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Thursday, 29 January 2009

A mob, beautiful and fierce

Front page coverage, and well-deserved! What made this possible, and what lent clout to the speech to Council, was the 135 signatories to the petition - my thanks to each of you. Extra special thanks and a standing ovation for Tricia - superstar petitioner.

A virgin speaks

My first public act of flagrant democratic intercourse, beyond voting, that is: a speech to CCC, 15th Jan 2009.
This proposal is unwanted, unneeded and ill-conceived. You are proposing to act without the permission, and against the wishes, of those you serve.

The Downs is a Public Open Space, entrusted by the people of Herne Bay to the Council to be enjoyed by all, in perpetuity.

One legal covenant says it must be:
“… kept as an open space and pleasure ground for the recreation, and use, and enjoyment of the public forever”. In the hands of a private developer it won’t be.

Another covenant says that:
“… nothing shall be erected or built on the land as shall obstruct the view of any of the houses known as the Beacon Hill estate, and the Lees estate, and the land fronting to Beacon Hill”. These huts would obstruct the view.

There have been huts at East Cliff before.
• Originally they were concrete and brick structures built into the bottom of the slope; with nothing on the slope; with no views obstructed; and were owned and managed by the Council.
• Later, wooden huts were built on the slope, and obstructing the view: they fell into disuse, were neglected and vandalised to the point of dereliction, and the Council demolished them.

The Government’s Planning Policy Guidance 17 (PPG17) states:
• existing Open Space should not be built on unless it is clearly shown to be surplus to requirements. This is not.
• developers of Open Spaces must consult the community and be able to demonstrate that their proposals are widely supported by them. These are not.

We are at (or near) the bottom of a property cycle, making this is a particularly awful time to be disposing of land. The intention to lease the land to a private developer has raised widespread concerns about accountability for maintenance, hygiene and security.

There’s already permission for 44-67 more huts elsewhere in Herne Bay, Whitstable and Tankerton. Currently, Whitstable’s reining in development due to lower than usual occupancy, and having no waiting list. There is no waiting list for the existing huts in Herne Bay. There is an over-supply of huts, and there is no demand for huts at East Cliff.

It is very unlikely that the proposed huts will significantly help regenerate Herne Bay, as has been suggested. The hutters bring their own supplies - far from the pub and further from the shops, they will be hard-pressed to spend money on anything.

With the nearest loo ¼ mile away at the King’s Hall, some people will take the lazy option and use the sea: so much for our Blue Flag beach status. The proposed site borders the Thanet Coast SSSI and is a RAMSAR and SAC site of national and international importance to wildlife. The Council is expected to conserve and enhance the SSSI - this proposal does neither. The land is also home to slow worms (a protected species) which will be put at risk – Kent Wildlife Trust have expressed concern.

The East Cliff is special because it is quiet, peaceful and undeveloped. It is unstable scrubland, where both the land and the huts will need protection from landslip and in dry summers, fire. The nearest parking (on Beacon Hill) is fully parked in the summer as it is: where will the extra cars go?

The “consultation” over this change in the legal status of a Public Open Space seems to have consisted of a small ad in a local paper which is read by less than 10% of Herne Bay’s population . There is strong and widespread local opposition, and of the 135 signatories on this petition, only 2 were already aware of this proposal – clearly the public consultation process has been woefully inadequate.

You are proposing to act without the permission, and against the wishes, of those you serve. For more than a 100 years the people of Herne Bay have, in all good faith, entrusted their land to you. This proposal betrays that trust.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009


By the time I got to find out about this (mid-December 2008) the Council seemed to be regarding it as pretty much a done deal. It had been "resolved" by the Executive, and the wheels had been put in motion. The site was being marketed; closing date for bids was late January; contract to be awarded soon after, with a view to having the huts ready for the 2009 summer season.

It was about this time that I started getting shocked and angry, and re-shocked and re-angry on a daily basis.

The Council's total effort at "consultation" consisted of a small ad in the Public Notices section at the back of the Herne Bay Gazette. The Gazette (long may their organ prosper) has taken a healthy interest in this embryonic campaign, for which I am pleased and grateful. However, when all's said and done, their circulation amounts to less than 10% of Herne Bay's population, and only a few people actually read the Public Notices. In fact, out of all the people who signed the petition, only TWO had heard of the proposal (and one of them is a Councillor) amounting to about 1%.

