Concerns have been raised about the safety of swimmers as council leaders temporarily approved the launching of jet skis at a popular beach near Bexhill.
At a meeting on Monday (September 3), Rother District Council’s cabinet endorsed the temporary use of a boat lane at Herbrand Walk near Cooden Beach as a launch and recovery area for jet skis.
Cabinet members heard how the site had been designated earlier this summer after the council received urgent legal advice about the use of jet skis in the district.
Previously jet skiers had been banned from launching by local by-laws, with signage and council coastal officers to inform them not to use the site. Despite this jet skiers continued to use the beach, with coastal officers saying they were unable to take further enforcement action without support from police.
As a result the council took legal advice and was informed it should designate a new site within the district for jet skiers to launch from, or else run the risk of being found liable if a swimmer were to be injured.
Cabinet members heard how this legal advice was received shortly before the August bank holiday weekend, leading to Rother’s executive director of resources Malcolm Johnston making ‘an operational decision’ to designate the site immediately.
However the move drew criticism from several cabinet members, including Darwell councillor Eleanor Kirby-Green (Con.) She said: “Reading this report, it seems to me that because we can’t police it then the people who break the rules and do it at the moment are going to get their own way by us saying: ‘okay you can do it’.
“That doesn’t sit comfortably with me.”
Criticism was also raised by Bexhill Sackville councillor Ian Hollidge who highlighted his concerns about the safety of other beach users and described jet skiers as ‘reckless’.
Cllr Hollidge said: “We want to encourage visitors to the area and we want to encourage them to be environmentally friendly. Use the wind-surfing, use the kayaking and canoeing and all other beach-related activities.
“It is the wrong place to try and encourage this. We are trying to create a marine conservation zone in that area and the petrol and oil from a two-stroke engine is likely to cause pollution.”
Cllr Hollidge also raised concerns about the noise of jet ski engines, saying he expected it would disturb the owners of the recently-sold beach huts near to Galley Hill.
In an effort to reach a consensus Martin Kenward put forward an amendment to the recommended decision, endorsing the designation of Herbrand Walk only as a temporary measure until further study and consultation work can take place.
The consultation would seek views from beach hut owners and other beach users as well as local residents and fisherman, Cllr Kenward said.
Following a debate cabinet members agreed to adopt Cllr Kenward’s amended recommendations.
Before the vote, council leader Carl Maynard said: “This is a difficult matter but I think members have grasped the fundamental nettle here. This is about beach safety for swimmers, not about making it attractive for jet ski users.
“I think that is the view of many members here today.”