Bigbury beach sale sparks 'enormous bad feeling'

Image caption An estate agent's sign is defaced at Bigbury beach, with the Burgh Island Hotel in the background

One of Devon's best known beaches is up for auction, but the sale has sparked concerns among local people.

Bigbury on Sea in south Devon is not known for its militancy. With a population of mainly retired people and holidaymakers, it is a serene sight on a sunny Bank Holiday Monday.

On Burgh Island about 200m offshore sits an Art Deco hotel which was visited by crime writer Agatha Christie, playwright Noel Coward and, reputedly, the Beatles.

Image caption Beach huts and a retail outlet were proposed by a developer on the beach last year but opposed by local people

But on the coast road is a defaced sign for the sale of a large section of the beach which the hotel overlooks.

Estate agent Waycotts says in its prospectus that interest in Bigbury beach is anticipated from "those looking to tap into any commercially productive activities"; as well as "others with a more altruistic take on things".

Beautiful beach

On the market is a two-acre piece of beach, stretching from one slipway to the east, around a headland to the west and to another slipway opposite the hotel.

Image caption The Burgh Island Hotel, visited by Agatha Christie, overlooks the beach

The beach, which has appeared in TV shows such as Lovejoy and Inch Loss Island, is due to be sold by auction on Thursday with a guide price of £35,000.

Alric Bennett, who has lived at Bigbury on Sea for 18 years, said: "The beach has been in public use for as long as anyone can remember, so to find it up for sale as a private enterprise seems ridiculous.

"It's created an enormous amount of bad feeling - everyone feels threatened by it."

Beach huts opposed

The beach's only facilities are a cafe, a surf school and public toilets in the car park.

But last year Bigbury Parish Council received an informal approach by a developer to put up a retail unit and beach huts.

Parish council chairman Stuart Watts said the "over-riding feedback " in the community was that "people did not want to see a beautiful beach spoiled".

The council has sent a letter to the auctioneers saying that it would oppose any development on the beach.

"It has tremendous value for the people that live here, for the local economy and for the bed and breakfasts," said Mr Watts.

"It's also a beautiful beach and we would like to keep it that way."

Private beaches 'revered'

Clues to the origin of locals' concerns about access to the beach go back to at least 1986, when London fashion promoters Tony and B Porter bought the Burgh Island Hotel.

At the time they were forced to pick up provisions in their Land Rover by hauling it over a fence because the then owner of the car park refused to allow them through it.

Three years later they were fortunate enough to be able to buy the car park, along with the beach, and the issue was resolved.

Mr Porter, 77, said: "We found our way around it and there has been no friction over access since, and it works, whether you're taking your boat down there or going surfing.

"People feel quite possessive about the beach. If the sale endangers the status quo that is regrettable."

The Porters sold the beach to a developer in 1995 and they sold the hotel in 2001. The current owners of the beach, Plymouth-based Finance Solutions Ltd, declined to comment on the sale.

Auctioneer Graham Barton said he was "pretty sure" that rights of access would be preserved.

"I would say that the commercial potential of the property is not identifiable because it would take planning consent to get to that point," he said.

"But private beaches are revered, because not many exist at all. Usually they are owned by the National Trust or a civic authority."

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