Council row over proposed caravan rates increase

editorial image

A ROW broke out at Coleraine Council last week over a proposed raise in fees and charges at the two sites in Juniper Hill and Carrick-Dhu, which generated a net profit of £1.1million last year.

Richard Baker, Corporate Director of Leisure Services, recommended Council proceed with a proposed 3% rise in site rental fess for 2013-14, which would see them rise from £2135 to £2220.

“Static rents have increased in line with inflation for the last five years,” Mr Baker told the Leisure and Environment Committee meeting.

“Last year Coleraine Borough Council agreed an increase in line with inflation of 4.5% on 2011-12 site rental fees. The proposed increase of 3% for 2013-14 is slightly above CPI (2.2%).

A change in HMRC policy has resulted in VAT being charged on both rent and rates, whereas previously rates were unencumbered. The change has resulted in an overall increase to the site holders of £90 with CBC benefiting by £45 per caravan – 800 x £45 equates to an increase of £36,000 over 2012/13 income from this source.”

Alderman Maurice Bradley said he was not happy with the recommended increase and proposed the decision be deferred until the full Council meeting at the end of November to hear representations from the Caravan Committee.

“I’m disappointed by this, particularly as there was such steep increases last year,” said Ald Bradley.

“This is a static situation and these caravan owners have no other option than to pay the charges.

“I asked three families who have caravans on our sites to keep all their receipts for the year detailing what they spend in the borough and it was staggering. One spent £3,000, another spent £4,000 and the last family, who purchased a car in the area, spent £14,000.

“These people people are spending a lot of money in the borough and all we want to do is extract cash from our ‘golden cow’”

Ald Bradley’s DUP counterpart, Ald James McClure, backed his colleague’s proposal saying Council shouldn’t be ‘fleecing’ the caravaners.

“If we burden these people with more increases they’ll stop coming and the council will lose out,” he said.

However, Ulster Unionist councillor David Harding said the ratepayers would have to foot the bill instead if there was no increase and proposed an amendment to increase the charges in line with the current rate of inflation, 2.2%.

“We either run this as a business to benefit the borough or we ask the people of Coleraine to subsidise it to the tune of £36,000,” said Cllr Harding.

“These demands are not excessive...this is the market rate.”

His party colleague, Cllr Richard Holmes seconded the amendment and said Ald Bradley’s proposal was ‘typical DUP economics’.

“You cannot reduce your income and then try and reduce the rates when they come around, but that’s typical DUP economics,” said Cllr Holmes.

“If you sacrifice your income from commercial activity then you will be putting the cost on to the ratepayers and we can’t ask them to subsidise the caravan parks.

“Ald McClure said people won’t come back if they are asked to pay too much, but they won’t come back if the parks facilities aren’t up to standard and this increase helps us fund improvements.”

Cllr Christine Alexander agreed saying: “We have invested heavily in the parks and there is plans to do more work. A rise of 2.2% can’t be considered as excessive, everything is on the increase. You’d almost think it was a crime for council to make money.”

A recorded vote was taken on the amendment with nine councillors - Christine Alexander, Ciaran Archibald, Barney Fitzpatrick, David Harding, Norman Hillis, Richard Holmes, William King, Roisin Loftus and William McCandles - voting in favour of a 2.2% increase.

The six remaining councillors at the meeting - Maurice Bradley, William Creelman, Mark Fielding, Phyllis Fielding, James McClure and Adrian McQuillan - all abstained from the vote so the amendment was carried.