Friends of Highcliffe Beaches and Cliffs Interest Group

About us

Friends of Highcliffe Beaches and Cliffs (FOHBAC) was founded on 7th May 2016. Our initial campaign was to stop Christchurch Borough Council (CBC) allowing the building of 12 large overnight Beach Retreats that were to be sited on the cliffs between Highcliffe Castle and The Cliffhanger Cafe as part of a competition being run jointly by CBC and Channel 4’s George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces, produced by Plum Pictures Ltd.

We are pleased to announce this was achieved on Monday 8th August 2016 when after extensive pressure from the residents of Highcliffe Plum Pictures Ltd ended their agreement with Christchurch Borough Council for the beach retreat competition.

FOHBAC would like to thank everyone for their tremendous support and efforts to help put a stop to the competition.

To carry on with the campaign to protect the SSSI cliffs at Highcliffe from any type of development being located along this beautiful piece of coastline we have now formed The FOHBAC Interest Group. The steering group members, Nigel Brooks, Richard Chatterton and Josephine Pollen have filled the three principal offices on the Committee together with Susan Chitty and Peter Fenning. We are all working tirelessly, on your behalf, to protect our beautiful coastline.

We invited author and Natural History writer for the Guardian, Patrick Barkham and Highcliffe resident and author Joy Shellard to be our patrons. We are delighted to announce that both have agreed.

Patrick Barkham’s first book ‘The Butterfly Isles’ was shortlisted for the 2011 Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje prize. This was followed by ‘Badgerlands’ and was quoted as “a must read for all Britain’s naturalists” by Chris Packham and again shortlisted for both the 2014 RSL Ondaatje Prize and the inaugural Wainwright Prize for Nature and Travel Writing. In April 2015 Patrick’s book ‘Coastlines’ was published to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the National Trust’s campaign to save the British coast.

Our local author Joy Shellard wrote ‘Highcliffe’s Pot of Gold’ which was published in 2013. This tells about the 120 different species of wild flower to be found on our cliffs. A quote from her book ‘we are indeed extremely fortunate to have an almost unbelievable variety of flowers in such a small area’. Joy’s other books include ‘A child of the Home Front: 1939-1945 published in 2003 and ‘My Jurassic Playground: From First to Second Childhood’ published in 2011.

If you would like to become a member of the FOHBAC Interest Group please sign up to our mailing list.

For your information you can read and download FOHBAC Interest group constitution pdf.

PDF download

Download Interest Group Constitution

Contact us

To contact us about the campaign, please email [please enable scripting to view email address]

The Campaign

Christchurch Borough Council were proposing to site 12 overnight beach retreats on SSSI cliffs at Highcliffe. Each beach retreat would have accommodated up to 6 people to live in for a week’s holiday at a time. However the beach retreats would have no running water or mains electricity and there were no shower or toilet facilities on site.

A competition was being run by CBC who teamed up with the TV production company, Plum Pictures, Channel 4 and celebrity architect George Clarke (of programmes such as ‘Amazing Spaces’ and ‘Shed of the Year’). The competition was open to all and the winning designers were each to be given a budget of £8000, of tax payers money, to spend on material to build their “innovative and exciting” beach retreats.

The competition ended on 1st May, the winners were due to be picked on 13th May and the winning designs completed by 28th August, when the 12 designs were to be transported to Highcliffe. The installation process would have taken place during the week beginning 5th September.

CBC were and are still adamant that planning consent is not required as overnight beach retreats or day huts can be classed as having ‘permitted development rights’. This has been vigorously contested by experts and residents and we are still contesting this at the highest level.

CBC, who own the cliff face site acted with secrecy throughout. CBC’s Resources Committee agreed the proposal at their meeting on 2nd December 2015 but excluded the public and press from accessing any knowledge of what was going on and the financial implications.

Highcliffe residents only became aware of this proposal from an article in the Bournemouth Echo (online) on Wednesday 23 March featuring Councillor Vicki Hallam and CBC’s Community and Open Spaces Manager Matt Reeks with a photo of them pointing at the potential cliff face locations. However, the competition was being advertised to those in the know by Plum Pictures as early as 16th March.

