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Tuesday, 22 September 2015

District Council proposals on beach huts >>> separating 'rates' and 'rents'

Torbay council has been giving a lot of attention to its beach huts:
Council attacked over £2.35m beach hut spend - BBC News
Torbay Council spends more on beach huts than affordable housing - AOL Money UK

Meanwhile in East Devon, the District Council's Scrutiny Cttee has looked at the latest proposals for its beach huts:
eastdevon.gov.uk/media/1296866/170915-scrutiny-agenda-combined.pdf
Controversial East Devon beach hut auction plans to be scrutinised following campaign | Exeter Express and Echo
Futures Forum: District Council proposals/consultation on beach huts to be discussed >>> Thursday 17th September

As yet there are no official minutes available: 
Scrutiny Committee scrutiny committee minutes - East Devon

Instead, the proposals from the Scrutiny Cttee have been made available by press statement:
18 September 2015 - Beach huts areas should be treated on an individual basis says Scrutiny committee - East Devon

This has in turn been reported by the Express & Echo:

East Devon beach huts: Treat them on individual basis says Scrutiny committee

By Exeter Express and Echo | Posted: September 21, 2015



East Devon District Council’s proposed changes to the management of its beach huts stole the limelight for over two hours at a Scrutiny committee meeting last week at Knowle, Sidmouth, with much positive discussion being conducted around this topic alone.

Although no decision has been made following consultation on East Devon’s beach hut proposals, growing public concern, expressed through ward members in the areas affected by East Devon’s beach hut proposals (including Exmouth, Budleigh Salterton, Sidmouth, Seaton East, Seaton West and Beer), prompted Scrutiny’s decision to review both the proposals and the consultation.

A wide cross-section of councillors, as well as members of the public, addressed the committee, and Scrutiny Chairman Councillor Roger Giles praised the sensible and open manner in which the meeting was conducted.

“In view of the emotive subject being discussed, I am delighted that the meeting produced so many useful and practical recommendations,” he said.

Discussion was informed by a number of detailed reports, including a review of East Devon’s tenanted non property portfolio (undertaken by the council and CIPFA property in December 2014), an asset management report made to Cabinet on 7 January 2015, together with minutes from that meeting, as well as the preliminary results from the council’s beach huts consultation (undertaken in Spring 2015), and notes from the Asset Management Forum discussion on beach huts on 3 September 2015.

As a result of the meeting, Scrutiny’s members resolved to endorse the decision made by Cabinet in January that all beach hut tenants should be responsible for their own National Non Domestic Rates payments, where appropriate.

The committee also wants to keep a watching brief on the beach huts and sites proposals and has requested that they receive a progress report by March 2016.

Recommendations to Cabinet.
Having paid close attention to the concerns raised by ward members and public at the meeting, Scrutiny also made the following recommendations to Cabinet, which will be assessed and included in a further report about the consultation and the future of the beach huts/sites, which will go before Cabinet in the autumn.

Cabinet is being asked to:

• Consider the requirements of all the community in line with equalities legislation in considering any proposals relating to beach huts

• Consider the validity of waiting lists for beach huts and sites and to review their management

• Confirm to tenants of beach huts and sites that the current arrangements will remain in place for 2016

• Ensure an annual review of hire charges for beach huts and sites be put in place

• Review its decision to establish an annual £19k sinking fund

• Give consideration to the difference between town and parish locations in relation to equality and best value requirements

• Give consideration to further discussions with town and parish councils on the options of undertaking the management of beach huts

• Give consideration to increasing the number of available beach hut sites and to review more diverse letting arrangements;

• Give consideration to wider environment and economic issues when bringing forward any proposals.

Commenting on the outcome of the meeting, Chairman of the Scrutiny committee, Councillor Roger Giles, said: “I am pleased that last night’s meeting proved so positive and that we were able to hear from such a broad cross-section of public and ward members. It is crucial that the public’s concerns are heard, particularly when such a sensitive issue is at stake, and it underlines the role that Scrutiny has to play in the process of deciding the best way forward for these council owned assets.

“Members were especially concerned that the different areas where the beach huts are situated should be addressed separately. They are all individual sites with different requirements and cannot be just lumped together.

“We are also keen to see that equalities concerns are addressed. For elderly or disabled people on limited incomes, the cost of installing and dismantling beach huts each season could have a significant impact on them and we do not want to see any sections of the community disadvantaged.

“We also need to listen to what town and parish councils would like to achieve, although careful consideration needs to be given to the implications of offering management of the beach huts/sites to them, as it is a both complex and time consuming task.”

Councillor Philip Skinner, who attended the Scrutiny meeting in his capacity as East Devon’s Economy portfolio holder, said:

“I would particularly like to thank Councillor Geoff Pook for all his hard work on the beach hut proposals.

"As a cabinet member (without portfolio), Geoff has been tasked with asset management and he has worked closely with the coastal communities in trying to pursue a fair and balanced approach that meets all levels of need.

"It is an extremely delicate balance that we must strive to achieve between making sure that we don’t price people out of renting a site and at the same time creating best value from our assets – particularly in view of the cutbacks we are facing.”


