Tory breaks ranks on pavement cafes

STEPHEN PULLINGER A senior Tory on Yarmouth Borough Council last night broke party ranks to launch a fierce criticism of the way seafront pavement café charges and regulations had been decided “behind closed doors”.

STEPHEN PULLINGER

A senior Tory on Yarmouth Borough Council last night broke party ranks to launch a fierce criticism of the way seafront pavement café charges and regulations had been decided “behind closed doors”.

In a row certain to embarrass the ruling group only days before the local elections, Brian Howard said he had not been made aware of, or invited to, any meetings even though he was the cabinet support member for tourism under Bert Collins.

He questioned why charges, far exceeding what any businessman polled by the EDP said they would pay, were set in private by a small committee - traders were only now being consulted in a 14-day exercise after the decision had effectively been taken.

Mr Howard, who feels he may have been excluded because he supports the traders, said: “We are supposed to be adopting an open approach to matters such as this and I have written to the council leader, Barry Coleman, to say that it is unacceptable.

“I have been kept completely in the dark. The only information I have is what has been in the local newspapers.”

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He said the Tories were supposed to be the party which supported business and yet they had failed to heed the concerns of traders who had described the charges as unrealistic and the regulations as Draconian.

There was a storm of protest last month when it was learned that the charges being considered for pavement cafés were double the fee of London's Covent Garden and up to 20 times the flat £295 charge in Blackpool.

Despite seafront business people organising a protest meeting and a vociferous campaign, the final charges announced earlier this week - £65 per sq m for licensed cafés and £35 per sq m for non-licensed premises - would still result in bills of thousands of pounds.

Strict regulations concerning the quality and style of tables and chairs and management of the cafés have also been agreed in a bid to ensure high standards in keeping with the resort's new-look continental-style seafront.

Mr Howard said: “My own view is that we should not charge at all for pavement cafés, maybe only the planning fee. These traders are the tourist industry and we should be helping them. They still have to spend £10,000 to £15,000 for the tables and chairs.”

He said he thought it was now too late to get pavement cafés running this summer and urged the council to start consultation properly before next year.

Mr Collins, cabinet member for tourism, said the committee had been drawn from the management board of the InteGreat project, charged with overseeing seafront regeneration - Mr Howard was not on the board and, therefore, not included on the committee.

He said that as he was already there, it was not necessary for Mr Howard to be present, too.

Mr Collins added: “We shall see the response from traders after the 14-day consultation, but I already know of five people who want to go ahead with pavement cafés.”