Whitstable Harbour

Whitstable Harbour

ABOUT THE VILLAGE

Whitstable Harbour Village was opened in May 2007, as a noble endeavour to utilise some wasted space in Whitstable Harbour, prior to the proposed large scale re-development of the South Quay. Over ten thousand people visited on the opening week-end and something special was launched.

Whitstable HarbourThe village has now grown from a modest local art and crafts market to a community of 30 traditional timber fisherman's huts all supplied by local supplier Quinney's, which house local artists, artisans, crafts-people and independent local retailers from across Kent.

The motivation was quite simply to put local entrepreneurs and local skills back on the map and fight back against the all powerful superstores and the creation of clone towns.

AUTHENTIC WHITSTABLE HARBOUR

Whitstable Harbour is unique because it is owned and operated by the local authority (Canterbury City Council) on behalf of the people of Whitstable. People in Whitstable feel very passionately about the future of their harbour, which represents the proud maritime heritage of their town. The harbour was the site of the first ever passenger steam railway (The Crab and Winkle Line) and until relatively recently, Whitstable still boasted several shipyards making and servicing traditional sailing Smacks and was home to pioneering commercial diving companies. Of course, there is the more famous association with Oysters, which has been in place since Roman times.

Today, the harbour remains an active and busy maritime centre. A real working harbour with real working people. There is a busy aggregates yard operated by Brett's on the East Quay. You will sometimes hear smart visitors complaining that the Brett's yard is just "too ugly" but they miss the point that this is a real harbour, not a Disney reconstruction. If you don't like fish markets that smell of fish, then you might feel more comfortable at Alton Towers.

WHO ELSE USES WHITSTABLE HARBOUR?

Whitstable HarbourThe Thames sailing barge GRETA berths on the South Quay during the summer months and there are still several working fishing boats operated by local companies in the harbour. There is the Lifeboat Station, yacht chandlers, fish market and whelks business as well as the very active Sailing Club just next door that stores many of its member's boats on the West Quay.

It is often forgotten that the harbour is also the maintenance base for the Kentish Flats Offshore Windfarm which was the UK's largest wind farm when it became operational in December 2005 and its 30 turbines are managed by the Danish company Vattenfall from their HQ on the West Quay. The harbour village took over their temporary site in 2006, when they moved to their pupose-built new offices.

It is not unusual to see pleasure vessels like the MV Princess Pocahontas and the historic Waverley Castle ,which is the last seagoing paddle steamer in the world, visit Whitstable Harbour in the summer season. Probably the finest and least publicised sight in the harbour is the traditional Smacks and Barges that have graced the Thames and Swale estuaries for hundreds of years and still meet every August, for the Whitstable Barge Match.

MORE RECENT DEVELOPMENTS AT WHITSTABLE HARBOUR

Whitstable HarbourGiven this rich maritime heritage and the intimate connection with the sea, it was not totally surprising when a great deal of anger was generated by the publication of three council inspired plans to implement a modern commercial redevelopment of the harbour, in 2007.  A local action group was quickly formed and architects, fishermen, university academics and refuse collectors all united to defeat (or at least postpone indefinitely) the glass and chrome visions that most agreed were completely out of character with Whitstable and its coastal folk. Over 18,000 signatures were obtained on a single petition and the action group is still in force today monitoring the local authority. To the utter astonishment of most locals, a windowless concrete supermarket was proposed for the South Quay and the now famous banner; "Shipping not Shopping" was draped over the timber buildings on West Quay for the first time that summer. Since then we have welcomed some helpful Visitor Information Panels and the opening of the Dead Man’s Corner seating and performance area in 2011 but little else has changed in the last five years.

THE FUTURE FOR WHITSTABLE HARBOUR

The controversy inspired a stalemate. Many thought that the Whitstable Harbour Board, who run the harbour on behalf of the Council had lost the confidence of the town. Even modest and reasonable suggestions to improve the harbour, were often met with suspicion and derision, since that summer of conflict in 2007. Despite a glossy strategy document published by the Harbour Board , very few would like to predict what the harbour will look like next year, never mind in ten years time. No-one has yet got their heads around the concept of combining an increasingly popular visitor destination with an authentic working harbour, by harnessing the real maritime heritage that is already there, but we can only live in hope.