by Priya Kantaria
Newhaven sandy beach remains closed to the public this summer but there are efforts to keep the campaign and negotiations open.
Campaigners are staging ‘beach invasions’ to protest the closure and keep their claim alive. One protester said: “There’s no light at the end of the tunnel, in terms of the owners having no intention of opening it.”
The last beach invasion was held on August 28, 2017, a sunny bank holiday, and the next one is planned for May 28. Campaigners agree that it is less about causing trouble and more about claiming their right to enjoy what should be a public space for fun with family and friends.
West beach or the sandy beach in Newhaven has been officially closed to the public since 2006. Rod Main, campaigner for Newhaven west beach and mayor when the beach was initially closed in 2006, said people should keep protesting. Over the last 12 years there have been court decisions to have it made public and subsequent High Court judgements to keep it out of access. Mr Main said: “Townsfolk are livid about the fact that they’ve been stopped from going to the beach by a bunch of people in Rouen.”
In May 2016, NPP, the French port authority which owns the land, seemed to accept the idea of passing on insurance responsibilities to Newhaven Town Council, meeting concerns they had for public safety. But hopes were quashed when its directors met councillors in Seaford in July 2016 and it was made clear that there would be no public access. Captain Francois Jean of NPP, based at the port in Newhaven, declined to comment, he said: “There is no update. Only the directors can talk about it.”
Mark Beaumont of Newhaven Regeneration Group (NRG), a social enterprise that looks at increasing the value of business in Newhaven and for its associates, and his co-founder Graham Precey have a different approach to the beach problem.
They wrote a letter in January to directors of NPP and the council that governs them, about which Mr Precey said: “We put some ideas to people in France about how the beach can be run differently.” But NRG is still waiting to hear back from these authorities.
Mr Precey said: “The community wants the beach, that’s clear. Our aspiration is that we can bring balance to the discussion.” The land was bought by NPP to ensure that the port would remain operational, as it is important to the local economy in Dieppe across the channel. It is also important to appreciate the €27 million made in subsidies every year for the sake of the ferry by people in Normandy, said Mr Precey. But the entrepreneurs also appreciate the feelings of the community and the importance of their efforts to reopen the beach and keep up the campaign to their right to use it.
Mr Beaumont said: “The beach is in a stalemate, but one way to get things moving is to find sympathy for (the owners’) perspectives.” The only way they see to negotiate a reopening of the beach it to build stronger links and they say that starts with listening.
Mr Precey suggests ‘collective responsibility’ from the community, and Mr Beaumont talks about accepting the organisational needs around the beach. These are considerations about profit and about safety. They talk about the larger issues at hand here, such as Capitalism and British Law, and the economics of Europe. When you see the small sandy beach on Newhaven's shore it is hard to grasp these.
The two very different approaches to get the sandy beach at Newhaven reopened might find success together.
If you want to join the community that is still fighting for and supporting a claim to the beach at Newhaven, join their Facebook group:
Newhaven beach shots by Martin Sinnock