Brean Sands Pontins

A group of tourism businesses in Brean has this week called for a formal inquiry into the decision to allow Pontins to close to accomodate Hinkley Point C workers.

As reported here, local MP James Heappey and Sir Ashley Fox, the Conservative Candidate for the new Parliamentary seat of Bridgwater, recently hosted a meeting with holiday park owners in Brean to discuss local issues arising from the loss of 2,500 holidaymaker beds at Pontins.

Concern over the use of the Pontins site in Brean to accomodate Hinkley Point C workers was the main talking point – with the MP criticising Somerset Council for “limited engagement” and “refusing to be clear on their policy position.”

However, Somerset Council defended its position here and said it had been been working with EDF since August 2022 on the lease of Pontin’s in Brean and it had also helped to put in place a £225,000 mitigation package to support Brean businesses.

This week, a spokesperson for business group Discover Brean said: “Discover Brean, which is supported by 65% of tourism businesses contributors at Berrow and Brean, was pleased to read on the comments from MP James Heappey and Sir Ashley Fox with regard to the very detrimental effects on some of the tourism businesses on the coast at Brean as a result of the take over of Pontins by EDF and the loss of 2500 bed spaces for holidaymakers.”

“As a result of the MP and Sir Ashley Fox’s comments Discover Brean have requested an ‘inquiry’ into the way the local authorities have allowed the change of use at Pontins to the detriment of the local tourism businesses. A request for an “inquiry” will also be passed to the Tourism minister.”

“The crisis for some businesses cannot be over emphasised enough due to the decisions made by at-the-time Sedgemoor District Council officers and their opinions with regard to the very limited effects that accommodating EDF workers would have on the local tourism trade.”

“Now, with the new Somerset Council, the businesses are still in the hands of local authority officers with hardly any involvement from the executive and not producing certificates of lawfulness and seemingly hiding behind their officers.”

“The decision to allow Pontins holiday camp to become a residential campus without requiring a change of use application was made by listening to officer opinion and assumptions in August 2022. The tourism trade advised at the time what the consequences would be and to-day the proof is plain to see.”

“Brean is recognised as the second largest Caravan and Camping area in England, creating over 1,500 jobs and millions of pounds of income not only locally but also around the county. It contributes a large amount of finance to the local authority with business rates and also Nationally with VAT and taxation.”

“Prior to tha takeover by EDF in February, the 2500 bed spaces available in Pontins for holidaymakers represented a third of the beds available for hire along the Brean strip and situated in the centre of the village provided a large amount of income to the adjacent tourism businesses nearby.”

“Tourism businesses in close proximity to Pontins are as a result in dire straits with regard to their future. Unfortunately, the officers when making their opinions known, lacked any real experience or knowledge of the way the tourism trade had developed along the coastal strip. Iy must be understood that these comments are not meant to be personal but it is how the businesses who have worked extremely hard see the present situation.”

“To put it bluntly, Discover Brean was created in 2015 to put ‘bums on seats’, not remove 2500 holidaymaker beds. Whilst it is understood officers can only work within certain guidelines and within the rules laid out in a 106 agreement this means that multi-million pounds of investment by the tourism industry in Brean are witnessing a major change in footfall and the trade has no control over the situation.”

“It seems as though Sedgemoor DC and now Somerset council have chosen to ignore the local plan and the impact of this action on the tourism trade. Whilst it is understood that it is important to provide power,surely it was never intended that it would be acceptable to destroy a very thriving and important Tourism destination which creates thousands of jobs and income to the county.”

“This decision has been made by sacrificing tourism for the sole benefit of EDF and Britannia, Pontins owners. Discover Brean finds the Somerset Council logo ‘Fairer and Ambitious Somerset’ a very hard pill to swallow.”

“In a response on, a Somerset Council spokesperson said a £225,000 mitigation package was agreed. It was not agreed – it was presented in February by EDF without any reference to Discover Brean. Unfortunately, due in order to comply with Government subsidy control, the management of the EDF funding was given to the local authority officers and although Discover Brean submitted several bids for funding they were not able to convince the procurement panel of three officers that the businesses at Brean were capable of using modern communication systems and that a proposed TV campaign was too expensive.”

“As a result, Visit Somerset the county DMO, was awarded £80,000 to promote Brean nationally and an agency from Taunton was awarded £30,000 to deliver local campaigns. These initiatives were aimed to extend the shoulder seasons and link to new and wider audiences, for example with walkers, nature lovers, mature tourists, as well as a local publicity campaign to to focus on beach and family holidays, short breaks, day visits, value seekers, competitions and trails.”

“These initiatives supposedly to replace the 2,500 beds normally occupied by holiday makers on a Monday to Friday or Friday to Monday. These initiatives did not attract much enthusiasm from Discover Brean and the tourism businesses or with much hope that they would be able to replace the spending power of holidaymakers no longer staying in Brean.”

“In addition to the monies already mentioned a further £75,000 was earmarked for local tourism businesses support grants. A one-off grant of £20,000 was offered to Discover Brean to support their marketing with an upgrade of their website and to date this has not yet been forthcoming.”

“Unfortunately, with reference to the £75,000 support grants these can be in the form of £2000 or £5000 with only one application per business and although they can be used for equipment, training etc the EDF contributions 106 agreement does not allow for supplementing business income, so surprise, not many businesses have bothered to apply, as, the only benefit any grant would be would be to help with loss of income.”

“It was also mentioned that a Brean tourism group was set up in May and that Discover Brean as of September had decided not to be involved with any more meetings. The reason being it was felt that the trade representatives were wasting their valuable time when everything was being controlled by Economic Development officers and two appointed agencies with their own agendas.”

“As already stated, the catastrophic situation was originally created by Sedgemoor DC officers who seemed to be more intent on pleasing EDF than for any concerns with regard to the local tourism trade.”

“The lack of knowledge of the growth of Brean over the past 40 years and the amount of investment amounting to millions of pounds was completely overlooked to the sole benefit of Pontins and EDF.”

“The success of the trade’s past efforts was due to working with local and county businesses together with the District and county council councillors and officers. The local authorities listened and trusted the needs of the tourism industry and backed them not only with finance but also personally.”

“The secret to the success was that initiatives were trade led who worked tirelessly to create a vibrant tourism economy ensuring that value for money was achieved with the benefit of professional expertise provided by the trade.”

“The local Brean tourism trade was recovering well following on from the recent Covid pandemic. Now faced with not only the Pontins situation but the economic situation nationally, some businesses are not sure what the outcome will be.”

“Pontins should never have been allowed to become a residential campus and should be made to revert back to being a holiday camp as designated in the local plan.”

“Discover Brean. on behalf of the tourism businesses of Brean and the locality sincerely hope that their request for an inquiry is forthcoming in order for the local authority to be judged on the actions undertaken to the detriment of the tourism trade along the Brean coastal strip.”

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