A new development at Whitstable harbour will create a “dangerous” bottleneck which could make the walkway “suicidal” for pedestrians in busy periods, traders fear.
The South Quay Shed, which is nearing completion, will be a mixed-use space for shops, eateries and cultural activities – with 15-self contained units laid out across two floors.
However, there are concerns two kiosks set to be based at the front of the development will dangerously encroach the harbour walkway.
It is already the narrowest part of the path on the harbour, which is one of the district’s most popular attractions.
Elizabeth Bennett, who co-runs the neighbouring Whitstable Fish Market and Crab and Winkle restaurant, says she has no problem with the area being developed.
But she fears there is a risk of visitors or fishermen falling into the water below.
“I know Canterbury City Council can do what they like and the planning is in their pockets, but to encroach on the harbour is suicide,” she said.
“The fencing has been around all summer so they can do their work.
“When the harbour is busy – and with locals and service vehicles – it is going to permanently reduce the harbour width with the plinth slots jutting out into the walkway.”
She believes the two huts and its customers will create a hazardous bottleneck, particularly during summer events such as the Whitstable Oyster Festival.
“It’s like the petrol crisis where you can’t get down the roads because of the queuing,” she added.
“We are going to have the same thing because of the two huts they are putting at the front of the building which is decreasing the walkthrough which is what the harbour was intended for.”
The huts will be located opposite two unloading berths which are used by fishermen.
Chris Attenborough, from the Whitstable Fishermen’s Association, is concerned about the impact the kiosks could have on safety.
“It is already dangerous enough as it is so I don’t understand why they would make it worse,” he said.
“We have to pull the catch up by hand, put it on a pallet and use a forklift, which we have to swing around to go perpendicular to the quay, which is where the problem is going to be.
“You have the thoroughfare coming through and there will be no gap whatsoever.
“At the moment, they have about a 12ft gap behind us. People don’t stop and we have had them go underneath pallets. It is chaotic at times in the summer.”
Leases for the formerly rundown shed, which was previously used for storage, are now being offered to businesses by Canterbury City Council – which operates the harbour.
Planning permission has been secured for a variety of uses, including for shops, restaurants, cafés, hot food takeaways and leisure activities.
The site, which will offer free Wi-Fi, will be open to the public from 9am to 8pm between March 2 and October 30 and between 9am and 5pm for the rest of the year.
A city council spokesman said: “The two external kiosks are an important part of the new South Quay Shed and have always been part of our redevelopment plans.
“We have carried out a risk assessment, which has been provided to the Whitstable Fishermen’s Association, and appropriate mitigation measures are in place for using a forklift on the south quay.
“We will continue to work closely with the fishermen to ensure the safe operation of this unique working harbour.”
In January 2020, it was revealed council planners had to go back to the drawing board for their design of the South Quay Shed after fears were raised over potential fire risks.
Plans to include re-purposed shipping containers in the two-storey scheme were ditched due to new regulations introduced following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, and concerns over the environmental impact.
The council announced it had redesigned the building, which had been used for storage until 2018, and put forward a fresh plan to use timber instead.
Work on the redevelopment was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, but the project continued despite fears major schemes planned for Whitstable could be put on hold.
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