'Locals priced out' by beach huts hike

PUBLISHED: 06:30 28 February 2016

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

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

Archant

Residents fear Sidmouth's beach huts are being turned into a 'cash cow' for 'the privileged few' as the district council looks to almost double the cost of renting one.

Users in the town paid £521.67, excluding VAT, to rent a property in 2015/16, but that is set to rise to £762 this year and to £1,002 in 2017/18.

The price hike, set to be confirmed early next week, comes after East Devon District Council (EDDC) bowed to public pressure and scrapped proposals to sell five-year leases for the properties on the open market last year.

The authority says its current fees are ‘very low’ when compared to other areas and the increase is a ‘fair reflection of the market’.

Some users of the huts in Sidmouth have expressed their disappointment.

Anna Thompson, who has rented huts at Jacob’s Ladder, branded the increases as ‘just greedy’ and ‘probably trying to justify the previous option of opening bidding up outside the area’. “These huts should not be a cash cow for the benefit of the privileged few,” she said.

Sandra Chapman waited eight years for her beach hut, only for it to be broken into within a week last summer. She was ‘totally disappointed’ in its condition and said: “A lack of security, damp and rotting sheds can make even a beautiful spot unattractive. I think we will let someone else have the stress this year and let them pay highly for the privilege.”

In Beer, the cost of 44 of its sites will rise from £315.83 to £606 in 2017/18, while the price of the remaining 12 plots will increase by £411.53 to £858 over the same period, all plus VAT.

Karen Stevens, whose family has had a beach hut in the village for ‘50-odd years’, said: “It would appear that EDDC have got their own way in the end by pricing many locals out by such increases.” She questioned, with worse summers than in the past, if it was worth the increased cost. In 2007, her records show she only paid £115.50, plus VAT.

An EDDC spokeswoman said: “Beach huts are an incredibly important asset to our seaside communities and so the council worked very carefully to make sure that people were consulted on any proposed changes. The council’s hire fees are currently very low and increased charges have been benchmarked with other local authorities. A great deal of work has been carried out to ensure these increases are a fair reflection of the market. The final fees will be not be confirmed until early next week as they are still going through the approval process.”

EDDC will also be meeting with seaside town and parish councils to understand what they think are the best local solutions - and how they might want to take responsibility for some of the huts. Sidmouth Town Council chairman Jeff Turner said: “We would certainly take a look at it [taking on the beach huts] with a view to seeing whether we could make a viable business of it.”

He added that there may be a market for short-term leases to benefit holidaymakers, but there would be costs involved in managing the system.

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