Council pours cold water on beach ‘coffee van’ bid

Friday, May 16, 2014
5:30 PM

A bid to sell coffee from a van on Sidmouth’s west beach failed to win over civic leaders – who said it could set a life-threatening precedent.

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Plans for a concession based in a converted Ford Transit fire engine attracted criticism for being visually intrusive and unfair competitors to nearby cafes.

Applicant Laura Manley said such businesses are commonplace elsewhere and could attract young people and ‘high spend professionals’ – yet town councillors feared the van and its customers could block the path of Sidmouth Lifeboat’s crews.

Speaking at Monday’s town council meeting, Cllr Peter Sullivan said it could delay the crews on their callouts, adding: “Sidmouth Lifeboat has enough problems getting to the beach in the high season.

“We cannot allow anything that will hinder it.”

Mrs Manley has pledged five pence from every pound to Sidmouth Lifeboat.

A letter from the Fort Café said there was ‘no way’ it could compete with a business with such low overheads, and granting permission would ‘open the floodgates’ to other mobile ventures.

Cllr Ian Barlow said: “I love competition, it makes people give people what they want. However, it needs to be on a level playing field.

“Seafront businesses only make money four months of the year – it takes their vitality away if you have a business with no overheads that only shows up on a nice day.”

Cllr John Dyson said the only place where this could be appropriate would be completely out of view on the far western end of the beach – but he could not support the principle of any vehicle on the beach.

And Cllr Graham Liverton added that it would be out of place on the beach but an asset on Mutters Moor, where a similar business previously existed, and he applauded the applicant’s business accumen.

“When people come to Sidmouth seafront they say it’s like stepping back 20 years – to me that’s a compliment,” he said. “This is not suitable for Sidmouth.

“[Mutters Moor] is somewhere I’m sure everyone would be glad of a cup of coffee. If they were to reapply I think this council would look on it favourably.”

The members unanimously voted a lack of support for the application.

The decision will be taken by an East Devon District Council portfolio holder.

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