Felixstowe Spa beach hut owners say complaints information does not back up claims huts are causing obstruction on prom
Questions have been raised over a council's decision to move 44 beach huts from a promenade location, as information reveals only a handful of complaints over obstruction since 2019.
East Suffolk Council terminated owners' licences for their existing sites in the historic Felixstowe Spa Pavilion area as of March 31 and have put forward alternative locations - but there is only enough space for 30 of the huts, leaving 14 with no-where to go.
The beach huts have been on the prom since 2018 as they were unable to return to the beach - where they are normally sited in the summer - for safety reasons due to erosion and storms.
Steve Gallant, leader of East Suffolk Council, previously said the huts' relocation to the promenade 'was only ever going to be temporary given the considerable disruption caused to other visitors'.
But a Freedom of Information (FOI) request submitted by SuffolkNews has found the council has received only five complaints relating to the huts being an obstruction between 2019 and 2022 up until April (of which none were in 2020).
The other two complaints during this period relate to use during Covid restrictions and 'unkempt state' of the huts.
There were 21 complaints in 2018 from artist stallholders taking part in the Art on the Prom event in the September - which was attended by 25,000 visitors - saying the beach huts should not be on the prom as they were 'detrimental' to the event, and 27 general complaints that year about the huts being left on the promenade.
There was only one formal corporate complaint submitted (in 2018), and this was over lack of consultation before the council made the decision to move the beach huts to the prom.
In response to the FOI, East Suffolk Council reiterated the huts being on the prom was a 'temporary solution' and added they have engaged in discussion with a range of individuals and stakeholders who have expressed concerns.
Beach hut owners launched a legal fight against the council's decision to evict them and a petition of more than 3,500 signatures is going before a full meeting of the local authority on May 25.
Julie Downton, secretary of the Felixstowe Beach Hut & Chalet Association, which has taken on the legal fight on behalf of the beach hut owners, said the council's reasoning for the huts' relocation was 'unsubstantiated'.
She said Art on the Prom, as well as the Felixstowe classic car rally, in 2019 resulted in no complaints about the beach huts (the events did not take place in 2020 and 2021). Beach hut owners had been asked by East Suffolk Council not to use them during these events, and they complied, Mrs Downton said.
She added: "It couldn't have been a busier summer than 2020 when people couldn't go away on holiday. The resort was heaving.
"And in that time there were no complaints over obstruction; there were bicycles going along the prom, mobility scooters, just the whole impact of having more people around - and there was absolutely none.
"And I think the petition shows - more than 3,500 signatures - that people want them to stay."
Crime writer Ruth Dugdall, who is part of the campaign group, said the information on complaints raised questions about the council's reasons for wanting to relocate the huts, adding just five complaints relating to obstruction in the last four years was 'tiny'.
She said events on the prom could co-exist with the beach huts, which was proved by owners being 'very happy' to comply with requests not to use them during these times.
In a statement on behalf of beach hut owners, Ruth said: "These beach huts have wintered on the prom since World War Two, and there have been beach huts in the Spa area since the 1880s.
"The current decision to remove all of these huts will change the nature of the conservation area, and the feel of Felixstowe, forever.
"Alternatives have not been properly explored, despite beach hut owners being willing to pay for solutions, including platforms on the beach, or niches cut into the grass."
The Felixstowe Beach Hut Association wrote to their members to remind them not to use their huts at the next event on the prom, which was the classic car rally on May 1.
An East Suffolk Council spokesperson said: “Given that it is no longer possible for the huts to remain safely on the beach, it had been agreed, on the understanding of all parties, that their placement on the promenade was a temporary solution, and that the promenade is a public right of way.
“We have received a number of complaints, both through formal and informal channels about issues relating to their presence on the prom, and we have engaged in discussion with a range of individuals and stakeholders who have expressed concerns."
In a letter to beach hut owners by East Suffolk Council, dated March 30, they were asked to empty their huts by April 25 to aid the relocation process, but Mrs Downton said legal advice to owners was not to remove anything.
The letter also asked the owners to express their interest in a particular site by April 14, which - bearing in mind there are not enough spots for everyone - made them feel like they were 'being bullied into it,' Ruth said.