Members keen for beach hut proposals to address equalities and best value issues

East Devon District Council’s proposed changes to the management of its beach huts stole the limelight for over two hours at yesterday’s (17 September) Scrutiny committee meeting at Knowle, Sidmouth, with much positive discussion being conducted around this topic alone.

Although no decision has been made following consultation on East Devon’s beach hut proposals, growing public concern, expressed through ward members in the areas affected by East Devon’s beach hut proposals (including Exmouth, Budleigh Salterton, Sidmouth, Seaton East, Seaton West and Beer), prompted Scrutiny’s decision to review both the proposals and the consultation.

A wide cross-section of councillors, as well as members of the public, addressed the committee, and Scrutiny Chairman Councillor Roger Giles praised the sensible and open manner in which the meeting was conducted. “In view of the emotive subject being discussed, I am delighted that the meeting produced so many useful and practical recommendations,” he said.

Discussion was informed by a number of detailed reports, including a review of East Devon’s tenanted non property portfolio (undertaken by the council and CIPFA property in December 2014), an asset management report made to Cabinet on 7 January 2015, together with minutes from that meeting, as well as the preliminary results from the council’s beach huts consultation (undertaken in Spring 2015), and notes from the Asset Management Forum discussion on beach huts on 3 September 2015.

As a result of the meeting, Scrutiny’s members resolved to endorse the decision made by Cabinet in January that all beach hut tenants should be responsible for their own National Non Domestic Rates payments, where appropriate.

The committee also wants to keep a watching brief on the beach huts and sites proposals and has requested that they receive a progress report by March 2016.

Recommendations to Cabinet

Having paid close attention to the concerns raised by ward members and public at the meeting, Scrutiny also made the following recommendations to Cabinet, which will be assessed and included in a further report about the consultation and the future of the beach huts/sites, which will go before Cabinet in the autumn.

Cabinet is being asked to:

  • Consider the requirements of all the community in line with equalities legislation in considering any proposals relating to beach huts
  • Consider the validity of waiting lists for beach huts and sites and review their management
  • Confirm to tenants of beach huts and sites that the current arrangements will remain in place for 2016
  • Ensure an annual review of hire charges for beach huts and sites be put in place
  • Review its decision to establish an annual £19k sinking fund
  • Give consideration to the difference between town and parish locations in relation to equality and best value requirements
  • Give consideration to further discussions with town and parish councils on the options of undertaking the management of beach huts
  • Give consideration to increasing the number of available beach hut sites and a review more diverse letting arrangements
  • Give consideration to wider environment and economic issues when bringing forward any proposals.

Commenting on the outcome of the meeting, Chairman of the Scrutiny committee, Councillor Roger Giles, said:

I am pleased that last night’s meeting proved so positive and that we were able to hear from such a broad cross-section of public and ward members. It is crucial that the public’s concerns are heard, particularly when such an sensitive issue is at stake, and it underlines the role that Scrutiny has to play in the process of deciding the best way forward for these council owned assets.

Members were especially concerned that the different areas where the beach huts are situated should be addressed separately. They are all individual sites with different requirements and cannot be just lumped together.

We are also keen to see that equalities concerns are addressed. For elderly people or disabled people on limited incomes, the cost of installing and dismantling beach huts each season could have a significant impact on them and we do not want to see any sections of the community disadvantaged.

We also need to listen to what town and parish councils would like to achieve, although careful consideration needs to be given to the implications of offering management of the beach huts/sites to them, as it is a both complex and time consuming task.

Councillor Philip Skinner, who attended the Scrutiny meeting in his capacity as East Devon’s Economy portfolio holder, said:

I would particularly like to thank Councillor Geoff Pook for all his hard work on the beach hut proposals. As a cabinet member (without portfolio), Geoff has been tasked with asset management and he has worked closely with the coastal communities in trying to pursue a fair and balanced approach that meets all levels of need. It is an extremely delicate balance that we must strive to achieve between making sure that we don’t price people out of renting a site and at the same time creating best value from our assets –particularly in view of the cutbacks we are facing.