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English Riviera's Blue Flag status under threat from beach budget cuts

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: January 19, 2013

Paignton beach – and others in the Torbay area – could lose their coveted Blue Flag if the council cuts its beach services budget

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Beaches in Torbay will lose their Blue Flag status as a result of the council's budget cuts, councillors have been warned.

Torbay currently holds the highest number of Coastal and Blue Flag Award beaches for any resort in England. In 2011, there were 16 Blue Flag awards.

This week, Torbay Council's overview and scrutiny committee considered the proposal to shave £142,000 from the beach services budget. This could include reducing the time beaches are manned.

Sue Cheriton, executive head of residents and visitor services, said: "We have a number of options to consider. We will make a decision in the next four weeks. All the scenarios mean we won't be eligible for a Blue Flag award on any of the beaches. The key thing is the beach has to be supervised from May to September and on that criteria alone we will fail."

One of the suggestions is that the beaches are only manned for eight to ten weeks in the peak season. The committee discussed whether beaches should be manned at weekends and whether friends groups could be set up to help. The example of the community helping keep a facility open at Shoalstone Pool was cited.

Kevin Helmore, chairman of the Beach Hut Users' Group, told the committee: "The greatest concern we have is beach services and the general appearance of the beaches are probably going to decline. It's beaches which attract people here. If we are not providing an adequate service for people they will vote with their feet and go elsewhere."

He said in a letter to the committee that the council would no longer be able to provide basic services such as deck chair hire or beach hut rentals.

"First aid, dealing with lost children and posting of warning flags in respect of tides or winds may also be missing, therefore affecting public safety," he added. Mr Helmore said as a coastal location, Torbay depends upon the tourism industry to provide income.

"We should not seek to make short-term savings to the detriment of both the tourist industry and the pleasure of local beach users," he said.

Andrew Price, a regular visitor to Paignton and Preston beaches, said: "We are a seaside resort. I was quite surprised to discover the council is proposing to spend 0.2 per cent of its budget on its main capital assets."

Mrs Cheriton said there would be a response service for issues on beaches but not somebody stationed permanently on the beach. The cost of applying a Blue Flag is £600 a beach, she pointed out.

The department is looking at providing extra beach huts to raise money and there is a waiting list of 27 for those proposed at Broadsands. It is looking for further concessions such as the wheel in Torquay which is returning next year, and food outlets. Councillors were told no public toilets would be closed.

Councillor Mark Kingscote said Cornwall had very few Blue Flag beaches and it didn't stop people going to beaches there.

Mayor Gordon Oliver pointed out support from central Government had been reduced.

He said looking after adults and children in Torbay was a statutory duty the council was required to do; looking after beaches was discretionary.

Of the 22 beaches and coves in Torbay, nine are manned. Staff dealt with 2,300 incidents including those requiring first aid. More than 1,000 beach huts are provided on seasonal and short lets, and there is a "significant" waiting list.

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