The cliff face is part of a SSSI which is protected in law for its geology and CBC have been given stark warnings by a Professor of Geographical and Environmental Sciences that interference with the cliff face and drainage would give rise to significant long term risks in respect of stability and erosion.

CBC failed to answer any of our questions or respond to most emails and we, the residents, were not happy. The conclusion many of us came to was that this was the wrong location for these beach retreats and CBC should bring the proposal to an end straightaway.

The council continued to proceed with the plan until Monday 8th August when Plum Pictures served Christchurch Borough Council with notification of termination of the Agreement to run a competition for overnight beach retreats at Highcliffe cliffs.

The campaign has received tremendous support from local residents and public from further afield. We are all delighted with the outcome.

Please note the campaign continues.

At the Scrutiny and Policy Overview Committee meeting held on 19th July a Scoping Group was formed whose purpose is to investigate the project from inception to delivery.

FOHBAC have asked to be kept informed of any meetings that will be taking place and requested that we are invited to attend these meetings.

It was agreed that the findings of the Scoping Group would be presented to a Special meeting of the Scrutiny & Policy Overview Committee. We believe this is to be held on 19th September 2016.

FOHBAC understands that the council is still considering future developments at Highcliffe and this may include day huts. We intend to continue to monitor this with a view to preventing any development of this kind at Highcliffe. We feel that the Christchurch area already has an abundance of beach huts, many of which are unused even in peak summer season, offering the visitor views of rows of locked huts. Highcliffe, with its special flora and fauna and its unique geology, needs to be protected from this kind of creeping development. We at FOHBAC have many ideas of what is needed at Highcliffe to attract visitors and locals alike and we intend to continue to work, hopefully with the support of the council, to implement these.

Latest news

01 Jul 17

Replacement of the Highcliffe Castle 'Zig Zag' path

The plans for the replacement of the Highcliffe Castle ‘zig zag’ path to the beach are shortly going to be present by Christchurch Council Officers and the Dorset Coastal Connection Team. We would encourage you to go along and have a look as well as take the opportunity to chat to the presentation team with your views and ideas

Click here to see details

11 Apr 17

Christchurch Council have received part of a £5.6m government grant

‘Christchurch Council, as part of the ‘Dorset Coastal Community Team’ have received part of a £5.6m government grant. 

The total grant covers a number of projects along the coast, throughout Dorset. Go to for full details. The announcement was made know on the web site on 3rd April. 

The 'chain' of projects comes under one umbrella, yet each project will be developed and delivered to suit the individual needs of the local area. Each project will work with their own communities to ensure they fit with the local culture and heritage. The projects will also connect with one another, with community/stakeholder engagement and artist input being an essential ingredient across all locations.

The projects in Christchurch are listed as:

Christchurch Public Realm Promenade Project
The promenade at Avon Beach will be raised, reducing the risk of storm damage to the tenants 70+ timber beach huts, and provide an opportunity for Avon Beach Ltd to maximise the commercial potential of the site, providing a greater range of services to the community and ultimately creating new jobs for local people.

Highcliffe Castle Beach Access
Replacement of the existing disabled ramp and associated soil retaining structures. The ramp is the only sloped access located between Highcliffe Cliffhanger and Friars Cliff and serves a vital function in making the coast accessible to all users. It also provides the only link in the coastal path between Chewton Bunny and Steamer Point. The path is also a key component of the facilities offered by Highcliffe Castle.

Christchurch Coastal Access
Christchurch Visitor Hub is located at Highcliffe; the area is well-known for its fantastic view and access to the beach. It is an up and coming area for water recreation and there are several companies that operate from this location. Currently the area is run down and there is no interpretation or orientation for the area. The funding will go towards regeneration and improving access in this area to benefit the community, visitor experience and the local businesses.

Digital Connectivity
Installation of free access public Wi-Fi hotspots in six coastal communities in Dorset, which is a key part of Digital Dorset, an ongoing digital development project. Following this infrastructure improvement, Digital Dorset will support communities to deliver targeted marketing and tailored content for each location to maximise the use of the connectivity available. This project recognises that the availability of fast, reliable and cost-effective mobile internet access is an important part of a successful digital landscape, thriving local economy and vibrant community.

