Whitstable Beach Campaign: stop the industrialisation of the foreshore

Anne Wilks: “a grande dame of the old school”

How many readers remember Anne Wilks, I wonder?

She was a great campaigner for Whitstable, for the preservation of its green spaces, and for the quality of life of its residents.

Her and I struck up an unlikely friendship back in the 90s: me a dishevelled journalist with unsavoury habits, and her a grande dame of the old school, very proper, very neat, with formidable energy and a fierce, rapier-like intelligence.

She is commemorated in the town by having a right of way named after her: Wilks Way, between Island Wall and Wave Crest.

Sadly she passed away some years ago, but I often find myself thinking about her.

Most recently it was because of a letter I received containing a cheque for 50p. The letter also included the annual report for the Whitstable Oyster Fishery Company (WOFC) and the Chairman’s statement, signed by GB Green.

The cheque was a dividend for the one share I hold in the company, which I bought on Anne Wilks’ recommendation, in order to be able to attend the AGM.

Here is a paragraph from the Chairman’s statement: “We continue to fight vigorously against the village green application which is taking a huge toll on our time and finances. The application (sic) should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves for bringing this pointless and damaging claim which, if successful, will lead to the sea defences deteriorating and Whitstable being at risk of flood.”

He’s referring to the application by the Whitstable Beach Campaign to have the beach designated as a village green.

It was Mrs Wilks who was responsible for registering a number of the village greens dotted in and around Whitstable, including parts of the beach west of the caravan park near Saxon Shore.

So you have to ask, if this is the case, why haven’t the sea defences deteriorated at this end of town, and why hasn’t Island Wall been flooded in the intervening years?

Might it be because, actually, there is no risk whatsoever to the sea defences as a consequence of the beach acquiring village green status: that this is just scaremongering by the Chairman of the WOFC because he doesn’t want anyone interfering with his plans?

Which brings to mind the other issue affecting the beach right now: the unsightly, and frankly dangerous, proliferation of Oyster trestles which have sprouted up on the foreshore near the Horsebridge.

Who ever thought that having “ a sea of bayonets”, as Cllr Ashley Clark described them, sticking up under the water on one of Kent’s most popular beaches, famed for its water sports, was a good idea?

It’s true that under instruction from the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) the spikes have been bent over, which now makes them a sea of hooks instead: just as hazardous to unsuspecting shipping, and even more likely to snag on lines or clothing, possibly leading to the “worst credible outcome of severe injury or fatality” to quote from the MMO report.

What is truly astounding about this state of affairs is the fact that the WOFC has been able to put up these structures, without permission, and apparently with no comeback from the relevant authorities.

If you or I were to put up an unlicensed lean-to on the back of our house, the council would have it torn down immediately. In the case of the WOFC, however, it seems that anything goes.

If you too are worried about the industrialisation of our foreshore, and the danger this imposes, the Whitstable Beach Campaign would like to hear from you. Just look up their website on the internet.

The spirit of Mrs Wilks lives on.


From The Whitstable Gazette 15/03/18

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Canterbury Con: car parking charges at Lidl, Sturry Road

Lidl won’t be getting a penny more off me after ticket fiasco

I had a wonderful Christmas present from Lidl last year. They charged me £90 for the use of their car park.

This came as a bit of a surprise to me. I’ve been using their car park, on Sturry Road, Canterbury, on and off, for about six years now.

I used it for work as the delivery office is just around the corner, on Military Road.

It’s a bit cheeky, I know, but I always used to make a point of shopping there on my way home. Last financial year, 2016-2017, I spent a total of £732.81 in Lidl, so they were reasonably well compensated for their loss.

I’d stopped using it recently as I’d found another place to park, but on this particular day, in the run up to Christmas, with all the extra staff and the extra vans in the staff car park, the usual places were full, and I ended up back in Lidl car park again.

What I hadn’t realised is that in the interim period its status had changed, and there was now a strict time limit on how long you could stay.

Fair enough. Lidl don’t really want stray postal workers using their car park and filling up their their spaces; although, I have to say, even at peak periods, it was never completely full.

So you can imagine, when I got the parking charge notice I was mortified. That’s well over a day’s pay for me. So I decided to contest the charge on the basis that I hadn’t seen the signs.

This is entirely true. I arrived in the dark and I left in the dark and, no matter how many signs there were, or how well lit, I wasn’t looking so I hadn’t seen them.