Yes, dear reader, ONE PERCENT awareness amounts to effective public consultation in the hive-mind of CCC, and even that produced five objections (no approvals). The objections were noted and then dismissed by the Executive who "resolved" to go ahead.

Now, this is one of the many areas that I need to understand better. I get the impression that once anything has been "resolved" by the Executive, it appears that they regard it as unchangeable and eternal, as if written on tablets of stone. I detect delusions of God-hood in the hive-mind. They seem to think that each and every decision they take is irreversible, regardless of whatever else may change in the real world around them.

So far there has been no pause for thought, no double-take, no head scratching, no notice taken of the sudden huge increase in objections. There has been no recognition, acceptance or regret that their preferred method of "consultation" is evidently woefully inadequate.

At the time of writing, if everything's running to timetable, all the bids are now in and CCC are picking the winner. The winning bidder will then apply to CCC for planning permission to go ahead with their winning bid. I assume CCC will support the planning application from the bid they chose.


Sunday, 25 January 2009

First media sighting Friday, October 17, 2008, 12:37 (see Links box to the side).

More beach huts for Herne Bay

A CONCERNED councillor fears vandals could "cause havoc" if 40 new beach huts are built on the Herne Bay coast. Cllr Gillian Reuby of King Edward Avenue voiced her fears after the ball was set rolling on plans to build the "Tankerton-style" huts at East Cliff.

Two potential developers want to design, build and manage the huts on land near the old Lookout Tower – an area designated as public open space. The city council's Executive put the proposal to public consultation on Monday.

Cllr Reuby, who has lived in the town for 32 years, said: "It is a quiet and peaceful area and should be left well alone. I agree there is a need for more beach huts but this isn't the right place.

"The huts would be completely out of sight, meaning vandals could cause havoc and no one would see it. Beach huts at the west end of town are always being vandalised so why would it be any different here? It would almost certainly be a case of out of sight, out of mind."

The Reculver ward councillor also expressed concerns about the number of huts proposed and the lack of parking spaces: "They say 40 huts could be built but I've heard there could be up to 60, which is just utterly ridiculous - even 20 would be too many. They would all need to park at the top of Beacon Hill, which is bad enough as it is. At the weekend it's almost impossible to find a parking space."

The East Cliff area was home to concrete and traditional timber beach huts until the 1960s. Cllr Reuby said: "Things were different back then. There wasn't the problem of vandalism like there is in this day and age. I think it's just the council thinking about its capital receipt. They are not thinking about how horrendous the problem with vandalism could be."

Cllr Reuby's concerns were not echoed by fellow Conservative and Reculver Ward councillor Gabrielle Davis. She said: "We can't let the vandals beat us. There will always be vandalism but we just have to find a way to prevent it. I think beach huts are a splendid idea and make a seaside resort look much more attractive. The English holiday is coming back so what better way to bring people to the town."

City council property manager David Kemp was also confident the new huts would boost the town's image: "This is an opportunity to create an area of focus at East Cliff and to attract more people to this area. It will hopefully also generate additional trade for the eastern end of the town - particularly the King's Hall tea shop. The provision of beach huts help to make seaside towns more attractive to visitors and residents alike."



Herne Bay Area Members Panel, Agenda Item 38.
The Unlawful Shameful Proposal (USP) sees the light of day for the first time. The Panel thought:
  • in principle the project was a good idea;
  • the normal consultation procedures should be used;
  • this was a good location for beach huts;
  • it was hoped that any beach huts in this location could be painted and named;
  • would the procurement rules delay the project;
  • could a planning application be made at the same time as the disposal was advertised;
  • was there any lighting at this location?
The Panel said they would:
  • support the disposal of Public Open Space to the east of the old lookout station at East Cliff, Herne Bay;
  • recommend that any negotiations relating to the use for this site be subject to the wider market.
WHAT?!? " the disposal of Public Open Space..." Without asking? Without knowing what we want? What were they thinking? Were they thinking?

The Government's national guidelines for how to look after Public Open Spaces are strict about disposing of a Public Open Space. They say that the land must be shown to be 'surplus to requirements', and that any development must shown to be 'widely supported by the local community'. Looks to me like 'No' and 'No'.

Executive Committee Item 136.
They decide to advertise the proposed disposal of Public Open Space, and consider any objections at a later Executive meeting.

