Getting the Detail on Folkestone's Beach Huts Renewal Right
By Tim Prater
At the Folkestone and Hythe District Council meeting of 20th November, I spoke on the motion:
Budget Approval for Folkestone Beach Chalets Scheme
"This report proposes changes to the Council's capital programme including the capital funding implications. The capital works are a request from the Trustees of the Folkestone Parks and Pleasure Grounds Charity to provide capital funding of £500,000 to support the renovation of 16 of existing beach chalets, the demolition of the remaining 58 beach chalets and the installation of 120 new beach chalets at Marine Walk, Folkestone."
I spoke twice: firstly in moving an amendment to seek more scrutiny prior to making a decsion to investigate if more of the most historic beach huts could be retained. My second speech was off the cuff, and responding to suggestions the scheme was "fluid" and the number of huts and scope of works hadn't yet been finalised (they have - look at the above description).
In moving the amendment, I said:
"As a starting point, I wanted to say that I welcome plans to invest money in our Parks and Pleasure Grounds. I welcome investment in the beach chalets from Sandgate to Folkestone. I understand the aspiration of the Trustees to improve the chalet stock, and to see more families enjoying them, and to earn a large income from them.
"I share that aspiration, and every time I walk - or run - from Sandgate to Folkestone and back regret the neglect of many of the huts which are there now.
"So where there is much to like on the principle of this scheme, there are many issues with the detail.
"You may all have had emails from Folkestone Town Councillor Richard Wallace for example proposing that the existing chalets to be retained should be higher, seeking the retention of chalets 1-27 plus the "ladder" of 8 chalets, as almost all good examples of almost 100 year old huts. This is the view Go Folkestone, Heart and the New Folkestone Society and would retain 35 existing huts.
"They have no big issue with the removal of the remaining huts - I haven't spoken to anyone who does - but they have real concerns about the viability of wooden huts. As they say however, why not trial some of the scheme - remove the "non-contentious huts", replace those with wooden huts which we're assured will work, and see where we go, see how they work?
"Perhaps wooden huts if well maintained will last better there than many of us think they will. But even with the maintenance in the world, its hard to imagine a wooden hut in 25 years time would be anything other that Triggers Broom.
"And I've been in discussion with some of the beach hut owners who have huge fears of the scheme. One couples rents one of the chalets that Go Folkestone would like retained, but this scheme would see demolished. Those tenants - Anette and Russell - have also written to many of you. Councillors - its beautiful. But apparently no internal survey has been done on the occupied huts - so our reports don't show that.
"Why are we knocking down well maintained heritage, to replace it with sheds?
"And I also know that a lot of the money in this scheme is about works to retaining structures and more - but we have no detail. As the detail of this report was discussed by Trustees and not shared with Councillors, we don't know the cost, scale or requirements of the retaining works. We don't know what new facilities like toilets - if any - are included in that funding to give chalet owners a place to pee at their place in the sun. We don't even know the footprint of the sites that the new huts will be on - we've seen no detailed plans, still less had the chance to question them and look at the detail.
"Indeed - do we really see this scheme being completed in full by April as this proposal seeks? Removal, ground works, renovation, new huts - all of it?
"Sounds optimistic to me. But there are more questions to be asked - more assumptions to be checked.
"This might be a good scheme. However, I think with retaining more chalets, and a little more scrutiny, it could be a better one. It might be more phased in delivery. It might even be cheaper up front. It might even be more cost effective - and profitable - overall. Its certainly worth looking at.
"So Councillors I'd like to move an amendment, that instead on the current recommendations, we delete recommendation 2 and replace with:
"2) To refer the proposal (for a capital budget of £500,000 to be met from Prudential Borrowing to support the Folkestone Parks and Pleasure Grounds Charity's Folkestone Beach Chalets Scheme) to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee to consider the scheme as a whole prior to this Council making a decision.
"Lets let Scrutiny look at the detail, and why certain decisions have been made.
"Lets hear from current lessees, and our heritage community. And lets consider retaining a bit more, and replacing a bit less, before bringing the views of Scrutiny back to this Council for decision. Lets make this proposal better before we back it."
Although proposed and seconded, my amendment was rejected by Council (15-12 from memory). A subbsequent amendment was moved by Cllr Douglas Wade which acknowledged that the Trustees claimed that the scheme was still subject to revision and review, and may change.
The motion including that amendment was then backed 26 for with one abstension - mine. Although I welcome that the scheme may (hopefully will) be altered from here and could well retain more of the "good" chalets, I don't understand how the Council can reasonably grant a £500,000 loan to support a defined block of work when its now accepted that the block of work may be different / smaller, and the costs will change, and thus the funding requirement will change.