuisance. The most commonly used reason for making a representation is Public Nuisance, which can cover opening hours, litter, noise, congestion—in this case with pedestrians using footpaths and lack of toilet facilities.
b) Prevention of Crime and Disorder –You should state if you have concerns about the applicants history of maintaining order on this or other licensed premises, e.g. fighting, drug problems, disorder etc. If possible please give details.
c) Protection of Children from harm – this is rarely used but if you believe that, for example, under-age drinkers are being served there, or if there are other child protection issues then you should set out why children are at risk of being harmed.
d) Public Safety – e.g over-crowding, a concentration of customers could put public using the footpath at risk under social distancing guidelines. Additional concerns are lack of hand washing facilities. If you believe that there is any other risk to public safety, you should describe the problem in your letter.
We believe that Canterbury City Council would be negligent in granting an extension of the license to this seafront venue. Issues of particular concern include:
- The site of this development is at the intersection of the proposed Coastal Access long-distance path and public footpath Public Right of Way CWX28, one of the most well-used access points to the beach. This is already a congested pinch point due to the food & drink operations of the Forge. Wholesale enlargement of the seating area will make it worse. This is of particular concern to users of wheelchairs and mobility scooters and to people with small children and pushchairs.
- Noise and litter are likely to be a concern, especially for people living nearby and for other users of the beach. Recent issues of beach littering around licensed outlets have been covered extensively in the local press.
- The Applicant has shown mismanagement of similar operations at various times – most recently showing poor judgement in opening its outlets during the COVID-19 emergency and generating strong adverse criticism in the press and national TV. The applicant’s licence for the ‘Brewery Bar’ situated at the East Quay was also suspended for anti-social activities including violence and drugs, again receiving critical media attention.
- The use of the licensed seating area, especially in the evening would be likely to lead to an increased level of noise and disturbance to residents in the locality. As such the proposal would be contrary to policy BE1 of the Canterbury District Local Plan which seeks, inter alia, to ensure compatibility of adjacent uses.
- The 120-seat area would afford a focus for night time anti-social activity. Teenage drinking and drug use is a perennial problem on Whitstable beach but as of recent years has become worse resulting in a Police Dispersal Order in June. These issues of underage drinkers congregating on the beach and confiscation of alcohol has been reported widely in the local press within the last few weeks.
- The proposed seating area is in immediate proximity to where the Sailing School runs regular sessions for large numbers of juniors including the youth training programme for school children aged 8 and upwards. These sessions run throughout the year and during school holidays. Children would be exposed to large groups of people consuming alcohol and in order to launch boats would have to pass through or close by to the proposed extension and negotiate any queue around the Forge and occupied area. The Forge already serves alcohol, but the seating area is presently contained to the landward side of the sea wall.
- Precedent. Granting of this licensing application would make it hard for CCC to refuse similar applications in the future leading to the creeping commercialisation of Whitstable’s unique unspoilt beach. The proliferation of licensing outlets on the beach is clearly in contravention of all 4 of the licencing objectives.
To comment on the above application:
Please quote reference number: LAPRE/20/01008
Premise details: The Forge 1 Sea Wall, Whitstable, Kent CT5 1BX
You must provide your name and address.
Deadline for comments is: July 29th 2020.
Email to: email@example.com
For info, the chair of the licensing committee is Cllr Ashley Clark.
All photographs courtesy of the Douglas West collection at Whitstable Museum.
CJ Stone is an author, columnist and feature writer. He has written seven books, and columns and articles for many newspapers and magazines.
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