I made my appeal, and they rejected my appeal. There are enough signs, they said, and I should have seen them. Then I made an appeal to the Independent Appeals Service (IAS).

My argument was this: the prima facie evidence that I hadn’t seen the signs is that I was parked there in the first place. QED. Had I seen the signs I would naturally have opted to park somewhere else.

The IAS also rejected my appeal, which seemed questionable to me.

All they did was to repeat what the parking company had said, while failing to give any weight to my argument; which makes me wonder how independent the Independent Appeals Service really is.

What strikes me is that this is sheer, unadulterated profiteering.

Lidl pay Athena ANPR Ltd. to administer their car park, so they are already fully compensated for the work they do.

Having been caught out once, I obviously have no intention of parking there again.

So why not give me the benefit of the doubt and let me off with a warning? Would that really have hurt? Instead of which they have pocketed the fine to add to their already considerable profits.

So thank you Lidl.

Your choice of Athena ANPR to police your car park has cost me £90; but it has cost you much, much more as I never intend to use your shop again. Ever.


From The Whitstable Gazette 01/03/18

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Whitstable History: the Post Office inside St Peter’s Church, Sydenham Street, Whitstable

A fond farewell as post office saga goes full circle

As one Facebook post put it: it’s the end of an era.

This was under a picture of a queue lined up outside the post office modules in St Peter’s Church, Sydenham Street.

Well it wasn’t really an “era” as such, since it only lasted fourteen months, but it was a memorable period for all that.

I mean: how many post offices do you know on the inside of old Victorian brick-built churches such as this? I imagine there can’t be that many.

I will miss it. It became an integral part of my life for a while, not least because I was the postman there. Still am, but I won’t be delivering Local Collect and Special Delivery packages to the church any more.

Nor will I be issuing a hearty good morning to the staff while jumping the queue and going straight to the counter: my privilege as the designated postal worker.

It was quite bizarre in there. I’ve never been a fan of Christian iconography, particularly of the grim 19th century variety, so it was always a relief to get to the counter to see the image of Ganesha, the colourful Hindu elephant-headed god, in the post office: obviously the proprietor’s personal deity.

But the church was warm and dry compared to the Portacabin in Gladstone Road it replaced, so I guess we shouldn’t moan.

According to Wikipedia, Ganesha is the patron of letters and learning and the remover of obstacles, so a particularly apt figure to oversee to proceedings at a post office, albeit a temporary one.

One thing it made clear was how under used some of these old church buildings are. Good on Simon Tillotson for making it available as a home for the post office, but it makes you wonder what other community needs the building might serve in future.

The new post office inside the Co-op on Cromwell Road is now open, two counters to serve the whole of Whitstable, on the site of the old Royal Mail delivery office.

Things have come full circle. People will be popping in to collect their packages again, as they did for many years, on almost exactly the same spot.


From The Whitstable Gazette 22/02/18

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Whitstable Campaign: Carnall Farrar take millions from NHS England

Scandal’s implications

Many thanks to Diane Langford and Julie Wassmer, two Whitstable activists who, through hard work and persistence, were able to expose a regional scandal in NHS spending with distinct national implications.

What they discovered was the use of NHS funds to pay consultancy firm, Carnall Farrar, over £6 million for barely 18 months work.

Add to this the fact that Dame Ruth Carnall, a former NHS executive, and partner in Carnall Farrar, was, at the same time, also the Independent Chair of the Programme Board of the local Sustainability & Transformation Plan (STP) – one of 44 regional bodies put in place by NHS England to implement cuts within the NHS – and you can see that there is a conflict of interest here.

If £6 million has gone to just this one firm in just one region, how much more is disappearing in the NHS as a whole?

It took these two doughty women over a year to dig out the truth, making numerous Freedom of Information requests, a lengthy and time consuming process.

There are several notable things about this story.

Firstly, that NHS Trusts are obliged by law to register all payments of £25K and over, and yet these sums paid to Carnell Farrar were not recorded. The explanation was that the STP was ‘not an organisation’ and therefore had no obligation to publish its payments.

Secondly, that it took two independent campaigners to discover this. When the women first approached the Trust they were told that the figure was £2.2 million. It was only with the help of research organisation Spinwatch that they were able to show it was at least £6.05 million, and possibly more.

Finally, that the story has hardly been touched by the press. The only national paper to take it up was the Morning Star. No other print paper has seen fit to publish it and it has not been reported by the BBC or any other broadcast medium. The only other report of the issue appeared on an independent website.

