Blakeney explains decision on stalls

The parish council at the centre of a row over the future of two popular stallholders on a north Norfolk quay has justified its actions by saying the move will bring in almost �20,000 for local ratepayers.

The parish council at the centre of a row over the future of two popular stallholders on a north Norfolk quay has justified its actions by saying the move will bring in almost �20,000 for local ratepayers.

But while Blakeney Parish Council hoped releasing figures which showed how much they stood to gain from the new set-up would bring an end to the saga, outgoing tea stall owner Christine Overton has vowed she will fight on.

The council has been under attack after replacing the seafood and cafe caravan businesses, which have been there for a combined total of 47 years, with new ventures from October.

But it has now issued figures and a statement saying the move was to help local ratepayers, stressing the council had 'nothing to hide' and hoping to draw a line under the controversial saga.

Tea stall owner Christine Overton and seafood seller Duncan Groom have been told to shut up shop after the sites on the Carnser car park on Blakeney Quay went out to competitive tender.

They were beaten by higher offers from other traders, and the council has now released the figures and thinking behind the decision, which show the new tenants will bring in an extra �19,600 for the parish council coffers.

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Council clerk Tracey Bayfield said: 'We spend more than �100,000 a year, and our council tax precept is only about �23,000. We have to find the other �80,000 a year in other places.

'The council has always stood by its decision. We have to look at the bigger picture.'

Explaining the council's earlier silence in the face of criticism, she added: 'The council has nothing to hide, but has been seeking legal advice on what could be released and when.'

It was hoped the information would allay concerns and 'the village will understand the reasons for the decisions that have been taken on the village's behalf.'

The parish council stands to gain a total of �19,600 for accepting the new tenders and evicting the current stallholders - �4,900 a year for the next four years, representing just under 5pc of their budget.

The figures show Ms Overton submitted a �24,000 bid to retain her refreshment caravan, which would have seen her paying �6,000 a year for the site - more than double what she paid in 2007 and 2008.

Two people from Blakeney and West Runton bid �26,721 for the plot, but the winning bid from caterer Andrew Lawford was �32,000, giving the council �8,000 profit.

But Ms Overton said, despite the release of the figures, public opinion against the council's decision was still too strong for her to sit back and accept her fate. She said: 'I'm not giving up. They won't listen to what Blakeney people want.'

Mr Groom submitted a bid of �1,100 for the next four years on the site - a modest increase on his payments in 2007 and 2008 - for a total tender of �4,400.

But Mr and Mrs Harris Cooke from Wells bid �4,000 a year for the same site - a total of �16,000, almost four times as much as Mr Groom offered, and a �11,600 profit for the council for choosing the new tenants over the existing stallholder.

Mr Groom said: 'What the council hasn't taken into consideration is that we helped establish these sites and without us there wouldn't be anything for them to put up for tender. There's no fair play or natural justice at all.

'My tender was based on the previous years' rent with inflation, and the economic downturn at the moment. You have to wonder if the successful applicants realise they were entering a figure for one year's rent, not four.'

Mrs Bayfield said the both sites have incredible potential for businesses and the successful bids reflected that. She said: 'They realised what a little goldmine it is down there.'

Angry villagers at a public meeting earlier this month called on the council to hold a parish poll to gauge public reaction to their decision.

But North Norfolk District Council's monitoring officer Emma Duncan has ruled that the poll will not have to take place because it was not properly proposed in line with council rules and regulations.

In response, Ms Overton said villagers would call another parish meeting in order to ensure the poll took place. She said: 'We will have a poll whether [the parish council] wants one or not. It only takes 12 people to call a parish meeting and we have 143 people already wanting a poll.'

Mrs Bayfield said villagers were entitled to call a fresh meeting but that the results of a parish poll were not binding on the council. She said: 'We would struggle justifying to the auditor why we let go �19,600. The parish council will stand firm on its decision.' Overturning its decision could also breach contracts and make it liable for compensation, and it would be 'irresponsible to put the parish at risk of such unknown and potentially large expense.'