BEACH hut owners have warned BCP Council that it risks “permanently damaging” their relationship if it pushes ahead with replacing a cafe at Mudeford with a £1m larger building.
A planning application for the Beach House cafe on the sandbank was submitted earlier this year after councillors approved funding, writes Josh Wright of the Local Democracy Reporting Service.
But it has already attracted more than 200 letters of objection with some councillors calling for it to be withdrawn due to “inadequate” consultation with the owners of nearby beach huts.
The old cafe building was demolished after it was gutted by a fire in November 2018. BCP Council is legally required to replace it within two years.
In January, funding of just over £1m was approved for a larger, “more up-to-date” structure which, the council said, would “deliver improved visitor experience”. This was followed in March by the submission of its planning application.
However, the application has attracted strong opposition from beach hut owners, with the chairman of Mudeford Sandbank Beach Hut Association (MSBHA), Stephen Barratt, saying it would put “significant additional pressure on the local community”.
Fellow member Kimball Furmidge said: “The MSBHA has grave reservations about the proposed building. A Beach Hut Action Group with over 400 supporters is strongly opposed and more than 200 objections have been received by planning.
“The proposal risks permanently damaging the relationship with beach hut families who contribute a surplus close to £1m per annum to the council.”
This prompted the council’s cabinet member for tourism, Cllr Lewis Allison, to be called before the scrutiny committee last Monday.
Highcliffe and Walkford Cllr Nigel Brooks said there had been “inadequate” consultation with people who would be affected by the new building.
In a statement read out at the meeting, he called for the planning application to be withdrawn until better engagement has been had with beach hut owners.
But Cllr Allison said there had already been “significant” consultation on the scheme with councillors, beach hut owners and other members of the public.
Concerns were also raised about “inconsistencies” in the council’s position about whether the new facility would increase commercial activity and footfall on the site.
Conservative group leader Cllr Drew Mellor said there were differences between what the authority had said when seeking approval for funding and during the planning process.
“We’ve got on one hand a cabinet report saying we can fund this through an increase in the ground rent and on the other hand a planning report saying you can’t get more footfall on that site,” he said.
“I think we should pause this and send it back to cabinet until we can find out who’s telling us the truth.”
Cllr Allison said there would be an increase in ground rent and turnover from the centre but it was “not the case” that there would be an increase in visitors, with the old café not having had the capacity to deal with existing numbers.
Despite this, the committee agreed to ask cabinet to put its proposals on hold until these issues had been clarified.