What some people think as Hoylake beach ‘civil war’ comes to a head

A divisive issue that has been compared to “a civil war” in a quiet seaside town is set to come to a head next week.

Wirral Council will be meeting on 15 April to discuss whether to develop an option further that will see roughly three hectares of Hoylake beach cleared and try to seek approval from Natural England, the government advisor which will be needed to approve any future management plan for the area.

This option is being supported by the town’s three Conservative councillors as well as the Hoylake Beach Community, a community group that has campaigned to see vegetation on the beach cleared.

It was also supported in a consultation carried out by the local authority with 69.4% in favour, 44% more than the other option put forward which would have seen less of the beach cleared.

More than 1,000 people had their say in total.

However, if approved as the draft plan for future management of the beach, the local authority faces a significant challenge as Natural England has already said it “would not be able to support this option due to the extent of vegetation loss outlined” but would continue to work with the council.

The council does not expect any future management plan to be approved before September 2024.

Beach management was paused by the local authority in 2019 following criticism over the use of the weedkiller glyphosate. Since then, vegetation has spread across the sand prompting uproar from some in the local community who felt a public space was being taken away from them.

In that time, the issue has been described as toxic, a civil war, and one person previously told the LDRS “there’s a lot of people who won’t talk about it because they are so upset”.

One person who runs a pub in Hoylake said it was a shame how divisive the issue was arguing it was being used as a political football. They added arguments would sometimes break out over a pint though things weren’t as bad as they are on social media.

Since 2019, Wirral Council has spent an estimated £244,000 developing future plans and expects to spend another £50,000 before any work can begin.

After that, it expects to spend £230,000 clearing vegetation on beaches in West Kirby and Hoylake with ongoing annual costs of £30,000 for maintenance and monitoring of the area.

Ahead of the meeting on 15 April, the LDRS went to Hoylake to ask people what they thought. Susan McGechen (pictured, lead image), who had just come off the beach after walking her dogs Bear and Beau with her husband Keith, said, “This isn’t a beach anymore.

“I took the grandchildren and the children and now I can’t use it. You have got to walk out past it to let the dogs off because you are scared about what they might pick up. It’s worse after a storm.”

She said, “We used to have stands and stalls and it’s just not like it was,” adding, “It’s not a place to take the kids or the grandchildren. Their first walk has always been on the beach.”

Referring to an expectation the beach will eventually develop into sand dunes, Keith said, “There were so many lies when it started about what they were going to do with it,” adding, “It just gets up your nose when they do not tell the truth.” The beach has been referred to as a bog.

Eddie Pipe and Tyson. Credit: Ed Barnes

Eddie Pipe who has lived in Hoylake all his life remembers as a child going down to the beach to help clear any grass by hand. Over that time, he said the beach had completely changed as sand levels got higher and higher.

He described the beach as now being like Parkgate, adding, “There’s a lot of people who now go down there for a walk and go to enjoy it. I would suppose how many people go down there walk down the prom and they have to look at that?

“There is a lot more nature down there than it used to have but I am not going to say if it’s wrong or right. It’s a great shame, there’s not a lot going for Hoylake at the moment, unfortunately.”

Some believe a compromise is the way forward.  Jude, a woman who lives in Hoylake, said, “I would like half and half. The environmentalists can do what they want but I would like a place for my grandkids. They are all just shouting at each other,” adding, “There’s rats, it stinks, there’s stagnant water and flies because it’s bloody gross.

“They say it’s going to be dunes, not in my lifetime. I do not know what they want but it does stink and it’s just not pleasant.”

Alex and Susan Hemmings. Credit: Ed Barnes

Alex Hemmings said, “It makes sense if you had a little bit of sand. There’s plenty to leave to grass,” adding, “I walk down there quite regularly. I like the idea of it being natural as long as they give an area for people.

“It’s not a big issue for me. You can see the difference at Parkgate because there’s so much wildlife down there.”

One man walking along the town’s promenade said he wished to remain anonymous but understood the argument on both sides. He said, “Sometimes I would suppose people are arguing for the sake of it. I am quite happy to sit on the fence and nature is nature. If that is what nature is doing, it is doing that. I think it’s quite nice to see a bit of grass. We do get lots of birds now and again.

“Whatever wildlife is in there I do not have a clue. To me, I am quite happy the way it is if anything but I do not feel strongly either way. My preference would be to leave it as it is. Leave nature be.

“I am not a nature fanatic but I believe in nature. You have got your experts. I don’t think they’re being awkward. If it’s natural just leave it.”

Lead image: Susan and Keith McGechen had just been walking their dogs on the beach. Credit: Ed Barnes

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