East Devon beach huts: Treat them on individual basis says Scrutiny committee | Exeter Express and Echo

This is the comment from the East Devon Watch blog:

BEACH HUTS, THE SORRY TALE CONTINUES

19 Sept 2015

Listed below are the RECOMMENDATIONS Scrutiny Committee made, It must be stressed they are NOT DECISIONS – the decision will be made at full council next month.

•Consider the requirements of all the community in line with equalities legislation in considering any proposals relating to beach huts
• Consider the validity of waiting lists for beach huts and sites and to review their management
• Confirm to tenants of beach huts and sites that the current arrangements will remain in place for 2016
• Ensure an annual review of hire charges for beach huts and sites be put in place
• Review its decision to establish an annual £19k sinking fund
• Give consideration to the difference between town and parish locations in relation to equality and best value requirements
• Give consideration to further discussions with town and parish councils on the options of undertaking the management of beach huts
• Give consideration to increasing the number of available beach hut sites and to review more diverse letting arrangements;
• Give consideration to wider environment and economic issues when bringing forward any proposals.”

There was also controversy as to whether beach hut users are already paying rates: some users maintain that rates have been included since 2006, EDDC maintaining that this has not been the case.

Hut users also point out that, if East Devon sells off all its huts to its current renters as it has said it will do, costs to the council will be minimal from 2016, with only sites to be allocated.

So why the £19,000 per year sinking fund – what would it be for? Or was that just added in to inflate future costs?

Will common sense prevail? Hard to say.


4 thoughts on “Beach huts, the sorry tale continues”

Paul F says:
19 Sep 2015 at 12:47pm

“There was also controversy as to whether beach hut users are already paying rates: some users maintain that rates have been included since 2006, EDDC maintaining that this has not been the case.”

EDDC have actually said that they pay the non-domestic (Business) rates on the huts:

“The beach huts, beach chalets and beach hut sites service is not something we have to provide. However, it is a service that is valued by residents and visitors alike so we would like to keep providing it. Currently some of the costs are absorbed by the local authority (council tax payers). These expenses include the cost to the council of huts rented in Budleigh Salterton and Seaton being dismantled by us, stored over each winter and re-erected each spring. We also pay the non-domestic rates of between £21 and £90 a year for each of the 498 beach huts and beach hut sites. We feel it is reasonable that users of the service pay these costs.”

Of course what they really mean is that the rates “costs” are currently included in the rent, but now they want to separate these out.

In the end, it rally makes little difference if they are going to decide a new rental amount anyway. Whatever people are prepared to pay in total for the beach huts including rates will be the same either way – so they can either include it in the rent as at present (saving renters the hassles of paying it separately) or receive a lower rent and let the renters pay the rates separately.

Of course, EDDC’s leadership and PR department would prefer to have it separate, because this both reduces the amount that the huts appear to cost the council whilst also reducing the rent increase that they will impose.

As they say, there are lies, da**ed lies and management accounts.


Paul F says:
19 Sep 2015 at 12:56pm

P.S. The same accounting sleight-of-hand also applies to the councils proposals to lease only the land and for the lessor to provide for the huts and for the costs of dismantling, storing and re-erecting the huts each winter.

Of course, some people will decide that they will not use the huts some years, and won’t bother erecting and dismantling them, and so the beach will start to look like someone who has lost a few teeth.

And the maintenance of the huts will also be very variable – and so the row of huts will start to look shambolic, with some huts well maintained in pristine condition interspersed by huts which are dilapidated and part rotten. This in turn will have a further negative impact on the East Devon economic life-blood of tourism.

Honestly, it only takes a few minutes to think through the consequences of EDDC’s proposals – its just common sense really, so why haven’t EDDC’s elected leadership and senior officers already done this?


Paul F says:
19 Sep 2015 at 1:30pm

P.P.S. Similarly, let’s consider the whole idea of leasing only the land. What happens to the existing huts:

a. EDDC force the lessors to buy the existing huts (at a monopoly price); or
b. EDDC lease out the land with the huts erected and lessees either have to buy the hut or pay EDDC to dismantle it and take it away; or
c. They provide the sites without a hut and offer them for sale – in which case lessors may decide to buy one elsewhere leaving EDDC with a left-over set of beach huts which they will have to sell at a loss or scrap.

But even if the initial lessees all take the existing huts, over time people will buy different huts of different designs, heights, colours, shapes etc. which might possibly look OK but equally (and possibly more likely) look terrible.


Mike Fairclough says:
19 Sep 2015 at 2:52pm

What has been consistent with this administration is a desire to keep the good people of East Devon in the dark for as long as possible , hoping that they can add as much as they can in whatever way they can, to their coffers … commonly called selling off the family silver.
What will they do when there’s nothing left to sell??
Traditionally beach huts have provided locals with a ” little bit of heaven” on their doorstep.
Selling to the highest bidder would end up with poor use of the facility… One only has to walk round Salcombe ( for example) in Autumn and Winter to see the effects of ill thought through council decisions. Ghost town..
EDDC must employ different strategies to keep their coffers topped up. One suggestion I have is , having seen all the relatively new vehicles ” owned” by the council , that huge amounts of money could be saved by budgeting as if the money was coming from their own pockets.
That would see a change in their priorities!


Beach huts, the sorry tale continues | East Devon Watch
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1 comment:

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