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Protest staged on Whitstable beach over ever-expanding oyster trestles


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Swimmers fed up with the "encroaching" number of oyster trestles being installed on Whitstable's coastline have staged a protest to coincide with a beach visit from the planning inspector.

The metal racks - erected by the Whitstable Oyster Fishery Company (WOFC) - have been put under scrutiny in a two-week public inquiry, which is to determine their legality.

A protest was held at Whitstable beach today. Picture: Gerry Atkinson
A protest was held at Whitstable beach today. Picture: Gerry Atkinson

Almost 5,000 trestles are now thought to be along the town's coast, but only 20% - those closest to the shoreline - are being considered by the planning inspector.

Critics fear the obstacles could lead to someone being fatally injured, with there being a number of reported incidents in recent years involving caught-out kite-surfers and sailors.

Canterbury City Council, which ordered the racks be removed in 2018, is pursuing enforcement action against the WOFC.

If the council loses the inquiry, it will be liable for costs - and if the oyster company loses, bosses say its production would take a hit.

Katie Peerless, who has been heading the inquiry, visited the site today and was met by a group of about a dozen protestors calling for the racks to be removed.

Trestles at Whitstable beach. Picture: Whitstable Oyster Company
Trestles at Whitstable beach. Picture: Whitstable Oyster Company

Town resident Emma Gibson said: "My whole family like to swim in the sea in the summertime but the main part of Whitstable beach is now becoming more and more inaccessible because of the growing number of these oyster racks.

"We've heard of people being injured when they've swum or been in the wrong place or have had to be rescued when they have been blown onto them in sailing boats by the wind.

"Even though we prefer to use the town beach, because it's close to toilets, ice cream vans and the chip shop, we're avoiding it now."

Her views are echoed by passionate swimmer Debbie Clifford, who said: "We’ve had to change where we swim. I know of no Whitstable residents who like this, it’s a blight on the seascape, it smells, it looks as big as a football pitch now."

Julie Wassmer wants the trestles removed. Picture: Gerry Atkinson
Julie Wassmer wants the trestles removed. Picture: Gerry Atkinson

The structures were previously determined by the council to "not constitute development and therefore are not controllable” under planning law. Yet with the trestle-use being heavily expanded, the council now wants them reined in.

During a two-week hearing for the public inquiry, the Whitstable Beach Campaign told how a survey last year revealed 164 people reported incidents involving the trestles.

But Natural England dropped a bombshell at the hearing when it revealed it no longer objected to the racks.

Speaking today, protester Liz Foreman added: "I’ve been swimming off this beach for 50 years but they have slowly encroached, little by little, and it’s a danger and a worry for our children and our children’s children."

Trestles owned by the Whitstable Oyster Fishery Company are subject to the inquiry. Picture: Paul Amos
Trestles owned by the Whitstable Oyster Fishery Company are subject to the inquiry. Picture: Paul Amos
The inquiry could impact events, such as the Whitstable Oyster Festival, the WOFC have claimed. Picture: Alan Langley
The inquiry could impact events, such as the Whitstable Oyster Festival, the WOFC have claimed. Picture: Alan Langley

Meanwhile, WOFC boss James Green told how the firm is shipping one-and-a-half tons of oysters a week to Hong Kong alone - stating how the oyster market in the UK has “expanded enormously” in the past 10 years.

Anti-trestles campaigner Julie Wassmer said: "Sooner or later, someone may be fatally injured – and if this inquiry allows this company’s appeal, it will surely be sanctioning that loss of life.

"Well done to the swimmers for highlighting the danger we face from this development.”

A Whitstable Oyster Fishery Company spokesman said the trestles closest to the shore are important as they form the area where market-sized oysters are kept prior to market.

This is so they are easily accessible on most tides, and so they become hardened as they acclimatise to being out of the water, which makes them resilient and better quality.

The company claims it would otherwise be forced to send half-grown oysters to other oyster farms on the continent.

Read more: All the latest news from Whitstable

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