Published: 06:00, 23 February 2021
| Updated: 15:51, 23 February 2021
A retired engineer has hatched a plan to convert a dangerous wartime relic threatened with demolition into a series of beach huts.
Grandfather Bernie Watson wants to save the 'covered way' which runs along the coast road between Barton's Point Coastal Park in Sheerness and the White House restaurant in Minster on the Isle of Sheppey.
Hear about Bernie's beach hut plan
He said: "One solution could be to use it for beach huts. It is in a lovely, sheltered position with what could be a nicely landscaped lake for boats in front with car parking behind. It would be a sun trap."
Mr Watson, 76, from Clovelly Drive, Minster, is no stranger to challenges.
He rebuilt the 1813 Humphreys Windmill in the heart of Sheerness from scratch and also rescued an abandoned lime works in Norton near Faversham and turned its two former art deco water towers into a luxury home.
The 'covered way' was fenced off after complaints that the concrete structure was no longer safe and sections of the roof had caved in. There have been calls to pull it down.
But Mr Watson, who moved to Sheppey from Sittingbourne in 1972, said: "I hate to see the Island's heritage demolished. But there is no point just repairing it for the sake of it.
General views of the Sheppey Covered Way
"Modular huts could be slotted in with spaces between them. It could help put Sheppey back on the map. There could even be a little land train serving them."
He said he has written to Swale council's leader Cllr Roger Truelove (Lab), county councillor Ken Pugh (Con) and Sittingbourne and Sheppey MP Gordon Henderson (Con) asking for support.
But the scheme was dismissed by Sheerness Town Team chairman Phil Crowder. He said: "I can't see that happening. The joy of having a beach hut is being on the beach and being able to keep an eye on the kids while they are in the sea.
"There would be problems crossing the coast road and there would be no view of the beach. I would rather see a long continual mural charting Sheppey's history from Vikings to the present day. The community could paint different scenes."
A spokesman for Swale council said: “We have fenced off the covered walkway at Barton’s Point coastal park to make sure the structure is safe while we consider its future.
“We are currently looking into the cost of different options and will liaise with Minster Parish Council, ward members and the Maritime Group to look at each of these.
“At this stage, the options being considered are full or partial removal, full reinstatement or a partial reinstatement with a section being created as a location of historical interest.”
The Watson Legacy
Bernie Watson began working life as a fitter and turner then launched his own firm working on steam turbines. The entrepreneur also ran the successful Swale Video company and invested money in property.
After selling a parcel of land to supermarket Aldi for a car park in Sheerness he bought an abandoned lime works at Norton near Faversham at auction and converted its twin water-softening towers into a luxury six-bedroom house with a roof-top swimming pool and floor-to-ceiling panoramic windows.
He also rebuilt Humphreys windmill in the heart of Sheerness. It was originally built by John Humphreys in 1813 and owned by the Webb family before being sold to George Ride. Steam power was added in 1889 but within a year it ceased to make flour.
The windmill was closed in 1918 and dismantled. Mr Watson bought it in 1989 and was given permission to rebuild it in 2006.
The Covered Way
The 'covered way' was built to protect the public from being hit by stray bullets and shells from a Royal Navy firing range.
It dates back to before the First World War and was later part of the Royal Navy's anti-aircraft gunnery school until the 1950s.
For years it was used as a short-cut for cyclists and a cross-country course for school pupils.
But now sections of its concrete roof have crumbled and many of its iron supports are rusted through.
Former Swale mayor Cllr Ken Ingleton, who chairs Minster Parish Council and is a local historian, said: "To all intents and purposes the covered way has been forgotten.
"Since the coast road was built it now serves no useful purpose. To make it safe would cost a lot. The alternative would be to demolish it.
"It is in such a poor state of repair its historical significance doesn't outweigh the cost of maintaining it. It is history but so was the firing range and that has long since disappeared."
History buff Roger Betts added: "The covered way could be another window into Sheppey’s past.
"If this was in France it would be repaired and turned into a quirky tourist heritage attraction with information boards at each end."