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Shipping containers to be turned into harbour-side seafood restaurant by Whitstable Oyster Company

Re-purposed shipping containers are set to be converted into a new seafood restaurant overlooking the harbour after proposals were approved by the city council.

The Whitstable Oyster Company, which is behind the vision, plans to put the units on top of each other at the South Quay site, which is leased to the business by the Harbour Board.

Plans for the new restaurant on the South Quay at Whitstable
Plans for the new restaurant on the South Quay at Whitstable

The bid for the project, which will be called The Old Engine Shed, is almost identical to one the firm lodged in 2017, which was approved but lapsed before being implemented.

It will be on the site of a former engine shed once used by the historic Crab and Winkle Line railway, which was removed in 2009.

New shipping containers will be brought in to replace existing temporary structures on the site - which currently house the Mussel Shack - with the new restaurant featuring outside seating areas offering “panoramic views of the harbour”.

Only two objections were received, raising concerns about there being too many commercial enterprises by the harbour, and calling for it to be referred to the planning committee.

However, the application could be decided by officers according to the city council’s planning policy.

The "temporary" Mussel Shack Picture: Lee Evans Architecture
The "temporary" Mussel Shack Picture: Lee Evans Architecture

The officer’s report states: “Whitstable Harbour features commercial activities operating alongside leisure activities. The varied nature of these activities operating within the harbour, and the relationship between these activities, helps give the harbour its distinctive character.

“It is considered that a proposed restaurant of this scale at this location would add to the relatively broad and eclectic mix of uses operating within the harbour.

“It would do so without threatening the balance of operational and non-operational harbour uses and without impeding the overall function of it as a working harbour.”

The restaurant will not be able to operate outside of 8am and 10pm to safeguard residents in neighbouring properties.

In the application, architects Lee Evans Partnership say the latest scheme still meets Whitstable Harbour Board’s vision to improve the location and facilities while maintaining the desire for it to remain a working harbour.

James Green of the Whitstable Oyster Fishery Company. Picture: Chris Davey
James Green of the Whitstable Oyster Fishery Company. Picture: Chris Davey
The seafood restaurant makes use of shipping containers
The seafood restaurant makes use of shipping containers

The architects add: “The Local Plan recognises the importance of tourism to Whitstable and it is submitted that the restaurant use – focussing on fish, shellfish and, in particular, oysters – will not only create new employment within the restaurant but also indirectly by helping to maintain fishing from Whitstable Harbour.”

They say the proposed building has been designed to reflect the industrial character of the area and provide a new focal point with an active frontage to the quayside through the outdoor seating areas.

This week, a Whitstable Oyster Company spokesman said: “We are pleased with the decision of the planning committee to re-approve our application for the south quay site. We are still fully committed to this project and although delayed will hopefully start in the near and more stable future”.

Company boss James Green previously blamed the delays to the project on Covid-19 and the lockdown, which has put the hospitality industry on the back foot.

He said: "The expansion will require a further substantial investment, which underlines both the company’s commitment to the town, the oyster industry and to providing jobs, but also the confidence that Whitstable will continue to prosper as the situation eases.

“The new premises will be open all year round, providing an attraction and jobs in the harbour area throughout the year.

“It will provide an asset to the town, whilst reflecting the harbour’s commercial history.”

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