Sir Julian Brazier has written again to the Chief Executive of the Marine Maritime Organisation, to press home his concerns about the activities of the Whitstable Oyster Company.
He said: “I am increasingly concerned about what is going on at Whitstable beach and harbour. I understand that there have already been a number of reports of people being injured by the dangerous, partially submerged oyster racks. In addition, there is now real doubt as to whether the Whitstable Oyster Company has any legal right to farm oysters in the area, rather than just gather them. Quite apart from the fact that the future of many Whitstable businesses is connected with the beach and harbour, public safety has to be a number one concern.”
Text of letter:
“Thank you for your helpful reply of 30th January. Since receiving it, I have had the opportunity to meet a cross section of interested parties in Whitstable, which has led to me wanting to write again to reinforce my earlier letter.
“The one essential point rising from the meeting is that I was not aware of the fact that the racks which are causing the safety hazard are for the use of cultivating foreign, imported species of oysters, not indigenous ones. The Whitstable Oyster Company has a permit to gather oysters - but it has never received permission, as far as I can determine, to start to farm exotic oysters, which is a wholly different process, involving installing the racks which have caused so much controversy.
“The section of the beach which you correctly say has been marked with marker buoys stretches the whole way from Whitstable port to Seasalter. This beach has been in use since time immemorial by swimmers and for water sports. With or without the marker buoys, any waterborne activity is dangerous with these racks in the water. I understand that ten people have been injured already and one of them, a young man who is a potential international competitor, has been seriously injured.
“The Whitstable Oyster Company began putting one or two of these dangerous structures in the water in 2009, but that the vast majority of their activity has been in the last few months. It would be helpful if you could let me know whether the company complied with the requirement of paragraph 13 of the Marine Licensing (Exempted Activities) Order of 2011 by giving notice to you that they were depositing dangerous trestle racks in the water.
“I understand that when they (belatedly) applied to you last year, they made the extraordinary claim that their farm “would not cause, or is likely to cause, any obstruction or danger to navigation”. This is manifestly untrue. A moment’s inspection of the structures could leave nobody in any doubt that they are a danger to people sailing, surf boarding etc. and to swimmers.
“With my hat on as a former co-chairman (and secretary) of the All Party Maritime and Ports group, I am deeply conscious that in your deliberations you often have to balance commercial interests against wider public ones. In this case, it seems to me that the balance is all on one side. There is no established oyster farm business; this new farming of exotic oysters is wholly unrelated to the limited activity of collecting Whitstable oysters, which does indeed go back a long way. The commercial damage to the town of Whitstable by this threatened blockade of the best part of its beaches is a hazard to many Whitstable businesses in what is a heavily tourist driven local economy. Allowing these dangerous structures to remain is a threat to both public and commercial interests in the town.
“I would be delighted to meet you to discuss these issues.”
Since publishing this, the MMO has issued a helpful holding statement, which you can find at: