After a proposal by SCDC to hike up rents and charges without a ‘by your leave’, around 200 members of the public, many of them Felixstowe beach hut owners, attended the crunch meeting at Suffolk Coastal District Council’s new Riduna Park headquarters in opposition to the proposals.
So many attended that special viewing rooms had to be set up, while a further 50 or so gathered in the foyer awaiting the result.
Due to the strength of feeling SCDC have caved in and agreed to a six-week public consultation, granting a temporary reprieve from the proposed changes in rents.
Suffolk Coastal owns 918 beach hut sites in Felixstowe and Sizewell, with the vast majority (over 900) being in Felixstowe. Currently, each owner gets an annual licence for their site, which has to be renewed each year .
SCDC maintains the proposed new system aims to give owners greater security, by providing them with a 10-year commitment, broken down into two phases.
The current licences expire on the 31st March 2017. It is suggested that next year, the beach hut owners will get a new licence (as they have in previous years), at an increased cost of about £40 (or 10%) on average. Then increase every year of 10% for 9 years.
They will also move the beach hut owners across to a new 9-year lease, from 1 April 2018 (so running until 31st March 2027) costing an extra £7,000. Existing beach hut owners will only pay this when they come to renew their leases (in 2027) – so existing beach hut owners will not have to pay a lease premium for 10 years.
SCDC maintain this lease would give the beach hut owners greater long-term security and should add value, if they choose to sell on their beach hut (and the site it is on). But there would aso be an introduction of a £7,000 “lease premium” on any agreements made after April 1, 2017. The changes are estimated to increase revenue from beach huts from £364,000 to £736,000 in eight years
Geoff Holdcroft, cabinet member for resources, explained the proposals were to help the council meet a £3.5million “budget gap” predicted for next year.
Editor comment: It beggars belief that these councillors could treat beach hut owners with such distain when for 20 years, due to their total incompetence, land at the South seafront end of Felixstowe lost massive amounts of revenue due to the premature clearing of beach huts to free up building land only for it not to be used until the Bloor homes development of last year.
Beach hut owners were not allowed to speak during the meeting. However many of Felixstowe’s councillors did attended to speak out against the proposals.
Former Mayor Doreen Savage said she was “appalled” at the “extortionate” rise in rents proposed.
“The outrage that this report has sparked amongst hut owners is immense,” she added.
Several councillors questioned “anomalies” in the report and the way in which it drew comparisons with Southwold, where beach huts are far more expensive.
“Felixstowe is not Southwold,” Mrs Savage said.
One section of the report, which referred to potential challenges from a “few unhappy licence holders” caused particular upset. Tracey Green said it showed either “arrogance” or a “lack of understanding”, given the true strength of feeling.
Mike Deacon said: “You would not believe the anger and anguish that this has caused”.
However Council leader Ray Herring said Felixstowe had seen “the largest injection of investment in your lifetime”.
“This is a serious attempt to take forward our beach hut offer and extend it to more people and indeed raise some finance in the process,” he added.
Editor comment: Once again the sheer audacity has to be questioned – the Bloor Homes development has brought no net cash to Felixstowe given all those years of lost beach hut revenue – and lost revenue to businesses, nor did the selling of the Spa Pavilion for a £1. The Spa gardens costs were meant to be covered by a Heritage Lottery grant before a complete cock up by the District Council left them with a £2 million legal bill to settle. The pier head development is being achieved with private money and the south end of Sea Road still looks woefully neglected.
The other point district councillors fail to take into account is the fact that its not their money they are wasting – its actually ours! Hard working tax payers whose council tax should go towards the upkeep of our town. If they can’t balance the books it’s not really our fault now is it. Perhaps they should have thought about the proposed deficit before they decided to move onto their new state of the art council building in Woodbridge!
So – now Suffolk Coastal is to asking for people’s views based on a sweeping review of how beach hut services are run in the district.
In a statement SCDC says:
The comprehensive review of the beach hut service was carried out to examine how the portfolio currently operates, to identify any service efficiencies and to consider further income generation opportunities.
The review was launched in support of a specific action within the current East Suffolk Business Plan contains the specific action to ‘Increase the number of beach huts provided in the District by at least 10%’.
The two main drivers of the beach hut review are to increase equality by increasing the opportunities for residents to have access to a beach hut, while also maximising the income generated from this resource to invest in core services, thus reducing the burden on the Suffolk Coastal tax payer.
At its meeting on Tuesday, 6 December, Cabinet noted the report, which recommends:
The development of additional beach huts in existing and new locations
The conversion of all current and new site licences into longer-term leases
The introduction of some new sites and the conversion of some existing ones, to a ‘try before you buy’ plot and hut basis
And Cabinet decided the issue will now go out for consultation next year, with a six-week consultation being launched from Tuesday, 3 January, 2017.
The beach hut portfolio recorded a net income of £364k in 2015/16. If all three of the review’s recommendations were to be implemented, the annual income generated would increase from £430k to £736k in 2024/25, an increase of £306k over the 8 year period.
Suffolk Coastal District Council has an annual budget of about £12million.
About £7million of this comes from Council Tax. Although the District collects the Council Tax (on behalf it itself, the County Council, Police and Town/Parish Councils), it only gets to keep about 10p in the pound of the total Council Tax bill. There are 59,920 council tax properties in Suffolk Coastal.
Grant income from central Government has dropped by over £5million from £7.4million in 2010/11to £2.2million in 2015/16 – and is projected to fall even further in the future.
Because the District’s economy is so strong, the Council has benefited from what is called ‘incentivised income’, through new homes bonus and business rate retention. But these are being phased out – leaving Suffolk Coastal with a predicted ‘budget gap’ of £3.5million in 2017/18.
Rather than make cuts to services, Suffolk Coastal is committed to reducing its dependence on central Government grants by becoming more economically self-sufficient, through reducing spending and increasing income through income generation (not large council tax increases).
There is a wide variety of prices paid across Suffolk Coastal for beach hut sites (with extra payments for larger ‘oversized’ huts) – ranging from £334 a year to £515 (based on 2016/17 prices) – the average is about £400 a year. This equates to £33.3 a month – or £7.69 a week.
The suggested 10% increase for 2017/18 would amount, on average, to about £40 a year – so under £3.50 extra a month (or less than 80p a week). So the suggested monthly increase next year (2017/18) equates to less than the price of an extra pint of beer a month!
If the review recommendations are implemented, at the end of the end of the 10% a year period (2024/25), the average will rise to £851.79 – an increase of £456.60 a year.