Broadstairs Funicular Coffeehouse owners threat to axe further investment in row over beach huts relocation

The front of part of the Funicular is now open but the rest of the property remains blocked Photo Dave Stillman

Plans for an upstairs cocktail bar, events and yoga space and a specialist seafood restaurant on Viking Bay could be ditched due to a row with the council over beach huts.

Justin Van Oortmerssen and wife Annita Gkioka opened the Funicular Coffeehouse at the site of the former seafront shelter and toilets last year after buying the property at auction for £350,000 the previous October.

It had been owned by Thanet council and was put up for sale as part of the authority’s asset disposal programme.

The pair set about the task of overhauling the site, doing most of the work themselves through Justin’s skills as a carpenter and experience of property renovations.

The boutique coffee house, which also serves Kent wines from Chapel Down and beers, started trading in June 2018 but has been hampered by the 18, mainly disused, huts that are directly in front of the business.

The huts before a couple were moved

Justin, 39, says there was agreement with the council that if the site was used for a commercial purpose the huts would be moved, half prior to the 2018 summer season and the remainder before this year’s season.

But the huts, which Justin says are mainly unused or under-used and are rotting underneath, remain on site with just two being shifted this month after protracted wrangling between Justin and council officers.

Hut users have disputed this saying they are frequently used and in good condition. Some owners say they have volunteered to move but others say the proposed plans would mean they lose their own view of the sea.

One hut owner also said five beach huts have already been moved up in addition to the two removed from the front of the Funicular and the owner of The Cave shop had given up part of his space to help.

They added: “Everything was measured out. There is not another inch of space for the beach huts to move to.”

An email from the council suggested Justin should pay for the removal and any damage incurred but this was later rescinded.

And after

The result is a small gap that patrons can see through but the rest of the site is still blocked.

Justin says the visual barrier created by the structures is encouraging antisocial behaviour, including people urinating behind them and drug use.

It has also hit takings and he is now taking legal advice over the loss of profits and the lack of fulfilling the original promise Justin says was made by TDC.

Justin and Annita with the new view

He said: “We were promised the huts would be moved and that is why we invested. This has not happened. If we had a view we could probably have doubled our takings and reinvested that back into the business.”
Justin and Annita have permission to convert the upper part of the premises into a flat but say they agreed to drop this idea in favour of further commercial investment comprising the bar, restaurant, a yoga studio and event space which could have been open for next year.

That investment will not take place, says Justin, if the huts are not moved.

Plans for the whole site

He said: “The only way it is worth the further investment is if the beach huts are not in front of us. No-one is going to enjoy a prime seafood dish while staring at the back of a hut.

“After 15 months, we managed to get 2.5  huts moved. We are happy that some movement has happened but the problem has just been shifted to another area in front of our property and now creates a perfect urinal at the end of the row of huts. This is not what was promised to us.

“I was about to submit my planning application for the rest of the property, however, after the recent communication with the council sending me a bill for the beach-hut relocation, I have now ceased that process.

“ It will cost over £20 000 in architects and engineer fees alone, and I am really not encouraged to invest any more in this property.”

The couple moved to east Kent after Annita took up a Clinical Neuropsychiatry PHD and lecturer placement at Canterbury university. They then spotted the Viking Bay property and moved to Broadstairs specifically for the venture.

Justin said: “We love this place. It has always been my passion to restore and fix things and breathe life back into a property.

“Everything we make goes right back into the property. The investment is not just money but expertise and all the work we have carried out together but we will definitely not carry on if we do not get this decision to move the huts.”

The pair, who employ three people at the Funicular Café, say the huts could be moved along the walkway to the left of their premises.

Photo Skies Over Thanet

Justin added: “We have given up our plan to have our flat here so we can create something for tourism, for locals, everyone, proposals that fit in with the council’s town plan policy.”

Justin says his complaints to the council have now been escalated to ‘stage 2’ but he has been told this could be a 20 day process.

He said: “By that time the season will be almost finished.”

The Funicular Coffee House  Photo Skies Over Thanet

A Thanet council spokesman said: “”A small number of beach huts on Viking Bay have been relocated. This took place following discussions with Your Leisure, hut owners and the owner of a business premises in the vicinity.”

According to an email seen by The Isle of Thanet News the council says the property and land at auction was sold ‘with no rights of removal of the beach huts.’

The same email quotes beach hut operator Your Leisure as saying: “There are no other suitable areas at Viking Bay that we can re-position the huts.”