First media sighting on

2008-Oct-23 and Oct-30
Ad in Public Notices, Herne Bay Gazette - see "Consultation".

Herne Bay Area Members Panel, Item 5 Matters Arising...
Reporting the decision of the Executive on October 13th.

Executive Committee Item 195.
The Council's laughable consultation exercise has produced five letters of objection, one of them from our very own Councillor Reuby. Continuing the long-running insult to democracy, the objections are brushed aside, and it's full steam ahead with marketing the site. (Incidentally, I've not seen the marketing effort. If anyone's got any details, I would be grateful - I'm curious to know how it compares to the Public Notice.)

I’m tipped off by my neighbour.

Speech to Council.

Herne Bay Gazette front page, inside pages and op-ed. Then nothing…

Blog kick-started.

Executive Committee

The Downs, and the danger

To set the scene: People have been walking, running, playing, dog-walking, kite-flying and just sitting on The Downs for hundreds of years. It's a nicely unkempt, tapering strip of land that runs east from Herne Bay to Reculver Country Park, sloping down from the sunlit uplands to the exceptionally shiny shingle of the north Kent coast.

Long, long ago, most of what is now The Downs was part of the Beltinge Estate (map), owned by Thomas Dence. With the passing years, the Beltinge Estate was broken into smaller parcels, and around the beginning of the last century this patchwork of land passed into the care of Herne Bay Rural District Council (later transformed by an evil spell into CCC).

When the Council was entrusted with this land, there were conditions (covenants) attached, spelling out what must be done with the land, what could be done with the land, and what mustn't be done with the land. I have highlighted the bits that give me a warm feeling:

  • "Covenant by Council to keep the land as an open space and pleasure ground for the recreation and use and enjoyment of the public for ever subject to such rules and regulations as the Council their successors and assigns may from time to time make respecting the use and enjoyment of the same with power nevertheless to construct and maintain thereon such shelters seats bandstands kiosks and underground lavatories or conveniences and other buildings and erections suitable or convenient for the use and enjoyment of the said lands and heriditaments as an open space and pleasure ground as the Council shall from time to time think fit but nothing shall be erected built placed or allowed to remain on the said land as shall obstruct the view of any of the houses built or to be built on the two Estates now known as Beacon Hill Estate and The Lees Estate and the land fronting to Beacon Hill and lying between Hilltop Road and Bellevue Road."

(Full stop keys don't get much wear and tear on an average legal keyboard.)

So the Council is supposed to be looking after the land, keeping it as an open space for the public, and adding nothing that blocks the view (unless it's a 'something-for-everybody' kind of structure, like the examples given).

So far, so good. However...

Towards the end of last year, CCC decided in favour of "the disposal of a small part of the coastal slopes by the granting of a lease of a site for the provision of high quality beach huts".

There have been huts at East Cliff before. Originally they were concrete and brick structures built into the bottom of the slope; with nothing on the slope; with no views obstructed; and were owned and managed by the Council. Later, wooden huts were built on the slope, and obstructing the view: they fell into disuse, were neglected and vandalised to the point of dereliction (photos), and the Council demolished them.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Genesis: new readers start here

All this started when my neighbour pointed out a snippet on the Canterbury City Council website. They had decided to "dispose of" a slice of The Downs. Came as news to me. Bad news. Bad enough to get me off my backside.

Later on, I'll rant about the various forms of wrongness that the proposal suffers from, but the one that hit me first and hardest (and still does) is that this is public land - in Newspeak a Public Open Space. Initially this was just a strong and restless unease, but it crystallised when I found out more about the history of this strip of land.

Over a hundred years ago there seems to have been a small rush of people bequeathing or gifting some or all their land to the Council (Herne Bay Rural District Council, as was); this was both intended and taken as a public-spirited, charitable act. At the time, entrusting their land to the Council would have felt as certain and secure as putting their money in the Bank of England. They believed the Council would do right by them.

In the two-way relationship between the voters and their representatives, there are rights and responsibilities, expectations and duties, on both sides and in both directions. In a nutshell, there is a bond of trust, and it is that trust that makes democracy both possible and powerful. If that trust is tainted, twisted or trashed, we may as well be living in any tinpot, half-baked, third-rate country on earth.

And this is where Canterbury City Council comes in...