Call-in of decision of Portfolio Holder for Coast, Country and Environment of 16 March 2021 (Portfolio Holder report of February 2021 refers), in accordance with paragraph 15 of Part 4.5 of the Overview and Scrutiny procedure rules in the East Devon District Council Constitution.
Decision of Environment Portfolio Holder on 16 March 2021 refers:
Request to set out any proposed price increase for beach huts and beach hut sites for the forthcoming season /financial year 2021 – 22.
Members to consider the call-in relating to the decision that the council agrees to no longer provide short term lets in Budleigh via the TIC and offer them as EDDC sites for long term rental.
Call-in proposed by Councillor Alan Dent; Supported by Councillors Colin Brown (Chair of Scrutiny Committee), Maddy Chapman, Bruce de Saram, Paul Jarvis and Tom Wright.
The Portfolio Holder report is included within the Agenda together with a briefing paper.
The Committee considered the call-in of the decision of the Portfolio Holder for Coast, Country and Environment of 16th March 2021 (Portfolio Holder report of February 2021 refers), in accordance with paragraph 15 of part 4.5 of the Overview and Scrutiny procedure rules. The call-in related to the decision that the Council agrees to no longer provide short term lets of beach huts in Budleigh via the TIC and offer them instead as EDDC sites for long term rental.
The call-in was proposed by Councillor Alan Dent and supported by Councillors Colin Brown, Maddy Chapman, Bruce de Saram, Paul Jarvis and Tom Wright.
The member of the public, Helen Warren, a director of the Budleigh Information Centre (BIC) [note: the TIC had closed and the new entitiy is the BIC] and Chair of the Budleigh Chamber of Commerce, addressed the Committee and made the following points:
· The TIC had closed in March 2020 during the first Covid-19 lockdown and re-opened in August 2020 under a new model with volunteers as a more viable concern
· The TIC had closed again in November 2020 and January 2021 and was preparing to re-open on 12th April
· The TIC is self-funded with running costs of approximately £12,000 per annum and no longer receives a financial contribution from EDDC
· Renting out the beach huts had raised significant income for the TIC in previous years due to their popularity
· Beach huts have been rented out on a daily or weekly basis, often by local holiday accommodation providers and play a vital role in promoting tourism
· Plans were in place to produce a town guide and grant funding had been received to update the TIC website
· The loss of the rental income from the beach huts would significantly impact the revenue for the TIC
Ward members for Budleigh made the following points:
· Providing short term lets was an important tourism offer and supported local holiday businesses
· There had been no tourism since May 2020 and no need for the TIC during the intervening period
· EDDC had not attempted to contact the director of the TIC and had not involved the TIC in consultation
· Ward members had also not been contacted for information regarding the position of the TIC
· The Portfolio Holder for Coast, Country and Environment had not consulted ward members on the proposed changes and no stakeholder discussion had taken place
· Notifying members of the changes by way of the weekly email lacked openness and transparency
· Recovery after the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown will rely on tourism and visitor footfall
· The TIC had worked very hard to obtain external financial support and to cut costs by relying on volunteers
· Lack of local consultation was disgraceful
· The ability to offer short term lets of the beach huts had a wider impact than just generating income for the local economy
Comments from non-members of the Committee included the following points:
· There is a long waiting list for use of the beach huts which includes local people and families
· Ward members should have been consulted on this decision and should be consulted on local decisions as a matter of course
Andrew Hancock, Service Lead for Streetscene advised that the proposal had been made for practical reasons based on the understanding that the TIC was no longer operating. That understanding had now been shown to be incorrect and it was agreed that ward members should have been consulted. The beach huts had been inspected and a budget of £14,000 was need to replace them, together with a £5,000 budget for annual dismantling and storage as there was no dry storage space available to EDDC in Budleigh.
It was noted that consideration may need to be given to a legal agreement with the TIC if the short term lets continued.
Councillor Geoff Jung, Portfolio Holder for Coast, Country and Environment apologised for the lack of consultation with ward members on this particular decision, and noted that this was not normally the case. The Portfolio Holder decision had been made on the basis of the information contained in the report with a very short timescale for signing off.
Comments from members of the Committee were made as follows:
· Long term beach hut rents are very high and short term lets at an affordable rate are very attractive to visitors
· The opportunity for the beach hut experience should be widely available to as many people as possible
· Ward member consultation had been improving and it appeared that the decision under discussion had resulted from miscommunication
· There was a case for a full review of beach hut policy and rentals across the district
· Concern was raised as to the practicality of deep cleaning the beach huts if they were let on a short term basis
The Service Lead for Streetscene advised that officers would need to check the current situation regarding the implementation of the Portfolio Holder decision and the status of the tenants for the 2021 season. The decision had been implemented for practical reasons due to the timescale involved. Any decision made by the Scrutiny Committee would not preclude the letting of the beach huts reverting back to the TIC, only the type of tenancy for the current season.
Councillor Eleanor Rylance proposed that the decision be referred back to the Portfolio Holder to reconsider his decision, to consult with ward members and to update the accuracy of the report with regard to the Budleigh TIC and to consider whether there is any more information that should be taken into account. This was seconded by Councillor Vicky Johns and was agreed.
RESOLVED that the decision of the Portfolio Holder for Coast, Country and Environment of 16 March 2021 [Portfolio Holder report of February 2021 refers] relating to the decision that the Council agrees to no longer provide short term lets in Budleigh via the TIC and offer them as EDDC sites for long term rental, be referred back to the Portfolio Holder to reconsider his decision, to consult with ward members and to update the accuracy of the report with regard to the Budleigh TIC and to consider whether there is any more information that should be taken into account.
Ward members thanked the Committee for its consideration of this matter. The Chair thanked the public speaker, Helen Warren, for attending the meeting.