Why is the government encouraging health managers to fritter away millions on unaccountable management consultancies? With such a lack of transparency, it’s no wonder our NHS is in trouble.

NHS march on Downing Street, 03/02/18


From The Whitstable Gazette 01/02/18

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Whitstable Heritage: the Invicta Engine

Invicta would be wasted, and in danger, at harbour

I’ve just read the Whitstable Area Member Panel (WAMP) report on the relocation of the Invicta Engine, in which they recommend that it be moved to the proposed new development on the South Quay.

The report actually identifies four possible locations, two in Canterbury, and two in Whitstable, but then proceeds to dismiss all but the last: wrongly in my opinion.

First things first: it is obvious that it should be in Whitstable.

You don’t often associate our quaint little town with the epic landscape of Britain’s industrial past do you? And yet here it is: a steam engine, built by Robert Stephenson & Co, who also built the Rocket, pulling the world’s first scheduled passenger train along the Crab and Winkle line, from Canterbury to Whitstable.

In fact it only worked the Whitstable end of the line, from South Street to Bogshole, being far too puny to make the Church Street gradient. The rest of the way was served by static engines hauling the carriages by cable. Nevertheless, it is a significant artefact from Britain’s industrial heritage, and intimately connected with the history of our town.

The first problem with the WAMP report is that it simply wrong on the facts.

It dates the engine from 1825, when it was actually made in 1829, and then says that it was delivered to Whitstable Harbour in 1832, when it had already been working for two years by that time, long before the Harbour was even built.

This doesn’t bode well for the report’s conclusions, does it?

It also fails to take into consideration the fact that the Harbour location is actually five feet below the sea defence wall. If – God forbid! – there was ever a major flood, then this priceless object could be significantly damaged. Or even worse. The South Quay was last flooded in 2013.

Meanwhile we already have a museum in the town, with room to house the engine immediately, and enough space outside to build a custom made home for it in the future.

What would its purpose be in the harbour? It would sit in a glass box and serve as a backdrop to people’s shopping and dining experience.

In the museum it could be so much more.



From The Whitstable Gazette 25/01/18

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Whitstable People: Julian Spurrier

Reach out your hand if your cup be empty,
If your cup is full may it be again,
Let it be known there is a fountain,
That was not made by the hands of men.

Ripple by The Grateful Dead

Something tragic always happens at Christmas. This year it was the death of my dear friend Julian Spurrier, who passed away on the morning of December 31st 2017.

Typical Julian, courteous to the last. He wanted to get the grim stuff out of the way in time for the New Year celebrations.

His illness was sudden and catastrophic. Barely a month ago he was still out walking his dog, or going to the Labour Club, having a few drinks and catching up with the gossip, as was his wont.

Then one day he was overwhelmed with tiredness while out on a walk. He had to lie down on the footpath in the woods to recover.

He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. A few days before Christmas there was still talk of treatment, but the cancer had spread throughout his body by then and it was already too late. He went into a hospice, and within a week he was dead.

He died without pain. A friend, who went to see him, told me his eyes were soft, at peace.

What can you say about Julian? He was extraordinary: possibly the most kind, the most welcoming, the most generous person I ever knew. He was funny, irreverent, anarchic, mischievous and an old fashioned gentleman, all at the same time.

He liked nothing better than being the host at an impromptu party. My most abiding memory is of him preparing wine glasses in the kitchen. He had a whole ritual around this: pouring hot water into the glass, then polishing it till it shone; after which he would emerge, tea towel draped over his shoulder, a tray full of glasses, sparkling and filled to the brim, to serve to his guests.

I knew him for 40 years or more. I shared a house with him. He taught me to drive, and helped to bring up my son.

The last time I saw him was was on Thursday the 19th October 2017. I know this because my brother was over from America. We went out for a drink and ended up at the Labour Club.

Julian was at the bar before I even had chance to order. That was one of his tricks. He always had to make sure he got the drinks in first.

He said to my brother: “Thank you for bringing Chris out. I don’t see enough of my old friend.”

Those were almost the last words I heard him speak.

The night before he died I couldn’t sleep. My heart was pounding in my chest. I was restless and itchy and my brain wouldn’t stop churning, I didn’t know why. I had to get up. I went and sat in front of my computer.

