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Tories face rebellion on beach hut rent increase

Council under pressure to delay its decision

CASH COW: Hut owners have accused council bosses of trying to milk them for money in the row over rent hikes
CASH COW: Hut owners have accused council bosses of trying to milk them for money in the row over rent hikes

RULING Tory councillors could face opposition from their own party tonight (Thursday) as they debate proposals to increase beach hut rents. Both Whitstable and Herne Bay area member panels voted to ask for the decision to be delayed to allow hut owners to get legal advice, after council lawyers said they must pay market rate. The legal team also said discounts for pensioners and residents must be phased out, meaning some would face rent hikes of more than 300 per cent. But finance boss Peter Lee, who also represents West Bay, will argue that the decision needs to be made tonight (Thursday) to allow for the council’s budget to be set.

Evidence

Speaking at a meeting of Herne Bay councillors, he said:

“The decision has to be made now and It has to be made with the evidence we have. We have to balance the needs of everyone in the community Hut owners should pay a reasonable fee to compensate the public at large for not having the use of the land.”

But he said if hutters could provide evidence rents should be lower, it would be considered. Conservative councillors joined in with the opposition to
call for a delay. Tory Jennie Edwards, who represents Reculver, said:

“I am not happy with the way this sits now. I would rather see more evidence and see the independent review of rents.”

And Greenhill and Eddington councillors Robert Bright (Con) and David Hirst (Ukip), agreed. Cllr Hirst said:

“I am not going to be rushed into voting for something I don’t agree with. You will have to sort the budget out. I will vote on this issue on the basis of what is good or bad, but I think it is bad.”

Cllr Bright added:

“A fast decision is not necessarily a good decision just because it is a minute to midnight.”

Almost 200 people attended Thursday’s meeting, and a large crowd is expected tonight at the Guildhall in Canterbury. Speakers urged councillors and officers to return to negotiations and to phase increases in over a longer period. Hut owner Carmel Parker said:

“If you were in the private sector this would be called exploitation. You are not giving us any time. What are we paying for? You are not being fair. You wouldn’t do this to council house tenants.”

But officials insisted there was no choice. Head of community development and outside leisure Suzi Wakeham said:

“I absolutely appreciate this is difficult. The more questions we asked the more certain our barrister was and the more certain our legal officers were that we have to move to market rent because it is not a public service. We have said we will consider an alternative valuation if the evidence is of sufficient weight to override that of the valuer.”

DVS, which operates on behalf of HM Revenue and Customs, has advised that annual rents should increase to £475 for Herne Bay and £650 for Tankerton. If subletting is allowed, the market rent increases by 20 per cent. However, the cost of selling a hut would be reduced from five times the annual rent to a flat admin fee of £463. The authority is considering phasing the increases in over a period of two years. Tonight’s meeting starts at 6.30pm at the Guildhall and is open to the public.

The figures

THERE are 639 privately owned beach huts on council land at Herne Bay and Tankerton. More than 170 are owned by people from outside the district. Hut owners pay an annual rent plus an additional fee of five times the annual rent when a hut is sold. The rent for Herne Bay huts is £276 for residents, £416 for non-residents and £136 for pensioners who have owned their hut for more than 15 years. At Tankerton ft is £368 for residents, £546 for non-residents and £172 with the long-term discount. Huts are sold for between £8,000 and £25,000 but cost £2,500 to build. The proposed market rent is £475 at Herne Bay, or £570 if subletting is permitted, and £650 at Tankerton, rising to £780 with subletting. There were 200 consultation responses including a five-page submission from hut owners. Negotiations have so far lasted 41 months.

Who said what

  • Carmel Parker:
    “If you were in the private sector this would be called exploitation. You are not giving us any time. What are we paying for? You are not being fair. You wouldn’t do this to council house tenants.”
  • Kevin Bloxham:
    “It is ludicrous you are trying to get money from beach huts from every angle. You are using the beach hut owners as a cash cow. If you carry on this way there won’t be any cows left to carry on.”
  • Dick Eburne:
    “It seems to me there has been a campaign for years for beach hut owners. It has been going on and on and they have tried to work with you. You are losing votes. Look at all these people. Are they going to vote for you if you increase beach hut rents?”
  • Brian Forbes-Turner:
    “Are hutters not wanted? If not, say so and explain why. We don’t want this war of attrition.”
  • Alan Ratford:
    “In some areas beach hut owners are regarded as parasites. We pay our way but the council does not seem satisfied.”
  • David Cooper:
    “The Whitstable Society has been keen to abolish the right of transfer. Why does such a non-elected body have such an influence on council policy?”
  • Marilyn Richards:
    “We have been trying to work with the council through all the postponed meetings, and the empty promises made at one meeting and reneged at the next. The mistakes have been legion.”
  • Helen English:
    “We have nothing to gain from delay. The council has everything because they know they may wear us out.”
  • Adrian Webb:
    “The presence of local families deters antisocial behaviour. If these local families are forced out financially and outsiders come in their place they will leave earlier and the beach will be a no-go zone with druggies, drunks and the rest.”

Herne Bay Times, January 23rd 2014

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