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Coal waste pollution threat to Pegwell Bay

The concrete surfaces at Ramsgate HoverPort are breaking up. Picture: PHIL HOUGHTON
The concrete surfaces at Ramsgate HoverPort are breaking up. Picture: PHIL HOUGHTON

PEGWELL Bay, one of Kent's coastal gems, could be damaged by the release of contaminants as the former international HoverPort site crumbles, it has been revealed.

The HoverPort near Ramsgate, which opened in 1969, was built on colliery waste which is now coming closer to the surface as the concrete breaks up.

In an inspection of Thanet council’s Local Plan, the Government planning inspector has backed a plan to develop the site as to clean it up would cost too much for the authority.

The inspector admits in his report that the bay is surrounded by wildlife conservation areas and it is only by “an exceptional quirk of planning history it has been blighted by the erection of a huge slipway, which is now derelict”.

The exact nature of the waste is not known but tests are to be carried out. And the most worrying statement: “The slipway and hardstanding were built on a foundation of colliery waste and a contamination report has been commissioned...the concrete surface is starting to break up.”

Plan T6 in the local plan says the sensitive site “provides a development opportunity”.

The reason behind needing to find a developer is as simple as the fact that should the site decay further, it would be an environmental hazard.

The inspector writes: “It would not be practicable or desirable to let the site revert to nature...one cannot ignore the extensive dereliction of this coastal site and the impending release of contaminants as erosion eats away the hardstanding.”

Maureen Fiander , parish council vice chairman at nearby Cliffsend, said: “We are concerned at the state of the HoverPort and constantly monitor development ideas.

“The surface is cracking up and could become a real environmental danger at one of the loveliest spots along our coast.”

She has even asked if the surface could be overlaid with an artificial surface for floodlit soccer pitches for Hugin Vikings FC, a club she helps run.

She said: “The idea fell on deaf ears and now we have to put up with the land being used by youths riding mini motorcycles around on it.”

Ramsgate district councillor Richard Nicholson, leader of the area’s Labour group, said: “The council has long been aware of the potential environmental problems at the HoverPort as a result of a decision taken when it was built.

“It was constructed on a bed of waste from the east Kent coalfield and the concrete surface is now breaking up, with the danger of the material underneath polluting the area, part of which is registered as of special scientific interest.

“Any development on the land would require an environmental clean up.

“Outline discussions were held with the National Trust about the creation of a nature visitor centre but they would not take over the site because of the huge bill of cleaning it up.

“The mistakes of the past must now be paid.”

The bait digging at Pegwell Bay usually takes place a mile and a half out to sea, so any effect would depend on the tide carrying pollution.

Allan Chandler, secretary of Broadstairs and St Peter’s Sea Angling Club, said: “If you look at Broadstairs harbour after a storm at low tide you will find coal there. They used to unload coal there to go to the town gasworks. So coal waste should not be so much of a problem.”

The decision to leave the HoverPort for nature to take its course was made several years ago by the district council following a range of ideas for the land. These included a holiday village, complete with hotel and artificial ski slope.

It was also used as a centre for Kent police during the miners strike of 1984-’85.

The planning inspector has backed the council’s plan for a site of 'green tourism’, although as of this week no planning application has been received for the area.

Any development could not be major in size and cannot be residential.

* Giant SRN4 hovercraft used the site after it opened in 1969 and could carry 400 passengers and 55 cars during the 40-minute cross Channel journey.The HoverPort remained viable until Hoverlloyd amalgamated with Seaspeed in 1982.

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