Exmouth beach huts could go to rich under highest bidder plans
(And Beer, Budleigh Salterton, Seaton & Sidmouth)
From: Exeter Express and Echo
By Anita Merritt
Hundreds of families could face losing beach huts they have enjoyed for years under plans to let them to the highest bidder.
East Devon District Council wants to scrap the current system for renting out huts and chalets in Exmouth, Budleigh Salterton, Sidmouth, Beer and Seaton.
Until now they have been hired by people who automatically get to rent them every year until they choose to give them up, when they are offered to those on a waiting list.
Instead, five-year leases on the sought-after huts and sites would in future be offered on the open market to the highest bidder – which could push up prices.
Under the proposed changes, non-domestic rates of up to £90 per year will also be paid by the
occupiers of the beach huts rather than by the council, which currently picks up this charge.
Concerns have been raised that the new system would allow those who can afford it to jump the queue, while pricing out people on lower incomes who have enjoyed using the beach huts for years.
Steve Gazzard, Liberal Democrat councillor for Exmouth Withycombe Raleigh ward, said: “Obviously I am very concerned. The beach huts have always been a vital part of Exmouth seafront. I’m one of those traditionalists where if the system isn’t broken, why change it? It has always appeared to work and it’s quite clear this new proposal is about generating more income, and I think it’s a backwards step.
“The rich will get in there first because they have the money. I don’t know how the council will administer it, but will anyone in the country be able to apply? I think the beach huts should be for local people. Some people do manage to hire them for the holidays which is fine, but I hope once people hear about the proposal they will partake in the consultation and give their views.”
The Tory-controlled district council is responsible for managing and maintaining 237 beach huts, 20 beach chalets and 241 beach hut sites in Budleigh Salterton, Seaton, Beer, Sidmouth and Exmouth. The huts are currently rented out for between £480 and £650 a season, with the Exmouth chalets costing £1,023 a season. Sites hired without huts are cheaper.
More than 300 people are on waiting lists for huts, chalets or sites.
Consultation has begun on the proposed changes, which would take effect next year if approved, with an online questionnaire open until Monday, July 13.
The council has said it is “looking for ways to enable more people to have a chance to lease a beach hut, chalet or beach hut site”.
But it also admitted it wants to generate more income in the face of government funding cuts.
A council spokeswoman said: “We think it is only fair that everyone – from East Devon residents to visitors – should have the opportunity to hire a beach hut, site or chalet. This consultation is a great opportunity for people to give us their views on the service they would like to receive from us.
“It’s time that this special service, which we offer, becomes a viable self-supporting asset and not a burden of luxury. We strongly believe that these changes are for the better.”
The spokeswoman added: “We have a responsibility to make sure that public money is spent in the best way possible. If we can collect more from this enterprise than it costs us to provide it, we can also improve our beach hut, chalet and beach hut site service. Any surplus funds would be re-invested in other council services.”
It is not yet clear how any auction of beach hut leases would work.
On the reasons for the proposed new system, the council has said: “The funding that we receive from Government to run all our services is reducing, so we need to find better ways to use the assets that we have.
“The beach huts, beach chalets and beach hut sites service is not something we have to provide.
However, it is a service that is valued by residents and visitors alike so we would like to keep
“Currently some of the costs are absorbed by the local authority (council tax payers). These
expenses include the cost to the council of huts rented in Budleigh Salterton and Seaton being
dismantled by us, stored over each winter and re-erected each spring. We also pay the non-domestic rates of between £21 and £90 a year for each of the 498 beach huts and beach hut sites. We feel it is reasonable that users of the service pay these costs.”
In some locations, the council is proposing other changes. Where sites are leased without huts, it will be up to the person leasing the site to purchase and look after the hut.
The person leasing the site will also have to put up the hut at the beginning of the season and take it down and store it at the end of the season. Contractors are available to do this for about £220.
People leasing the sites that previously housed beach huts will be given the option of purchasing the existing hut for about £250.
An additional 70 beach hut sites are provided through formal leases with individuals, who then operate them as a business. These 70 sites will not be affected by these proposals.
People who already either hire or are on the waiting list to hire a beach hut, beach hut site or beach chalet will receive a copy of the proposals and questionnaire by post.
The questionnaire can be found at:
The Owl says: Seeing as how quickly this policy has emerged fully fledged so soon after the election it looks like it has long been an EDDC intention. (Didn’t they try to hike the prices up in Budleigh by 50% a couple of years ago?) Don’t remember seeing it on any Tory election pledge!