Hammer falls on beach hut auction plans

Sidmouth's beach huts. Ref shs 0839-03-15TI. Picture: Terry Ife

Sidmouth's beach huts. Ref shs 0839-03-15TI. Picture: Terry Ife - Credit: Archant

Controversial plans to auction Sidmouth’s beach huts to the highest bidder - and build 10 more in a contentious spot - have been scrapped.

East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) cabinet last week bowed to public opinion and decided not to sell leases to the properties on the open market. However, tenants will see a rise in hire charges from next year.

Members called for a new approach to avoid a ‘one-size-fits-all’ policy and will be inviting town and parish councils to take part in further consultations.

Councillor Philip Skinner told Wednesday’s (October 7) meeting there was a district-wide lack of support from tenants and non-tenants about proposals to auction huts owned by the council. Instead, the authority will increase the standard hire charges for 2016/17.

Cllr Skinner said: “The consultation survey stirred-up considerable community concern and public meetings were held in most towns.

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“The actual increase will be determined and brought to cabinet following the budget process.”

Mark Williams, EDDC’s chief executive, added: “There is also considerable local pride in the ownership of the beach huts and they are not to be seen - or wanted to be seen - by many as second homes on behalf of up-country folk of the Home Counties.

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“Looking at the costal town and costal communities, it would be appropriate that there are local solutions for each of the communities. Maybe through us, maybe through the respective town or parish councils, that is a debate to be had in a series of negotiations down the road.”

EDDC had originally proposed to upgrade the huts at Jacob’s Ladder and build an additional 10 at Chit Rocks.

But the meeting heard the authority lacks the funds for renovation work - and plans for the extra properties had been met with opposition from Sidmouth Town Council and residents.

Richard Cohen, EDDC’s deputy chief executive, said those proposals had now been dropped and alternative options will now be explored with the town council.

Members of EDDC’s scrutiny committee had previously raised concerns that not all of their proposals had been considered in the report.

Cllr Roger Giles, chairman of the scrutiny committee, said: “The lesson is that if you are doing something like this, you consult at the start of the process - not when it appears that you have made decisions.

“There is also a lack of consideration of issues other than EDDC finances.”

After the meeting, Cllr Marianne Rixson, a district councillor for the Sidmouth/Sidford ward, said: “I am disappointed that more diverse letting arrangements, which were unanimously agreed at the scrutiny meeting, are not being considered, but relieved that beach huts along the Millennium Walkway are no longer part of the plan for Sidmouth.”

Councillors also agreed that waiting lists should be published to appease public concerns over a lack of transparency.

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