Littlehampton Harbour Board may be investigated by the Government over the fees it charges, which objectors claim are as much as 177 per cent more than other harbours in the county.
Members of Littlehampton and Arun Yacht Clubs and Littlehampton Marina have written to MP Chris Grayling, Secretary of State for Transport, after the harbour board decided to increase harbour dues to pleasure craft owners by 11 per cent in March.
The campaign has been headed by David Robinson, president of Arun Yacht Club, on behalf of all the concerned parties. The 74-year-old from Yapton said they all felt the harbour was ‘shooting itself in the foot’ by hiking its harbour dues.
But Philip Bush, chairman of the Littlehampton Harbour Board, said they had a 'very strong case for the tariff levels that we charge'.
Mr Robinson said: “Littlehampton is at risk of pricing itself out of the pleasure craft market. That in time could have a detrimental effect on the harbour board’s income rather than increasing its revenue.
“We believe there needs to be a fundamental review of the harbour board and its finances, and to bring its activities and charging more into line with other harbours in the immediate vicinity.”
According to Mr Robinson, the dues for his 6.6m-long cruiser are £149.99 a year in the 2018/2019 rates set by the board earlier this year. But this was 177 per cent more than Chichester Harbour, where he would pay £54, and 83 per cent more than the £82 he would be charged at Shoreham Harbour.
This comes after the harbour board was found to have been unlawfully charging harbour dues on pontoons since the 1920s at Worthing County Court in October 2017.
In a personal letter of objection sent to Mr Grayling, Mr Robinson said the loss of earnings from the pontoons equated to £4,300 a year, and believed the harbour dues had been raised to compensate for this.
Worthing boat owner, Peter Simpson, who sails a 26 foot vessel, said he is now looking to leave Littlehampton Harbour.
He said: “I am following two of my boat owning friends and am actively looking to move to Chichester or further along the south coast.
“Not just because the harbour fees in Littlehampton are now irrational and unaffordable and the highest in the region, but also out of principle.
“It’s boat owners like me who help keep the local economy going and who add to the community of the river. But the rises now make Littlehampton a very unattractive place to keep a boat, and I warn anyone of thinking of boating here to think again and look elsewhere.”
In May, the owners of Littlehampton Ferry, Robert and Fiona Boyce, called for the harbourmaster Billy Johnson and Mr Bush to step down.
The Harbour Board also proposed to start charging dues on passengers of the ferry. But in the letter to Chris Grayling, the signatories – which included Mrs Boyce – claimed this would be unlawful.
Philip Bush, chairman of the Littlehampton Harbour Board, said: Littlehampton Harbour Board (LHB) is in the process of preparing its response to the objections lodged with the Department for Transport in relation to leisure harbour dues and passenger dues.
“Due to the fact that the matter is ongoing and the Department for Transport has not yet made its determination, LHB are not in a position to comment further at this point, other than to say that LHB will contest the objections in full and consider that we have a very strong case for the tariff levels that we charge and that they have been set with due regard to both our statutory duties and powers, and the policy guidance given by Government.
“LHB hopes that the Department for Transport is able to reach its determination on the matter quickly so that LHB can focus on working with all of its stakeholders to secure the long-term future of Littlehampton Harbour as a vibrant and busy small harbour.”
Those affected by the rising fees can lodge a formal objection to the department for transport by December 27.