Find the Funicular Coffeehouse on facebook here

19 Comments

  1. This couple paid TDC £350,000 for the building and have spent a lot of time , money and effort to get this place going , but all the time these few beach huts remain in front of their business , nobody can see the cafe etc ! They need relocating for this Funicular cafe to work , come on thanet council , you,ve got your third of a million !

  2. We have a couple who are trying to make Broadstairs a little more exciting for tourists as well as improving the beach area why do TDC always put obstacles in the way of anyone trying to make a go of a business which is let’s face it good for Broadstairs. I remember how that part of the beach area was during the sixties and my what an improvement it was where mum, dad, and grandad sat while we played in sea or sand and even watched the old punch & Judy man also the cups of tea we had when it rained. Come council give them a break move a few more huts and we will get a better facility than the great one already they have built. Also more income from business rates. Good luck Justin and Annita with your business.

  3. It was a shamefully grotty unloved area before these people took on. You would think TDC, given the amount of money they pocketed from the sale (far more than they dreamed of) would be only too pleased to help – but not our dear council – their motto should be obstruct, obstruct and obstruct again.

  4. Your Leisure own the beach huts do the real story is: does the revenue, minus upkeep of the huts, outweigh the potential benefits of the proposed cafe renovations?

    • Those are privately owned huts, not owned by YourLeisure but the plot they rest on is managed by YL on behalf of TDC.

  5. Their biggest mistake was trusting TDC, to remove the beach huts. I would want in writing in front of my solicitor when dealing with TDC….

  6. Their biggest mistake was setting up a business in probably the most anti-business council in the country. The fact they axed their whole economic development team tells you all you need to know.

  7. Shocking behaviour from TDC! The place will be a fantastic asset as well as improving the whole surroundings which had been shamefully allowed to go to wrack and ruin, despite their heritage.

  8. TDC are disgracefully inept and have no business acumen .Good minded people who are happy to champion Wi-Fi on the beach? Interestingly I would like to encourage a Freedom of Information request as to how much it cost to install and how much has it earned in revenue. All this when they are selling toilets.
    Finally with regard to the moving the beach huts in front of this FANTASTIC business enterprise…how about using some of the £350,000 they paid you for a derelict building frequented only by alcohol consuming louts who have increased in numbers and openly smoke cannabis now near the bar (when closed) and “toilet” block close to the childrechildren’s amusements

  9. You really could not make this up this must be the most backward council in the whole country is this really what we have to put up with l feel so sad

    • A council, like its MP and govt., nominally represent the people who choose it. If,as you say, it is a backward council, we have form here, what kind of reflection is that of the voters who can be bothered to vote for it and those who just cannot be bothered to participate. Ultimately, it seems you get the council and politicians you deserve.

  10. Classic TDC backwardsness, it is shameful how shortsighted they are. Annita and Justin are a lovely and energetic couple, full of ideas on how to improve the look of Broadstairs. They employ 3 people. Exactly the kind of people we need more of everywhere. Hopefully TDC will be shamed into doing the right thing.

  11. Thanet Council when are you going to step up to the plate and be accountable to the people you are supposed to represent. It seems to matter not who we vote for it always ends with blinkered ineptitude and a council who can’t see further than short term financial gain. Come on TDC start to do your job properly and stop concentrating on driving tourists and business enterprise away!

  12. TIME TO MOVE FORWARD
    TEC. Why can’t this council understand what is the only correct way to deal with this situation, are they unable to see that a facilitie such as this is, should be thoroughly encouraged and should be helped in every way instead of their usual reluctance to improve our seafront.

  13. Why should the beach hut owners move they pay nearly £500. A year rental plus all the hut expenses are there’s as they own them The beach huts were there first and have been since the 1930’s He knew they were there when paid ten times what the freehold was worth his mistake not the councils.

    • Theirs, not there’s. Not really a hardship to move a few huts a few feet is it? The area was a disgrace before and, as much of Thanet, was allowed to fall into disrepair. TDC lied for a change so I hope Justin wins his case if he brings one. I will be supporting him.

  14. In 2013 there was a BBC news article entitled ‘Thanet District Council surrounded by secrecy and corruption’…seems as though not much has changed

  15. What a farce. We have here a couple who are devoted to improving the beach area… a couple who have put time money and effort into turning a squalid urine soaked rat infested area into a pleasing place to be. They even take on TDCs job….regularly bagging rubbish left on the sands.
    Sometimes things have to change. Local authorities / central government compulsory purchase property that is in the way of development. All this business couple want is a few down at heel under used huts relocated
    Reality check please

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