Council’s support for local businesses is questioned

The East Beach Caf� is owned by Jane Wood, who has been critical of the council's support for entrepreneurs
The East Beach Caf� is owned by Jane Wood, who has been critical of the council's support for entrepreneurs

A PROMINENT entrepreneur has criticised Arun District Council’s support for local businesses at a high-profile event in London.

Speaking at a special Seaside Entrepreneurs meeting organised by the Centre for Entrepreneurs in London on Monday night, Jane Wood, who owns the East Beach Café, the West Beach Café and helped bring The Longest Bench to Littlehampton seafront, was quoted as saying: “Littlehampton opposes everything I do.”

But following Ms Wood’s comments, Arun District Council leader Gillian Brown defended the council’s position, stating she believed it ‘worked hard’ to improve facilities in the area.

Ms Wood, whose comments follow a report into the challenges facing businesses in coastal towns published by the Centre for Entrepreneurs in September (From ebb to flow: how entrepreneurs can turn the tide for seaside towns), in which she was profiled, also said that Sussex does not treat tourists in a ‘modern way’.

When asked, she declined to comment on rumours of a dispute between her and Arun District Council but did draw comparisons with Hastings Borough Council, where she claimed local authorities were ‘open-minded’ to businesses.

As well as hinting at difficulties with Arun District Council, Ms Wood also suggested that more needed to be done by councils across the country to improve the ‘quality’ and ‘texture’ of seaside towns. She spoke alongside three other seaside entrepeneurs.

Building of the East Beach Café, which won plaudits for Thomas Heatherwick’s driftwood-style architectural design and was featured in Vogue magazine, was completed in 2006 but Ms Wood has been confronted with many bureaucratic hurdles.

In the report published by the Centre for Entrepreneurs, it was written that her “energy (had) been sapped by bureaucracy and too many tiny obstacles”.

Addressing the meeting, she noted that Bodyshop founder Anita Roddick faced similar difficulties during her life.

Ms Wood has faced a protracted wrangle with the council over the lease for her West Beach Café and, speaking to the Gazette last month, she said she was the only individual or business made to contribute to flood defences by the Environment Agency for her development of five waterfront homes in River Road.

In 2013, the property developer was, alongside other Littlehampton business figures, critical of council proposals to increase seafront parking charges.

However, in response to the charge that the council obstructed local entrepreneurialism, Gillian Brown, council leader, said: “I think we work hard in partnership to improve facilities in Littlehampton and Bognor Regis.”

Proposals to spend upward of £14million on improved swimming and leisure facilities, she added, demonstrated the council’s “commitment to rebuilding and regeneration” in Littlehampton and Bognor Regis.

Ms Wood’s comments nevertheless echo similar remarks made in the Centre for Entrepreneurs report by Andreas Sparsis, owner of Littlehampton’s Fish Factory restaurant: “In Brighton, the local authority actively supports entrepreneurs, but here they actively block entrepreneurialism.”

The tensions emerge just as George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer, has announced government plans at the Conservative party conference to give councils greater powers to set their own business tax rates – precisely with the aim of enabling local authorities to stimulate more entrepreneurship.