A ban on ‘ticket-touting’ for boat trips around Ilfracombe Harbour has been agreed.

The area the Public Spaces Protection Order will cover. Picture: North Devon CouncilThe area the Public Spaces Protection Order will cover. Picture: North Devon Council

The new Puplic Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) will stop anyone from handing out flyers, putting up leaflets, or touting for trade by word of mouth when it comes into force on April 1.

Offenders will be fined up to £1,000 by North Devon Council, who say the order is required because ticket-touters have become 'more assertive' in their techniques, which has led to confrontation between operators in full view of the public.

The council hopes the plans will 'eradicate' ticket-touting and create a level playing field for all operators, but boat operators say the plans are ridiculous and unfair and 'stops them talking to potential customers'.

North Devon Council agreed to introduce the PSPO at a meeting on Wednesday, March 13.

After the meeting, Chief Executive for North Devon Council, Mike Mansell said: "North Devon councillors agreed to put a Public Spaces Protection Order in place in relation to Ilfracombe Harbour and surrounding roads.

"The order, which will come into effect on April 1 and lasts for one year, aims to discourage excessive ticket-touting and leafletting, which spoils the visitor experience and has led to concerns in the past.

"In making the order, the council made it clear that it was 'business as usual' at the harbour, and that its aim was to encourage good practice rather than to take action against bad practice.

"Enforcement would only be undertaken as a last resort, and following consultation with the council's legal team and the Harbour Board."

A council spokesman added that a letter would be sent to all boat owners advising that the enforcement would be managed.

They added: "It was not the intention that enforcement would be taken, however if enforcement was required it would be undertaken by the Legal team and the Ilfracombe Harbour Board."

A report to the council by Ilfracombe Harbour master, Captain Georgina Carlo-Paat, said that the complaints have been received over many years that ticket sales have become excessively competitive with boat operators having engaged in 'ticket-touting'.

Her report added: "This has taken the form of employees of the boat operators making multiple approaches to potential customers who have leaflets thrust on them as they approach and enter the Harbour area.

"The competition in high summer is intense and so the ticket sellers have become more assertive in their technique. This has led to confrontation between the operators in full view of the public. Such 'ticket-touting' and confrontation have a negative effect on the well-being of the community, both local residents and visitors, and are unreasonable and unnecessary."

It added: "Although visitors subjected to such activities have not made written complaints, it is nonetheless clear that the practices have attracted public disapproval and have had a negative effect on the reputation of the Harbour.

"Such ticket-touting is unreasonable and unnecessary because the operators have kiosks from which they are able to operate, and this position will not change."

Ric Simpson, deputy harbourmaster added: "On busy days there can be several touts lined up on both sides of Quay Road, as well as in the road, and on occasion, they can even be found around the corner near the RNLI shop in the hope of getting to potential customers first."

The order means that unless you have a licence of written permission, engaging in the solicitation of services by word of mouth or through the distribution by hand of any leaflet, pamphlet or circular, or attaching any such leaflet, pamphlet or circular to anything is banned.

The order will come into force on April 1 and will last for a year, and then be reviewed.

Consultation had taken place, with 42 supporting the proposal and 109 objections, and boat operators had said the plans were ridiculous and unfair.

Mark Hutchings, who operates fishing and diving trips through his company Bristol Channel Charters, said: "I've got half a million pounds invested in boats at the harbour and we need to be able to talk to people.

"They say there have been reports of people aggressively hounding visitors for business but I have never seen that. Why would any of us do that, it would be completely counterintuitive.

"If people aren't interested in coming on a boat trip, we still tell them about all the wonderful accommodation, restaurants and attractions there are in the town. If we can't talk to people, we can't do that. It will have a massive effect on our business.

"It also feels like the council are really giving us an ultimatum with this - it's like they're saying 'it's our way or no way'. It's ridiculous and feels very unfair."