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The threat to the Downs

To set the scene: People have been walking, running, playing, dog-walking, kite-flying and just sitting on The Downs for hundreds of years. It’s a nicely unkempt, tapering strip of land that runs east from Herne Bay to Reculver Country Park, sloping down from the sunlit uplands to the exceptionally shiny shingle of the north Kent coast.

Long, long ago, most of what is now The Downs was part of the Beltinge Estate (map), owned by Thomas Dence. With the passing years, the Beltinge Estate was broken into smaller parcels, and around the beginning of the last century this patchwork of land passed into the care of Herne Bay Urban District Council (later transformed by an evil spell into CCC).

When the Council was entrusted with this land, there were conditions (covenants) attached, spelling out what must be done with the land, what could be done with the land, and what mustn’t be done with the land. I have highlighted the bits that give me a warm feeling:

“Covenant by Council to keep the land as an open space and pleasure ground for the recreation and use and enjoyment of the public for ever subject to such rules and regulations as the Council their successors and assigns may from time to time make respecting the use and enjoyment of the same with power nevertheless to construct and maintain thereon such shelters seats bandstands kiosks and underground lavatories or conveniences and other buildings and erections suitable or convenient for the use and enjoyment of the said lands and heriditaments as an open space and pleasure ground as the Council shall from time to time think fit but nothing shall be erected built placed or allowed to remain on the said land as shall obstruct the view of any of the houses built or to be built on the two Estates now known as Beacon Hill Estate and The Lees Estate and the land fronting to Beacon Hill and lying between Hilltop Road and Bellevue Road.”

(Full stop keys don’t get much wear and tear on an average legal keyboard.) So the Council is supposed to be looking after the land, keeping it as an open space for the public, and adding nothing that blocks the view (unless it’s a ‘something-for-everybody’ kind of structure, like the examples given). So far, so good. However…

Towards the end of last year, CCC decided in favour of “the disposal of a small part of the coastal slopes by the granting of a lease of a site for the provision of high quality beach huts”.
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 (photos), and the Council demolished them.

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