Parish and town councils to be invited to a series of beach huts consultations

In a move to progress the management of one of East Devon’s most prized facilities – its beach huts and chalets - councillors at Wednesday’s (7 October) cabinet meeting voted in as a matter of urgency a revised set of beach hut proposals, which emphasised the need to avoid a one-size fits all policy and which will focus on involving town and parish councils on future consultation. Recommended rent increases for 2016/2017 will reflect market value but other rental changes will be made after further consultation has been carried out with town and parish councils.

Cabinet had earlier this year (January 2015) discussed the original proposals, following which the Asset Management Forum (AMF) reviewed beach huts in Seaton and Budleigh Salterton, which were referred back to them for further consideration. A public consultation (to which over 680 people responded) provided additional feedback, as did the Scrutiny committee. As a result of which, the proposals were amended to reflect concern over issues such as auctions and sealed bids, pricing out locals, waiting lists and a need for more town and parish council involvement.

A much prized facility

At the meeting, East Devon District Council Chief Executive Mark Williams said:

There is no doubt that our beach huts and chalets are a much prized facility in East Devon, and we are pleased that there is general recognition that these valuable assets should be paid for realistically.

 There is no one-size fits all solution and looking at the coastal towns and communities it is clear that there are some issues that should be debated at local level. This could be through us or through the respective town or parish councils.

It was generally acknowledged that beach hut owners wanted greater certainty and Councillor Stuart Hughes, Chairman of East Devon District Council, said that the recommendations were a way of setting out the process, which must be undertaken. They also reflect the consultation undertaken so far, including the recommendations of the Scrutiny committee.

Agreed beach hut recommendations

One of the biggest areas of contention within the original proposals was the possibility of an auction or sealed bids to establish open market charges on existing beach huts. It has now been agreed that other methods (yet to be agreed) need to be used. In the meantime, standard hire charges for 2016/2017will be increased with the aim of achieving open market rates in the future.

A series of consultation meetings will be held, to which town and parish councils will be invited, in order to establish how the beach huts management service can be run for the benefit of all local communities.

The original resolution to replace existing beach huts at Jacobs Ladder in Sidmouth and to assess an additional site for beach huts, has been changed, so that existing huts are maintained as part of the council’s ongoing maintenance programme, with no assessment of a potential site between the Esplanade and Chit Rocks.

Arrangements will be made to publish the beach huts service waiting lists together with a list of the current beach hut licensees, subject to data protection.

From 1 April 2016, at Budleigh Salterton and Seaton, sites only will be available to rent on a year-to-year licence. However, should the council retain individual management of these beach huts and chalets in 2016, then they would be offered to lessees on five-year leases.

It was also agreed that the Searchlight Emplacement structure at Seaton will be offered for sale on a freehold only basis.

Moving forward

Commenting on the cabinet recommendations, Councillor Philip Skinner, Portfolio holder for the Economy at East Devon, said:

Now that the new set of proposals has been recommended, we can move forward in a clear yet decisive manner, which we trust will help allay the fears of beach hut and chalet tenants, as well as local communities. We will be communicating regularly with our residents and ensuring that their views are heard through their local town and parish councils, who will be involved in future consultations.

The consultations and discussions that have taken place so far will have made the public aware of how important it is that the council maximizes all its returns based on true market values. East Devon faces a budget deficit of £2.6 million by 2020/21 so it is vital that we achieve best value from every asset on our books.

We need to take a business-like approach to the management of our beach huts, supported by statistical evidence, as they are clearly in high demand. But at the same time we must not ignore the needs of the local communities and the fact that the beach huts and chalets add greatly to the local amenity and ambience of our beaches.