Published: 16:11, 08 August 2020
| Updated: 14:16, 10 August 2020
Motorhomes have been blocked from one of the beaches on the Isle of Sheppey.
Concrete bollards were installed by Swale council on the shingle bank at Minster last week to stop motorists camping overnight for free. It is also after complaints of litter being left.
During the hot weather and coronavirus lockdown the stretch of beach has become a top destination for tourists wanting to wake up with a sea view, even though no overnight camping is allowed. An overflow car park opposite has also been fenced off.
Jesse Davies, a 32-year-old training coordinator from Halfway launched an online petition calling for the 6ft 10in (2.1m) width restrictions to be removed. Within three days it had chalked up more than 700 signatures.
Mr Davies said: "Swale council has done this while there is a world-wide pandemic in the hope locals, holidaymakers and businesses will not notice.
"The shingle bank is a rare and beautiful place enjoyed by many camper van and motorhome owners all year round. The council does not seem to understand there are no other places for holidaymakers and locals, like myself, to park near the beach.
"These holidaymakers come from all over the UK and spend their money with local businesses. Instead of restricting campers, the council should be welcoming them and charging them to stay, like they do at Reculver Castle, to bring in extra money to help improve and look after the area."
The petition has the backing of driving instructor Gary Williamson, 52, also from Halfway and also a motorhome owner. He said: "This is forcing motorhomes into one area at the other end of the Island at Leysdown. And the width restriction means it is too narrow for emergency vehicles like fire engines and rescue trucks.
"Many windsurfers arrive in large vans or with trailers. This is putting Sheppey watersports in jeopardy, especially as no one can use the overflow car park opposite because of a barrier. I think most people would be happy to pay an overnight charge. Motorhome owners actually help keep the beach clean by picking up other people's rubbish.
"The council has pointed to ruts in the beach but they aren't done by motorhome owners who can't exactly speed. They are done by boy racers late at night doing wheel spins on the pebbles."
He suggested a pay machine which takes cashless cards and runs on solar power so it won't be vandalised.
Petition supporter Luke Enright added: "This is an outrage. Remove the width restrictions now. The council can charge motorhomes, if need be, and should put more bins down if that's the reason for litter."
He pleaded: "Don't ruin our fantastic destination for holidaymakers in motorhomes just because a few people might leave litter. I agree people should take their rubbish home. But this is ruining it for everyone else.
"I'm sure anyone who drives a £15,000-plus motorhome wouldn't mind paying £10 or £15 a night to wake up to that view."
Swale Cllr Mark Ellen (Lab, Sheerness) said: "I was totally against this as I believe we need to encourage visitors to the Island. I am a regular visitor to shingle bank. I have never experienced rubbish or anything else being dumped there.
"Now Transit-type vans, Jeeps and pick-up trucks used by wind-surfers and jet-skiers will no longer be able to use the beach for water sports. I totally support the petition to reverse this."
Swale council said: “These measures have been put in place as a trial in consultation with Minster Parish Council following numerous complaints from residents and businesses about the number of motor homes staying on the Shingle Bank - up to 80 at a time.
"Emergency services have access to the area at the other end of the site and the Environment Agency confirmed they were happy with the new arrangement.
"We reject the idea that we are not determined to encourage the visitor economy on Sheppey. There has been a major increase in people visiting the Island at places like the Leas at Minster and it is not appropriate that potential visitor parking is restricted on a site that doesn’t have the facilities for people to stay over an extended period.
"There are plenty of pitches at the numerous camp sites on the Island for motorhomes to use."
He added: "We had considered charging for the use of the area but the previous pay and display machine was repeatedly vandalised and officers intimidated when trying to enforce restrictions in the area so the decision was made to try to manage access to the site physically."
He said the height restriction barrier for the grass area opposite the Shingle Bank will be installed in the next few weeks after a delay due to the lockdown.
The change.org petition to "remove restrictions from shingle bank Minster" is here.