Community Art Installations
To inspire positive behaviour change within specific coastal communities in order to reduce the amount of 'left behind' food & drink litter on local beaches. This will be achieved through delivering specific campaigns with the following themes:

  •  switching to sustainable alternatives for disposable items helps my business, and helps keep our beaches and seawater clean and healthy
  • refusing unnecessary disposable items helps keep our beaches and seawater clean and healthy
  • disposing of our food-related waste appropriately helps keep our beaches and seawater clean and healthy

As a final output for each strand, partners and artists will work with businesses and communities to develop high quality temporary artworks to be displayed along the towns' seafronts; celebrating their work within the project, inspiring others to adopt similar behaviour changes, and strengthening their connections to the coast. The installations will provide an eye catching, contemporary and fun way to connect to the coastline.

Connecting Coast through Activities
The existing website is a map-based tourist information tool which helps visitors to plan their visits and discover a wide range of water sports and coastal activities available on the Dorset Coast. This project seeks to further develop the site to provide facility for businesses to connect better to each other, work together and take ownership of their content on the site. The aim of the project is to provide an online hub for businesses in Dorset to share experience through discussion forums, promote business development events and better link providers together, providing a more cohesive offer for visitors and supporting the local economy’.

20 Mar 17

Scrutiny Policy & Overview Committee

Tuesday 14th March 2017

Highcliffe Beach Huts- Final Report of the Task and Finish Group

Councillor Lesley Dedman presented the report for Members questions and discussions (see link to the document on ‘Highcliffe News’ web site entry for 10 March).

  • The report does not name Councillors who were involved. It was noted that Portfolio Holder Councillors had changed during the chronological order of events.
  • Committee Members were considerably frustrated that the contract CBC signed with Plum Pictures/Beach Retreats remains confidential and not even available to the Scrutiny Committee.
  • A Member said that an item of correspondence, received by one of his ward residents, categorically states that CBC first approached Channel 4 in respect of the Retreats project. This point is not adequately clear in the report.
  • A Member felt they are being denied the right to represent residents when Officers use ‘confidentiality’ to push matters through Committees, which is wholly wrong.
  • A Member suggested that Contracts of a certain value should be dealt with by external expertise. Whilst acknowledged with so many Contracts being entered into by CBC this would be difficult to control and costly.
  • A repeated concern was the lack of communication to Members generally when one Committee deals with a matter but then not put before another Committee thus all Members don’t know what was going on.
  • The use of ‘Permitted Development Orders’ by a Local Authority to avoid going for Planning Permission before the Planning Committee was seen as ‘flawed’ by a Member. A Planning Application would have made the matter open for consultation and transparent.
  • A Member questioned why the scheme reservations on ‘cliff stability’ were not heeded early in the project process.
  • One individual Member even felt CBC had done everything correctly!       


The Committee approved the Recommendations below, subject to some minor amendments/insertions (my amendments in BOLD)   

Recommendations: It is RECOMMENDED that:

(a) Contracts with onerous and restrictive confidentiality clauses and the fact that details are not released to Members’ defeat the Councils avowed objective of transparency and prevent the consultation process being carried out. The Task and Finish Group recommend that [SUCH] contracts not be signed in future unless approved by the Leader and Deputy Leader;

(b) Members must not give assurances how a project will be received by their Ward unless they have specific knowledge and consultation has been carried out on the specific plans;

(c) The likelihood of resident concerns and ways to minimise them should be an initial consideration to prevent the Council proceeding with any project which [MAY] causes reputational damage. Reputational risk should be added to the list of factors considered in generating schemes; and

(d) The report be forwarded to [FULL COUNCIL] and the Policy and Resources Committee.

You can put what CBC need to ensure they do in future into a formula.

Consultation + Openness + Transparency = Trust + ‘Reputation Intact’

This should not come as a surprise to all Members and Council Officers, it’s their very own Consultation Charter adopted in March 1999!

The lessons of the Beach Retreats fiasco (not Huts, as often referred to!) must be learnt by CBC otherwise it’s only a question of time before the same mistakes are made, all over again.

Nigel Brooks - Friends of Highcliffe Beaches and Cliffs Steering Group

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Highcliffe beach, Dorset