Shock order for hut owner

A BUSINESSMAN who hoped to use an old fishing hut on Aldeburgh beach for a sustainable tourism initiative was left reeling after he was ordered to remove it.

A BUSINESSMAN who hoped to use an old fishing hut on Aldeburgh beach for a sustainable tourism initiative was left reeling after he was ordered to remove it.

James Fitzgerald, who owns LEV, an electric bicycle company based at Leiston, hoped to use one of the huts as part of a network of re-charging stations for the electric bikes he hires out to tourists and visitors.

The entrepreneur, who is a keen amateur fisherman, bought a pair of huts from local fisherman Tom Cable about 18 months ago to store fishing equipment for his boat, and repaired it at a cost of around �1,000.

But after he asked for permission from beach owner Suffolk Coastal District Council to re-charge his electric bikes at one of the huts, which dates back several generations, he said he was “shocked” when a notice was issued telling him to remove it by February 28. If he failed to do so, the council reserved the right to “remove, sell or otherwise dispose” of the shed.

“This is crazy. It's laughable. I really don't understand what the council's objections are. Firstly, recreational fishing has been established as legitimate use of the huts on the beach, and secondly what on earth is wrong with allowing folk to stop by and charge their bikes up there?

“The hire network brings lots of visitors to the town but if there is nowhere to recharge the bikes they'll simply stop coming. I asked what's left of Aldeburgh Town Council to help and they said it's nothing to do with them and Suffolk Coastal District Council are totally impenetrable - electing to hide behind their agents Norfolk Property Services who won't give me the contact details of the person responsible at Suffolk Coastal District Council. The notice to tear the hut down came from Suffolk Coastal District Council's head of legal and democratic services. Some democracy.”

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Suffolk Coastal District Council said it was trying to ensure the huts at Aldeburgh were used for traditional fishing businesses, and using it for electric bikes was contrary to policy.

Mr Fitzgerald, who set up an electric bike hire network in the area in 2007, works with companies and local authorities around the UK providing electric bikes aimed at encouraging employees to leave their cars at home.

Knowing his electric bike hire scheme desperately needed a hire and charge station in Aldeburgh, he sought approval from the district council to add it to a list of charge stations, he said. The district council's response was to serve a notice stating that the hut had to be removed by February 28.

“What a strange way to support a business. It's ironic that the electric bike network was set up without any help from the council or the likes of Suffolk Greenest County and it's the first of its kind in the country,” said Mr Fitgerald.

“Ask any other council what they think of the scheme and they love it - other local authorities are paying us to establish similar schemes up and down the country. I'm close to throwing the towel in here. You can lead a horse to water...”

Ironically, the company was talking to the local authority in another Suffolk beauty spot - Dedham Vale and the Stour Valley - about setting up an electric bike scheme there, he said.

A Suffolk Coastal District Council spokesman said: “Whatever the environmental merits of this particular business, it does have to comply with the rules just like every other business. The town council, The Fishermans Guild and Suffolk Coastal have been working together to ensure that the huts at Aldeburgh are used for traditional fishing businesses and thanks to our efforts a majority of the huts are now leased to local fisherman.

“To help control the use of the huts, an annual licence for the use of each hut is issued. This particular hut was sold by the previous licence holder who had been using it for purposes linked to fishing. When we became aware that the current licence holder is using it for electric bikes, we pointed out that it was contrary to our policy and have been investigating finding an alternative more suitable site. Co-incidentally we have also received interest from someone who would like to use the hut in question as a location for a commercial fishing-related outlet.

“We have been working in partnership to protect the traditional fishing industry at Aldeburgh and that remains our priority. We want to find a solution whereby another fishing-related business will be in place among the huts which will help to preserve this key local industry, while at the same time finding a new appropriate home for the electric bike business.”

Aldeburgh's town clerk Lindsay Lee said the land was owned by Suffolk Coastal District Council and was their responsibility, and the town council could not comment.