Whitstable swimmers stage direct beach protest for planning inspector’s site visit
On August 12 2021 at 10am, a group of Whitstable swimmers staged a direct-action protest timed to coincide with a site visit by planning inspector Katie Peerless, who will give a final decision on a public inquiry into the Whitstable Oyster Fishery Company’s oyster-trestle development, which was built without planning permission and so enforced against by Canterbury City Council. Local author and campaigner Julie Wassmer arranged for ITV Meridian News to come and film the protest, which went out that evening as a news item across Kent and Sussex.
A dozen residents, including children, took part in the protest, staged for Ms Peerless in an attempt to highlight the public safety risk from the development for local swimmers and others, including tourists, who use the sea for recreation.
Three of the protesters, who all live in Whitstable, gave their views.
Emma Gibson said: “My whole family like to swim in the sea in the summer time, but the main part of Whitstable beach is now becoming more and more inaccessible because of the growing number of these oyster racks.
“We’ve heard of people being injured by the racks when they’ve swum or been in the wrong place or have had to be rescued when they have been blown onto them in sailing boats by the wind.
“So, even though we prefer to use the town beach because it’s close to toilets, ice-cream vans and the chip shop, we’ve avoiding it now. I’d like to see the beach restored to how it was before, when it felt safer.”
Liz Foreman said: “I grew up on this beach, I’m a Whitstable native from an old Whitstable family, and these trestles weren’t here when I grew up — and I’ve been swimming off this beach for 50 years.
“But they have slowly encroached, little by little. They’ve been sneaked in, and it’s a danger and a worry for our children and our children’s children. We want to see them play safely in the sea as I did in the ’70s off this beach.”
Debbie Clifford said: “I’ve lived here for 22 years and I sea-swim throughout the seasons, I’m passionate about sea swimming. There are lots of different swimming groups and, especially during the pandemic, it’s been very therapeutic to be able to come out and swim in the sea, but now we’ve had to change where we swim.
“I know of no Whitstable residents who like this: it’s a blight on the seascape, it smells, it looks as big as a football pitch now, it’s humungous. We worry about sailors, and this doesn’t tie in with modern-day tourism whereby people want to come here and sail, kayak and swim.
“Saying it’s because of the ‘Whitstable oyster’ is a farce, because this is not fishing for the native oyster, it’s farming the Pacific rock oyster.
“I’ve heard people, visitors, say they hadn’t actually heard about the racks or seen how ugly they are, because it’s not until the tide is out that you see them.
“I don’t know how this development has been allowed to grow and grow. It concerns me that nothing will be done unless we stand up and voice our beliefs about this. And today we’ve done our bit.”
Footage of the site inspection team having to pass the protest:-
Julie Wassmer said: “I added final comments to my inquiry submission specifically regarding public safety, noting that on August 1, during unpredictable weather conditions, a sailing boat was driven onto the trestles by high winds and was forced to raise a mayday signal to which our RNLI lifeboat then had to respond.
“That incident highlights the kind of public-safety risk that so many witnesses at the Inquiry have been warning about — not just during the last fortnight but over the last few years, during which time the number of trestles has grown exponentially, in spite of an enforcement order from Canterbury City Council in 2018.
“Over a two-week survey, 140 public-safety incidents were reported by the public to the Whitstable Beach Campaign, and it’s abundantly clear that sailing craft, and others who use the sea for recreation including kite-surfers and swimmers, will continue to risk being driven onto the Whitstable Oyster Fishery trestles by unpredictable weather events.
“Our fear is that the RNLI will not be able to rescue them with ease as the lifeboat cannot negotiate in a direct line in certain tidal conditions but is forced to take a long route around the trestles. Sooner or later, someone may be fatally injured — and if this inquiry allows this company’s appeal, it will surely be sanctioning that loss of life. So, well done to the swimmers for highlighting the danger we face from this development.”
Footage and story from ITV Meridian News:-
To watch the report please click on the link below:-
Protest as planning inspector visits Whitstable’s oyster farm
Photos by Gerry Atkinson:
(Click on images to enlarge)
To see more of Gerry’s work please go to: https://www.gerryatkinson.com/
More on the Public Inquiry and the Oyster Trestle story:-
- Whitstable vs Whitstable Oyster Fishery Company: by CJ Stone
- Oyster Trestle Public Inquiry: Special Feature #1: Submission made by Julie Wassmer
- Oyster Trestle Public Inquiry: Special Feature #2: Whitstable Beach Campaign Survey re Public Safety Incidents from WOFC trestle development
- Oyster Trestle Public Inquiry: Special Feature #3: Evidence presented to the Public Inquiry on July 28th 2021 from Geoff Meaden
- Oyster Trestle Public Inquiry: Special Feature #4: Evidence presented to the Public Inquiry on July 28th from Valerie Kenny
- Oyster Trestle Public Inquiry: Special Feature #5: Final Submission Whitstable Foreshore Oyster Trestles from Ashley J Clark
- Oyster Trestle Public Inquiry: Special Feature #6: Kent Law Clinic lends legal expertise to Whitstable foreshore public inquiry: a report from the front line
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Swimmers might be surprised to know that the Navigational Risk Assessment for the trestles carried out by the Marine Management Organisation for the trestle development does not include swimmers or leisure users of the beach. Sorry swimmers, you’re on your own dealing with the underwater steel hooks, spikes & poles as far as the MMO is concerned!
Thanks for sending this to me. Do you have an on-line petition that I could sign? We must do all we can to stop the expansion of the oyster trays and hopefully get them reduced.
Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help.
Best contact the Whitstable Beach Campaign. Here is their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/953077472197689 I’m sure they would welcome any help they can get.