This is why Littlehampton business owners are protesting in the town centre tomorrow

Traders unhappy with the charge in Littlehampton town centre
Traders unhappy with the charge in Littlehampton town centre

A protest is being held in Littlehampton town centre tomorrow by angry traders - and they are calling for the public to join in.

As protests go, sitting in the sunshine and eating lunch outside a coffee shop sounds rather ideal.

But that is what traders in the town feared could be in jeopardy thanks to a £520 charge for outdoor tables and chairs introduced by West Sussex County Council.

Tomorrow, Littlehampton Traders Partnership will be holding the demonstration in the High Street from midday.

The idea was for people to bring tables and chairs into the precinct, buy lunch from local businesses and enjoy it in the town centre.

And the message from the partnership was clear: for the county council to ‘halt to a potentially damaging action for the local independent retailers of Littlehampton’.

Speaking ahead of the event, co-chairman of the partnership Celia Thomson-Hitchcock said it was about campaigning for fairness.

She said: “It is a ridiculous hike, a barmy increase in charges. It is unfair, because businesses have to pay the same thing, whether they have two or 200 tables and chairs.

“I understand you need a licence, but it needs to be fairer.”

The partnership said that at a meeting last year, Louise Goldsmith, leader of West Sussex County Council, pledged support for town centres.

But in July, café and restaurant owners were shocked to receive letters from the council demanding that they pay the charge or face legal action.

Celia, who has run Ahead to Toe hair and beauty salon in East Street, Littlehampton, for 30 years, said she wanted to see the leader honouring her pledge and that the campaign proved the closeness of the traders.

She said: “While we are in competition, we like to help each other, and that is why Littlehampton is a lovely place to be.”

At the time the charges were announced, the county council responded to the traders’ concerns.

A spokesman said: “It has been a legal requirement for businesses to have a licence for tables and chairs to be positioned on the highway for many years.

"A licence is required so the county council can assess each location for its suitability to ensure granting it would not pose an unreasonable risk to either highway users or customers, and is also important for the public liability of any business in the event of an accident.

“While the county council has not historically, actively enforced this requirement, the ever-increasing amount of tables and chairs now on the highway means intervention is now required in order to provide a fair and consistent approach across the county.

“Feedback from user groups such as the Royal National Institute of the Blind has highlighted some of the risks involved to visually impaired highway users.

“Vehicles are also permitted in some parts of Littlehampton High Street which is another reason why it is important that tables and chairs are located safely.

“Ongoing financial pressures on the council’s budget mean that we do need to charge a fee to process applications and it is for individual businesses to decide if they now wish to pay to position tables and chairs outside their premises.

“We have delivered a number of letters across the whole Arun district and we already received a significant amount of licence applications which are currently being processed.”

The county council has been approached for a new comment.

(Video: Gary Hughesdon, owner of Café 72, speaking in July about the charges)