RESIDENTS in Christchurch have expressed their frustration at the expansion of beach huts along the seafront, claiming that they reduce pedestrian access along the promenade.

Following the 2014 Valentine’s Day storms, work was undertaken in 2017 to raise the height of the promenade and widen it, largely for the purpose of storm protection, part-funded by Avon Beach Ltd.

Having been approached by BCP Council following the damage, the firm agreed to contribute £50,000 towards urgent remedial work, which in total cost in excess of £500k.

However, a recent application by the company to enlarge 36 beach huts by 1.2 metres has caused an uproar among residents, with some claiming that it is counterproductive to the current coronavirus guidelines.

Friars Cliff Residents Association said it has been contacted by residents in the Friars Cliff area and claims several people have made approaches to local councillors and MP Sir Chris Chope.

A spokesman said: “The recent extension of the beach huts has caused much consternation from residents about the loss of the widened promenade – so important in these Covid-19 times.

“Additionally, people are concerned that an amenity created by largely public funds is creating additional revenue for ABC Ltd, the tenant of the beachfront and restaurant.

“The Residents Association has been in dialogue with councillors; council officers responsible for the beach front operations; and separately ABC Ltd to establish what is, and is not, allowed within the lease governing the ABC beach huts on the promenade.

“The responsibility must reside with BCP to ensure public assets are managed correctly.”

Avon Beach Ltd has a lease with BCP Council to operate the Noisy Lobster Restaurant, a shop, takeaway facilities and beach huts on Avon Beach.

The company applied for an extension to the beach huts in June 2020 which was granted.

A spokesman for the firm said the extension of beach hut numbers 63 to 99 will bring them in line with neighbouring huts, and is not at the promenade’s narrowest point.

The company said renovation work would help make up for income lost as a result of the ongoing pandemic.

“The works to our beach huts have been in accordance with our lease. We are merely investing in our assets in order to improve the offering for our customers which are in high demand.

“With our restaurant and shop face being closed for 10 months in the past 14, we are forced to be creative with our sources of income.

“The accusations and insults levelled at us by a very small number of people have caused us an immense amount of stress and upset to our family.

“It is a shame, as a vast majority of local residents have been incredibly supportive in these difficult times.”

BCP Council said it was in discussion with the firm over the extension.

A spokesman said: “The premises, beach and promenade are leased through an agreement which goes back many years between the council and Avon Beach Ltd. The lease permits the erection of beach huts on the promenade.

“We are aware that the leaseholder has been extending the size of some of the huts and this is a matter under discussion.

"The promenade is being kept fully accessible during any works.”