Council U-turn after ‘extortionate’ rent hike backlash

“Officers at East Devon District Council (EDDC) have now made a refreshed offer to businesses in The Strand who wish to trade on the land owned by the council this summer.”

Common sense seems to have prevailed, but VAT returns to the pre-covid level of 20%. – Owl

Anita Merritt www.devonlive.com 

Independent businesses on Exmouth Strand can now breathe a huge sigh of relief following a U-turn by East Devon District Council over ‘extortionate’ rent hikes for outdoor seating after a major backlash. Last year, bars and restaurants in the area were paying Devon County Council £100 to use the paved areas outside its premises and also the same amount to EDDC to also use its grassed areas to extend its seating area in good weather and the Covid pandemic.

However, this month traders were informed by EDDC that new charges were being brought in with increases being as much as 144 times more pro-rata. Traders also alleged they were told of they don’t pay the new rates, the grassed land will be offered to other businesses.

A collective protest against the new rents was made by five traders in The Strand. They unanimously agreed they should have to pay to have seating on the Strand, but they didn’t agree with how much the rents have been raised or that they were being charged different rates from each other. Support was received for their campaign from local councillors as well as East Devon MP Simon Jupp, and also local residents.

Earlier this week, the council said it had launched a ‘commercial negotiation’ with traders to see whether it is ‘appropriate’ for the council to ‘subsidise’ local businesses that adjoin the Strand in Exmouth, and that a similar consultation was successfully carried out at Queen’s Drive Space.

Yesterday, the council confirmed it has now ‘refreshed’ its rent charges, much to the delight of the Strand traders. George Nightingale, owner of Spoken, said he is happy to have ‘won’ their battle and has thanked all those who have helped them achieve a victory.

He said: “We have all reached mutually agreeable rents. We can now afford to be out here and can employ more staff and we can just ensure the vibrancy of the town. Let’s get back to business and doing what we should be doing and that’s providing good food and good drink.” He added: “Viva revolution and here’s to a better great Exmouth for the future.”

EDDC says it has reconsidered its position due to rents charged by DCC. A spokesperson for EDDC said: “Officers at East Devon District Council (EDDC) have now made a refreshed offer to businesses in The Strand who wish to trade on the land owned by the council this summer.

“The council has taken into consideration the views that have been expressed by traders over recent days and wants to find a positive way forward. EDDC has always wanted to enable the continued use of The Strand for hospitality businesses to place tables and chairs on council-owned land and to continue the café culture/ alfresco environment that has proven so popular.

Traders are uniting against rent hikes for outdoor space in The Strand

Traders are uniting against rent hikes for outdoor space in The Strand (Image: The Strand traders)

“The council had been seeking a fair commercial rent and had hoped the traders in this space would have entered into constructive negotiation with our agents as they had been encouraged to do. However, in light of the unique circumstances of this space with pavement licences also issued by Devon County Council, a refreshed proposal has now been made to traders for the 2022 and 2023 seasons – April 1 to September 30 – each year).

“EDDC will be embarking this summer on a significant and exciting piece of work around place making in Exmouth with the recent appointment of a dedicated project manager. This work will include extensive consultation and engagement on a range of projects and opportunities across the town including The Strand and how we can further improve the offering. We hope that the traders will engage constructively in those discussions when they take place.”

Before the council’s change of heart, Cafe and bar Franklins were told they would have to pay £1,007 for six tables (equivalent rent pro rata of £4,080 PA), whereas The Grapevine will have to pay £4,500 – an increase it says amounts to 45 times.

Bayleaf Cafe and Bar said they were being charged almost 80 times more than what it pays DCC for its pavement licence. Bar and restaurant Spoken said it was required to pay £6,000 for ‘a few months in the summer’ (equivalent rent pro rata of £14,400 PA) and – 144 times more valuable than the paved area.