There are two songs I associate with Julian. One is Ripple, by the Grateful Dead. I’d been singing it that morning in Tesco, no doubt to the annoyance of everyone at the delicatessen counter.

The other is I’ll Fly Away by the Kossoy Sisters, from O Brother, Where Art Thou, the Coen Brothers movie. It was Julian’s favourite film.

I’d sent a friend a link to it earlier in the evening. So I dug out the email and clicked on the link to listen to the song.

The words are very precise and very apt.

Some bright morning when this life is over
I’ll fly away, fly away
To that home on God’s celestial shore
I’ll fly away, fly away

I’ll fly away, fly away, oh glory
I’ll fly away, fly away, in the morning
When I die hallelujah by and by
I’ll fly away, fly away

I wasn’t thinking of this in a religious way. I don’t know if there’s a God or not. I don’t know what lies after death. But I wanted Julian’s passing to be swift, for him not to have to suffer, and the idea of him flying away into the clear blue sky, like a bird, seemed the perfect image of what I wished for him.

When the shadows of this life have gone
I’ll fly away, fly away
Like a bird from these prison walls I’ll fly
I’ll fly away, fly away

I was thinking of my Mum’s passing. Her last few months were spent bed bound in hospital, her body a twisted, useless wreck. It was like her spirit was shackled to a corpse. She could do nothing for herself. She was utterly dependent. She was, indeed, in prison. When she died, it was as if she had broken free.

So I was wishing this for my friend. May he break out of the prison of his bound and broken body. May he be free to journey to the next realm, wherever, whatever, however that may be.

After a while I went back to my bed and tried to sleep. I was not very successful. My heart kept thumping in my chest and I dozed fitfully for the rest of the night, the words of the song echoing in my head.

I’ll fly away, fly away oh glory
I’ll fly away, fly away, in the morning
When I die hallelujah by and by
I’ll fly away, fly away,
In the morning…

It was when I got up in the morning that I heard that he was gone.

So now it’s goodbye Julian, my old friend. I saw you drunk a hundred times, but I never saw you angry or aggressive. I never saw you violent. I saw you make any number of mistakes, but I never saw you lay the blame on anyone else for your own shortcomings. I saw that you lived your life according to a routine at times, but you never lost the light of possibility from your eyes, and you never gave in to hatred or scorn.

I only lived around the corner from you, no more than five minutes walk, but I never came to visit. That’s because I always knew you were there, and I could visit any time.

How wrong I was. I won’t make that mistake again. I will cherish my friends from now on.

Every minute of every day, every heartache, every pain; every smile, every laugh, every moment of joy; every weary step along the way, by the same old roads through the endless changing days: it is all so precious, it is all so alive. Let me know the value of everything that touches on my life, and let me never forget.

You, my friend. Let me never forget you.

Friends pay tribute to local Labour stalwart Julian Spurrier:



Whitstable Shops: where a postman buys his socks

I’m a part-time postman. I walk, on average, between ten and twelve miles a day, three days a week, throughout the year. That’s about 1,500 miles a year: a lot of walking. I go through about two pairs of shoes a year. And yet I’ve been wearing the same three pairs of socks for the last three years.

How could this be?

They are mighty good socks.

Not only that, but I can wear them for a week, or even more, and they never smell. They are soft on the feet and very comfortable. They are made of bamboo fibre, and are, quite simply, the best socks I’ve ever bought.

I wear them in conjunction with merino wool socks made by Bridgedale, which I bought in 2008 and have been wearing ever since. I have two pairs of these. The combination of the warmth and comfort of the merino wool on the outside, and the softness and hard-wearingness of the bamboo fibre next to my skin, is perfect for the kind of gruelling regime I put my feet through on a daily basis.

The bamboo socks are made by a company called Bam, who make bamboo clothing of all sorts. I’m sure you can get them on the internet, but I, personally, buy mine at Herbaceous in Oxford Street, Whitstable.

They cost £4.50 a pair, which is quite a lot for a pair of socks, but, when you consider how long mine have lasted, that is actually a great investment.

Seriously: every time I’m forced to put on a different pair of socks, I regret it. They load up with bacteria and smell like ripe Camembert within a day. The bamboo socks never do. They are still fresh and clean-smelling even after several days of heavy use.

I love them so much they’ve become the standard Christmas present for all of my male relatives. How could that be wrong? Everybody needs socks, and who wouldn’t be pleased with the most comfortable, soft, long-lasting and sweet smelling socks in existence?

