Oysters have been collected off the coast of Whitstable in Kent for centuries. The right to fish in Whitstable was granted by Royal Patent in 1574. The Company of Free Fishers and Dredgers of Whitstable was incorporated as the Whitstable Oyster Fishery Company (“WOFC”) in 1793 by a Private Act of Parliament: “an Act for incorporating the company of free fishers and dredgers of Whitstable in the County of Kent and for the better ordering and governance of the fishery”. WOFC still exists to this day.
Around 2008, WOFC started a new method of cultivating oysters by placing them in mesh bags attached to metal trestles in the inter-tidal zone. Having been advised by Canterbury City Council (“CCC”) that the trestles did not require planning permission, WOFC expanded the farm significantly. In July 2018, CCC changed their mind about the trestles requiring planning permission and issued an enforcement notice requiring the removal of all trestles landward of the mean low water mark (the limit of their jurisdiction), citing concerns relating primarily to ecological impacts. By this time, the trestles were essential to the operations of WOFC, enabling the company to produce around 100 metric tons of oysters per year (equivalent to 1 million oyster shells).
WOFC appealed against the notice. A local campaign group called the Whitstable Beach Campaign obtained “Rule 6” status in the appeal, objecting to the trestles on grounds relating to ecology, character and appearance, recreational amenity, navigational safety and marine litter. Following an adjournment of the initially scheduled dates due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a 10-day public inquiry took place in July-August 2021. During the inquiry, CCC withdrew their opposition to the trestles once Natural England concluded that adverse impacts on protected bird populations could be ruled out.
On 25 October 2021, Katie Peerless, a Planning Inspector appointed by the Secretary of State, allowed WOFC’s appeal under section 174(2)(a) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, namely that planning permission should be granted for the development enforced against by the enforcement notice.
A copy of the decision is available here.
Matthew Fraser acted for WOFC, led by Charlie Banner QC of Keating Chambers, instructed by George Crofton-Martin of Furley Page LLP.