Arun District Council’s economic committee met on Tuesday (October 12) to discuss the issue.
The council manages 242 beach huts which are set to bring in £150,000 in revenue for the 2021/22 season. Of these, 92 are rented out and 150 are leased to private customers.
There were several options on the table which included disposing of some private huts and replacing them.
Annual rent increases
However, this will not happen and councillors voted for ‘option 2’ which will instead see annual rent increases.
But councillors were not happy with the proposal to up the rent by 30 per cent in one go.
Instead, they opted to increase rent by 10 per cent per year for the next three years, with an additional three per cent annual increase on top of this (a total of 13 per cent a year).
This would be based on current rates rather than being based on a compound interest model which would have seen an increase of much more than 30 per cent after three years.
It currently costs Arun residents £880.34 a year to rent a beach hut. This rises to £1056.40 a year for non-residents and ground rent for private beach huts costs £446.03 per annum.
The committee also voted to only award new leases to Arun residents. Currently, 39 people from outside the district rent beach huts.
‘Lack of consultation with beach hut tenants and owners’
James Walsh (LDem, Beach) said: “I’ve been assailed with a welter of emails and letters from existing tenants and owners concerned over a lack of consultation.
“It shows the council in an extremely bad light as landlords.
“A 30 per cent increase at this current time is frankly outrageous – I know we’re strapped for cash but so is everyone else.
“A lot of long-term tenants may be forced to give up because of a price increase.”
Dr Walsh said the increase was a ‘step too far’ and risked ‘losing the goodwill of well-intentioned tenants’.
Paul English (Con, Felpham East), who is also a member of Felpham Parish Council, was also concerned over what he called a ‘lack of consultation’.
“We must have a guarantee that there will be no more of this,” he said, “We are elected by the electorate to actually be their voice and as such I am very, very upset it has happened.
“We at Arun must start talking and listening to our residents.
“We’ve had four years to come to this meeting, four years, and yet we’re now having a gun put to our heads to have it done like greased lightning because we’ve only got six months.”
The council took over the running of the beach huts from Inspire Leisure in 2016 and awarded five year leases at the time.
Beach huts a ‘luxury’
Gill Yeates (LDem, Bersted) said it was a difficult topic because ‘everyone has been through a difficult time’ but the beach huts ‘are a luxury’.
Council officers said that a 30 per cent increase is ‘reasonable’ and is in line with beach hut charges from neighbouring authorities.
Alison Cooper (Con, Rustington East) could not see why there was reluctance over the increase, saying: “As far as I can see, it’s not above market value.”
Grant Roberts (Con, Arundel and Walberton) said it would be unfair to lease the huts below the market rate, saying that Arun residents would essentially be ‘subsidising ownership’.
“We want the best value for the whole district and this must apply to beach huts,” he said.
The consensus from members was that more beach huts are wanted.
‘Pile it high and sell them cheap’
Tony Dixon (Ind, Aldwick East) said: “Beach huts are a great investment – we know there is pent up demand and a waiting list.
“The best way to deal with this is to build more beach huts: let’s make our beaches busy, let’s get people and families down there.
“We’re not Brighton, we’re not Bournemouth; we need to keep them affordable.”
He encouraged the council to ‘pile it high and sell it cheap’ with ‘as many beach huts as the people want’.
ADC aims to increase the number of beach huts and has made £250,000 available, but officers said this relied on planning permission.
This was recognised by council leader Shaun Gunner (Con, Rustington East), who said: “I’m a big supporter of having more beach huts; I was disappointed when the planning committee decided to reject [a scheme].”
Committee chair Andy Cooper (Con, Angmering and Findon) said that residents with obscured beach views may not necessarily agree with ‘piling them high’.
New leases are not to be given to people living outside of Arun.
‘Happy for Londoners to come and spend money’
Emily Seex (Arun Ind, River) said she could not see a reason for this, explaining that she would be ‘happy for Londoners to come into town and spend money’.
Ms Seex also suggested rotating the waiting list, which is currently thought to include several hundred people.
She said: “I feel we should be giving more opportunity to benefit, as lots of people have had a beach hut in the family for 50 years and I don’t think that is fair.”
Committee members broadly supported Ms Seex’s idea but officers said it could entail too much admin.
They explained: “We manage the service in a very small team – we don’t want to create more admin, which would increase the need for more staff.”
Council to receive share of sales
Committee members also voted to allow three and seven year leases on the huts.
In future, if an owner sells their hut, they will have to pay the council six times the annual ground rent at the time of the sale or 20 per cent of the sale price – whichever is larger.
The committee supported the move and Ms Seex said it would be ‘unfair’ for hut owners to benefit from council land.
She said: “There’s two beach huts currently for sale: one for £39,000 and one for £40,000.
“The value isn’t in the shed – it’s in the land. So I think it’s fair to bring some of that money back into the community.”
Owners will also be given the right to rent out their beach hut.
Members said this would allow the system to be more equitable so more people could access beach huts.
The committee spent over an hour discussing beach huts and chair Mr Cooper said: “Anyone watching can see this committee takes this proposal, and all proposals, very seriously – We want to get it right for the district and for residents.”
Mr Gunner said that the beach huts are ‘integral to our seaside economy’.
The council promised beach hut customers that they would be notified of any changes six months before leases end.