The reason I go to Herbaceous to buy them is that the owner, Belinda Murray, is an independent trader, of the sort who should be encouraged in our town.

She not only sells socks, but also wholefood, herbs and spices, eco-friendly washing products, ethnic goods, scented candles, jewellery, incense, and a large selection of gifts, like statues of the Buddha, sandalwood soap dishes and sun-catchers.

Belinda works very hard, and for not much of a return. It’s difficult being an independent trader in Whitstable these days, what with all the big supermarkets circling the town like vultures, but, actually Herbaceous remains very competitive.

Why not pop is and take a look some time? There are some great gifts on sale and you might be pleasantly surprised at the prices.

Plus you can buy a few pairs of bamboo socks while you’re at it.

Herbaceous website: http://www.herbsandremedies.com/

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Herbaceous-182513695129169/


East Kent Health: new “super hospital” for Canterbury

Peculiar link between health and a developer’s profits

Mark Quinn, managing director of Quinn Estates, has offered to build a “super-hospital” in Canterbury, in exchange for permission to build 2,000 new houses.

Will the nurses and ancillary staff working at the hospital be able to afford these properties, I wonder?

How many of them will be social houses at affordable rents?

I think we already know the answers to both of those questions.

Don’t you think there’s something peculiar about a system that links the health needs of a whole region to the profit requirements of a property developer?

Mark Quinn is a businessman, not a charity, and one thing is certain: he expects to make money on the deal, or he wouldn’t be offering it.

Meanwhile we learned this week that Virgin Care, part of Richard Branson’s business empire, appears to have been paid a settlement by the NHS after it failed to win a bid to provide children’s services in Surrey.

The company immediately started legal proceedings. According to the Daily Telegraph, board papers for one of the Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) involved in the case state that its “liability” amounted to £328,000.

Just let that sink in for a moment.

That’s £328,000 of public money reportedly paid out by the NHS to a private company, whose multi-billionaire boss resides on a Caribbean Island for tax purposes.

East Kent CCGs have also given contracts to corporations and are equally open to being sued.

Of course, if the new hospital is built in Canterbury, that would mean a downgrading of services in Margate and Ashford, something I’m certain that the people of those two towns will resist.

The idea that we have to go begging to property developers, or that the choices on offer force one region to compete with another in a bidding process, is surely a measure of just how degraded the service has become.

In 2005 Jeremy Hunt co-authored a book which called for the replacement of the NHS with an insurance market system on the American model.

That process is already well underway. Let’s hope we can stop it before it’s too late.


From The Whitstable Gazette 07/12/17

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Whitstable News: Closure of the Whitstable Times

Loss of rival newspaper is cause for real regret

The last edition of the Whitstable Times came out last week, leaving the town with only one newspaper.

It’s a sad day. The Times has been reporting from this town since 1864.

I wrote for the paper from 1999 to 2008. There were two columnists at the time, myself and Steve Regan. We were a bit like a double act, always winding each other up: Steve from a right-wing perspective, and myself from the left. John Nurden was the editor.

Steve and I stopped writing for the paper after the financial crash of 2008, when the owners decided they could no longer afford to pay the columnists. I got a job with the Gazette and have been writing here ever since.

People will remember the Times’ office in Cromwell Road. It was opposite the old Royal Mail delivery office, so I could finish work in the one and step over the road to the other in less than a minute.

What the loss of the Times highlights is two fundamental things. Firstly it shows the failure of the capitalist system to defend people and their jobs.

Money was sucked from the real economy in order to shore up the banks. Many businesses went under and the austerity narrative began to drive the political agenda. The paper was forced to sell off its assets, becoming ever more distant from the town.

The offices moved to Canterbury first, and then to Margate, during which time it was also downgraded to a free paper.

The second thing it shows is the impact of the internet on people’s reading habits. Many people simply do not read newspapers any more, preferring to get their news from social networking platforms like Facebook or Twitter.

But these sites do not generate their own content: they are dependent on news gathered from other sites, and on their users to share it around.

It’s important that Whitstable still has a proper newspaper like the Gazette to represent it, but I can’t help thinking that the news landscape has become a little more one-dimensional with the loss of its historic rival.


From The Whitstable Gazette 05/10/17

The editor welcomes letters on any topical subject, but reserves the right to edit them. Letters must include your name and address even when emailed and a daytime telephone number.

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Some CJ Stone stories from the Whitstable Times

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