A fishing family that has been in Ilfracombe for more than 150 years say they will fight council plans for the pier entrance and its boat trip operators.

Boat operator signs at the entrance to Ilfracombe Pier. Picture: Tony GussinBoat operator signs at the entrance to Ilfracombe Pier. Picture: Tony Gussin

John and Paul Barbeary, who run fishing charter and sight-seeing trips from the harbour, say North Devon Council’s plans to revamp the pier entrance and replace the existing kiosks are ‘underhand’.

Boat operators have also objected to the council’s bid to impose a public spaces protection order (PSPO) to stop ‘ticket touting’ by commercial ticket sellers along the Quay – an online petition against it collected almost 1,000 signatures.

The council says it is creating a new entrance and fit-for-purpose kiosks for the commercial operators at the harbour by removing the 1950s booths and it also intends to widen the road.

‘Trying to evict us’

But the Barbeary brothers believe some of the proposals are aimed squarely at them. John Barbeary, who runs the charter boat Bluefin, told the Gazette: “They are trying to evict us from the kiosks – they have been trying to do it for years because we have renewable leases.

“They said the old kiosks were uneconomical to repair and were dangerous, they were falling down and had concrete cancer.

“We commissioned a surveyor’s report ourselves that cost us more than £1,000 – the surveyor concluded the main structures were reasonably sound but the roof could be repaired at a cost of £10,000.”

But the council has strongly disputed this, with head of corporate and community services Ken Miles saying it was ‘totally wrong’ to suggest the changes were to target one operator.

The brothers have said the council is now planning five new kiosks spread along the pier, at a cost of more than £100,000.

Paul Barbeary, who operates the Ilfracombe Princess sightseeing boat, said: “By having five kiosks, the person at the end will be completely stuffed, because we all do the same trips, so they have said they are going to rotate it each year.”

The Barbearys told the Gazette their rent would go up from around £750 to £3,000 a year, plus £500 insurance.

They say they have been given notice to vacate the old kiosks but were appealing against the decision.

They also said operators would be reduced to smaller advertising boards and would only be able to sell trips from the area by the pier entrance.

Paul concluded: “It’s going to be chaos down here, it’s going to be awful. We have had to lay off some of our staff. They thought we weren’t going to fight them, but we’re fighting them because we know they are wrong.”

‘Completely open’

In a full response to the claims, Ken Miles at NDC said: “We have been completely open about this project from the outset and shared all information and details transparently with all the commercial boat operators at the harbour.

“The old tickets kiosks are at the end of their economic and functional life, having been installed in the 1950s as toll booths. They simply aren’t fit for purpose for running a modern day business. The operators invest significantly in their businesses and it is only fair that the council supports them constructively going forward.

“We fully appreciate the historic importance of the harbour, but recognise the importance of change to take into account modern day operational requirements for businesses and the safety of all harbour users.

“All of the current commercial boat operators at Ilfracombe Harbour have been given the opportunity to be involved with this project and most have been actively involved. The aim is to create a level playing field for all the operators going forward and provide more kiosks to satisfy demand.

“To date, three new kiosks have been ordered and are now in place and the operators who will be using them are delighted with them.

‘Opportunity would be lost’

“We have been in dialogue with the Barbeary family offering them the chance to be part of the project, but to date they have declined. To suggest that we are making these changes simply to target one operator or the Barbeary family is totally wrong.

“We are trying to invest in and improve the harbour area for all those that work in and visit the harbour and it would be an opportunity lost if the efforts of the Barbeary family to stop those improvements from taking place are successful.

“The budget for the overall project includes for the widening of the access road into the Pier which is important for public and harbour users safety, as well as improvements to services in the area. This is a significant element of the budget.

“The new kiosks themselves will be self-financing from the operator’s licence fees. The new kiosks offer a high quality, purpose built, ticket sales facility, giving operators more space and a larger advertising area, without the need for numerous signs placed around the harbour.

“As people can enter the harbour from either end, there is no disadvantage to anybody being placed at one end of the other.

“We are more than happy to continue constructive dialogue with anyone concerned about the proposals.”