A CORNWALL Council planning committee has decided the fate of an almost 100-year-old beach campsite, which was deemed a risk to life by the Environment Agency due to flooding concerns.

A committee of local residents who manage the private campsite on Sandway Beach in the Kingsand area of the Rame Peninsula had applied for planning permission to continue putting up the tents for the next five years. The tents – which look like beach huts – were originally erected by fishermen over 90 years ago and the tradition has been continued over the generations by their families.

However, the Environment Agency said the risk of rising tides and flooding would put users in danger and recommended refusal to Cornwall Council’s planning department, which, as a result, recommended that councillors did not approve the proposals to pitch the tents between April 1 and September 30 each year for five years, alongside the installation of an emergency evacuation ladder.

Maker with Rame Parish Council strongly supported the application, however. Cllr Dawn Williams spoke at a meeting of Cornwall Council’s east sub-area planning committee today (Monday, February 19) on behalf of the parish.

She said: “The local community is in broad support for the tents for the next five years. While we appreciate the concerns and good work of the Environment Agency, disallowing the tents at this stage would be an act of an over-abundance of caution. The tents are part of our community and our local culture and heritage.

“They are leased by local people and have stayed in the families of local people for generations. They remain the very best low impact eco-tourism. The tents help to manage anti-social behaviour in the area and last year, when they weren’t there, we had some very bad incidents from teenagers, etc. The tent owners also help to maintain the hedges and footpaths, so they have a positive impact in our area.”

She added: “We do recognise the realities of global warming and the increasing heights of tides. However, the tents are on a raised platform and are only occupied during the summer months when poor weather is actually very rare.” Cllr Williams stressed that the users kept up to date with weather reports, had risk mitigation in place and didn’t use the tents during times of storms.

“In terms of safety, there’s no risk to life – there’s never been a risk to life in that area. There’s an easy exit at both ends of the site. When the tents arrive that means summer has come and they’re a very welcome addition to our community.”

Applicant Tim Fishleigh, speaking on behalf of the Sandways campsite committee, stressed the economic and social benefits of the campsite in the area. He said its users are caretakers of the site who look after historical buildings, carry out beach cleans, and curb unruly behaviour and wild camping.

He said the site had operated for over 90 years without incident which proved that collectively the local tent users know how to manage the site safely. He added that, to date, the Environment Agency has had no reports of flooding in the area.

Local member Cllr Kate Ewert also strongly supported the application, telling the committee that the campsite was a much-loved part of the Kingsand and Cawsand community, the wider community on the Rame Peninsula and further afield. “The fact that they are inhabited by local families and not tourists makes them even more special. It’s one of the last things on the Rame for locals in the summer.

“There has never been a tragedy, no one has been flooded while in the tents and no one cut off without escape,” she said, adding that was due to the tent users’ local knowledge and understanding of the tides and “small risks”.

“They would not be using the tents if the forecast was bad. They would not be putting their families at risk. The community benefit is not to be understated. It’s a really, really important part of our community,” added Cllr Ewert.

Deputy chairman of the planning committee Cllr John Tivnan said there seemed to be an “over-cautious approach” by the EA, “who were not present to answer any questions as to why they feel so strongly on the matter”.

Cllr Andrew Long said he found the response from the EA “quite concerning”. “It puts every single person who attends our coastal areas in one box as being an unconscious tourist visitor who has no idea what’s going on and turns up and puts themselves in danger. If this was a campsite open to the public, then I could understand it. They haven’t taken the risk mitigation into account – they’ve taken a broad brush approach.”

Cllr Jennifer Cruse added: “It’s obvious that the people who use the tents know all about the weather – we have tide tables, we have weather predictions, and there have been no accidents. We’re overlooking the important community benefit to the environment and the enjoyment of people’s lives. What is life all about? Enjoyment … and we’re about to take a heck of a lot of enjoyment away from the local community.”

Cllr Dominic Fairman pointed out that people had said there hadn’t been any incidents over the last 90 years “but the next five years are not going to look like the last 90 years and that’s just a simple matter of fact because of climate change”.

He said the fact that Cornwall Council owns the site (in tandem with Plymouth City Council) worried him as “we’ll give tacit permission for a potentially dangerous pastime”. Cllr Barry Jordan agreed and said he was not happy with the application. “I don’t think even the slightest risk that someone can get killed is worth it.”

However, Cllr John Fitter warned councillors to be “very careful that we don’t get driven into a corner where the words ‘climate emergency’ are mentioned and we all go to the bunkers or to the hills”.

He added: “I’m passionate in saying these people who run this site should be allowed to manage this risk in a professional and sensible way. They know the area.”

The majority of the committee agreed with him and voted to allow the tradition to continue for at least the next five years due to the community benefits outweighing the flood risk issues, stating that current mitigations would adequately deal with any flood risk.

Eight councillors voted in favour with two against. Cllrs Fairman and Jordan wanted their names recorded as voting against.