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Standing up and speaking out

My first public act of flagrant democratic intercourse, beyond voting, that is: a speech to CCC, 15th Jan 2009.

This proposal is unwanted, unneeded and ill-conceived. You are proposing to act without the permission, and against the wishes, of those you serve. The Downs is a Public Open Space, entrusted by the people of Herne Bay to the Council to be enjoyed by all, in perpetuity.

One legal covenant says it must be:

“… kept as an open space and pleasure ground for the recreation, and use, and enjoyment of the public forever”.

In the hands of a private developer it won’t be. Another covenant says that:

“… nothing shall be erected or built on the land as shall obstruct the view of any of the houses known as the Beacon Hill estate, and the Lees estate, and the land fronting to Beacon Hill”.

These huts would obstruct the view.

There have been huts at East Cliff before.
• Originally they were concrete and brick structures built into the bottom of the slope; with nothing on the slope; with no views obstructed; and were owned and managed by the Council.
• Later, wooden huts were built on the slope, and obstructing the view: they fell into disuse, were neglected and vandalised to the point of dereliction, and the Council demolished them.

The Government’s Planning Policy Guidance 17 (PPG17) states:

• existing Open Space should not be built on unless it is clearly shown to be surplus to requirements.

This is not.

• developers of Open Spaces must consult the community and be able to demonstrate that their proposals are widely supported by them.

These are not.

We are at (or near) the bottom of a property cycle, making this is a particularly awful time to be disposing of land. The intention to lease the land to a private developer has raised widespread concerns about accountability for maintenance, hygiene and security.

There’s already permission for 44-67 more huts elsewhere in Herne Bay, Whitstable and Tankerton. Currently, Whitstable’s reining in development due to lower than usual occupancy, and having no waiting list. There is no waiting list for the existing huts in Herne Bay. There is an over-supply of huts, and there is no demand for huts at East Cliff.

It is very unlikely that the proposed huts will significantly help regenerate Herne Bay, as has been suggested. The hutters bring their own supplies – far from the pub and further from the shops, they will be hard-pressed to spend money on anything.

With the nearest loo ¼ mile away at the King’s Hall, some people will take the lazy option and use the sea: so much for our Blue Flag beach status. The proposed site borders the Thanet Coast SSSI and is a RAMSAR and SAC site of national and international importance to wildlife. The Council is expected to conserve and enhance the SSSI – this proposal does neither. The land is also home to slow worms (a protected species) which will be put at risk – Kent Wildlife Trust have expressed concern.

The East Cliff is special because it is quiet, peaceful and undeveloped. It is unstable scrubland, where both the land and the huts will need protection from landslip and in dry summers, fire. The nearest parking (on Beacon Hill) is fully parked in the summer as it is: where will the extra cars go?

The “consultation” over this change in the legal status of a Public Open Space seems to have consisted of a small ad in a local paper which is read by less than 10% of Herne Bay’s population . There is strong and widespread local opposition, and of the 135 signatories on this petition, only 2 were already aware of this proposal – clearly the public consultation process has been woefully inadequate.

You are proposing to act without the permission, and against the wishes, of those you serve. For more than a 100 years the people of Herne Bay have, in all good faith, entrusted their land to you. This proposal betrays that trust.

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