Bantham food bus row 'cost village millions'

Image caption The Gastrobus was introduced to make the beach more welcoming for visitors and to offset rising costs of running the estate

A row over a refreshments bus led to a seaside village losing a multi-million pound trust fund, it has emerged.

Gillian Goddard had intended to leave her shares in a 750 acre estate around Bantham in Devon to the village after her death.

But she was "very upset" over local objections to the estate's decision to let a food bus use the beach car park, her widower revealed.

As a result, Mrs Goddard dropped her plans before she died last November.

She was one of five directors of Evans Estates, which includes much of Bantham village as well as a long sandy beach and surrounding farmland.

Her husband Tony, 74, said she had been keen for the village to be left "several million pounds" as a trust fund after her death.

He said she changed her mind after the firm's decision to allow a refreshments bus on the beach car park provoked several letters of complaint from villagers.

He said the estate had charged an entrance fee for Bantham beach car park but it had otherwise been free from commerce until three years ago when a surf school and the food bus were allowed.

He said the aim was to offset rising costs and give visitors a chance to buy refreshments.

He said: "Gill's life's work was to look after Bantham. But one of things people asked for is whether they could get some food or drink on the beach.

"So they introduced a Gastrobus to avoid putting in some great big cafe, because they thought it would be environmentally friendly."

He said the idea for the Gastrobus "provoked an enormous reaction" from a "small number of villagers" who objected to commercialisation of the area.

A number of people wrote to Evans Estates with their objections.

Mr Goddard said: "She was deeply upset by the suggestion that she and her fellow directors, having looked after the estate for all these years, would do something that was against that policy of preserving the estate.

"Her idea of leaving her company shares on the estate on trust for the village disappeared overnight."

Image caption Gillian Goddard was upset by reactions to plans for the Gastrobus
Image caption Bantham beach is owned by the estate
Image caption The car park at Bantham beach has remained uncommercialised apart from the visiting Gastrobus and a surf school
Image caption A row of thatched estate cottages in the village are rented to tenants

He added that there had been no specific plans for the trust fund, just that it should be used for the benefit of the village.

Nick Grodhunce, one of the opponents of the Gastrobus, said he was "saddened" that the trust fund had been dropped by Mrs Goddard.

He said: "Both Tony and Gilly did a huge amount of work to preserve what we have here and it is to their credit.

"It is sad but my personal opinion is that the community people have clearly stated that they want to preserve whatever Evans Estates said should be preserved."

The Bantham estate, owned by Mrs Goddard's family for nearly 100 years, is due to be marketed in May. There has been no official reason given for the sale.

Concerns have been raised about what effect a new owner will have on the area, including from tenants of about 21 Evans Estates-owned homes in the village. A number of residents have raised concerns about losing their tenancies.

Michelmore Hughes, which is handling the sale of the estate, and Gastrobus declined to comment.

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