Herbrand Walk inquiry: decision now awaited

Strength of local feeling for Herband Walk has never been in doubt.

It added fire to the public meeting held this week to determine the future of the 360m stretch of beach owned by Steve Hall.

Planning Inspector John Head had the job of hearing the appeal at the town hall against Rother District Council’s refusal to allow Mr Hall’s proposed development.

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The chamber and public gallery was packed out with 80 in attendance – others were turned away because there was not enough room.

The Inspector commented: “This is probably the most I have ever had at a hearing.”

He then heard how Mr Hall had applied for permission for temporary erection of 28 wooden beach huts, two wooden toilet huts, one lifeguard hut, car parking, information signs, waste bins and sleepers on the shingle to restrict vehicle access.

Mr Hall’s hope is to put these facilities in place at the beginning of April each year and take them down in mid-September to leave the beach bare during winter months – even the fencing, if necessary, as he told the hearing on Tuesday.

These are Mr Hall’s most recent proposals, a process which started when he purchased the beach back in April 2009 and put together ideas for watersports supported by facilities for users of all ages and ability, such as huts to get changed in.

This would operate alongside the boat lane already put in place by RDC where jetskis have been allowed to launch but for which no safety measures had ever been provided according to Mr Hall.

The Planning Inspector discussed Mr Hall’s plans for Herbrand Walk and heard opinions from those opposed to the scheme.

These included campaigner John Hodson, who set up Herbrand Walk Preservation Society which now has 600 members, speaking in response to what he and others see as a threat to this unspoiled area of natural beauty.

Mr Hodson said: “The total nature of this beach will be changed by these proposals. We consider there is no justification whatsoever to have these facilities put on this site to launch a few kayaks.”

Mr Head sifted through a wide range of criteria, clarifications and conditions such as whether the beach fell outside the development boundary of the Bexhill Local Plan, whether the proposals might be more suited elsewhere, and if increased traffic to the beach would prove problematic.

Mr Hall’s plans were however dealt a surprise blow by RDC’s solicitor David Edwards who questioned the validity of the hearing itself when a search conducted last week revealed his ownership of the beach was not officially on the Land Register.

“It has become transparently clear that Mr Hall does not own that land,” he told the Inspector.

He then asked the Inspector to consider the legality of any decision made when Mr Hall’s ownership had not been proved.

Mr Hall responded by saying he had bought a section of the beach from John and Janet Walters and asked: “Have they sold me land that they didn’t own? Is that what you are saying?”

He explained that the process of land registration was still taking place to which Mr Head replied that he should have secured legal proof of ownership in order to apply for planning permission in the first place.

An early objector to Herbrand Walk development was Neil Macdonald of Macdonald Fisheries who owned the beach before selling to John Walters.

His widow attended the hearing and said he had changed his mind after Mr Hall talked over his plan and was in full support:

Val Macdonald told the hearing: “He was all for this to bring some life into Bexhill for the young.”

In answer to query from members of the public as to whether this was true she said: “I should know - I was married to him for 52 years.”

The Inspector closed the hearing before leaving for a site inspection to see for himself the beach and how changes might affect it – he will make his decision during the next two or three weeks and inform all those who attended the hearing, but also 37 who were not able to get in but signed the register also.

Afterwards John Hodson commented that he was “very pleased” with the day’s events and felt both sides received a fair hearing.