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

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

05 Feb 17

Highcliffe Castle Tea Rooms

You may have already seen the following covered by the The Bournemouth Echo and on Streetlife for our area or perhaps have read the article in The Times on Thursday 2nd February about Christchurch Councils proposal to award a Catering Concession, following a Tender, to a US $ billion company, Aramark, at Highcliffe Castle Tea Rooms.

Many residents feel this is the wrong decision for Highcliffe, a multi-national Facilities Management company, which primarily operates in the Health, Prisons and School/Universities sector taking on a relatively small catering outlet in Highcliffe. Further many local suppliers to the existing catering concession will undoubtedly lose business, with profits going to a US conglomerate company

Accordingly a new interest group, Friends of Highcliffe Castle Tea Rooms is being formed to enable residents to have their say and so that their views can be collectively put to not only Christchurch Council but also Aramark in the UK and US.

An urgent public meeting is to held on Tuesday 7th February at 6.30pm, at the Old School House, Lymington Road, Highcliffe, by kind arrangement with the Highcliffe Residents Association.

29 Jan 17

Christchurch Council's Scrutiny and Overview Committee Interim Report

There is a short article in the Bournemouth Echo online  (Friday 27 January) about the Christchurch Council's Scrutiny and Overview Committee Interim Report about the Beach Retreats fiasco. There is a link to the Report below so you can see all the points the committee have so far recorded.

Click here to read.

The FOHBAC Steering Group are pleased to see that the total lack of consultation and transparency with residents is acknowledged. Further, at various stages misinformation about the support for the Beach Retreats was given, which has played a large part in the feeling of mistrust in Christchurch Council.

We look forward to seeing the final report, which we believe will come before the Scrutiny and Overview Committee at their March meeting.

Please note The Interim Report (item 9) will be discussed at the Scrutiny Committee meeting this coming Wednesday, 1st February  at 6.00pm.

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