A GROUP of Torquay harbourside businesses have hit out at planned increases for pavement tables fees of up to 600 per cent.
They warn jobs are at risk and have described it as a new tax on 'cafe culture' for businesses which are only profitable six months of the year.
The three Vaughan Parade businesses alone employ 25 staff all year round and 60 in the summer.
Their plea for Torbay Council to reconsider has been backed by the Torbay Town Centres Company.
The English Riviera Tourism Company, which has been actively promoting alfresco dining, also described it as 'disappointing'.
The council has said increases are for land which it owns, reflects current market values and brings them into line with similar concessions where they also owns land.
They are asking for £200 a year for tables in Vaughan Parade and £150 for Torwood Street, Fleet Street and Palk Street.
The bosses of Off Shore, Vaughans and Shiraz in Vaughan Parade, Bianco, Amici and the Clocktower have objected.
Brett Morton, of Offshore Bar and Restaurant, has 20 tables and now pays £560 for the licence which will increase to £4,000.
He said in a letter to the council: "This charge is in direct contradiction with the council's stated aim to encourage cafe culture and is a threat to our Purple Flag status.
"By charging a premium £200 price for each table we place outside our premises, you are penalising cafe culture rather than encouraging it.
"From our three businesses alone you propose to increase our pavement licences by £13,320. This is in addition to what we already pay towards external seating in our business rates.
"If you could guarantee us glorious sunshine every day then we would be happy to pay for our table licence per table as proposed, but as our outside seats remain mostly empty for over half of the year then your proposal is clearly unworkable."
He added: "If the running costs of our businesses continue to rise, then the only option will be to go back to closing for half of the year and only open when, and if, the sun shines. People will lose their jobs.
"We understand the pressures local councils are under to raise capital, but perhaps you could be lobbying the government for a greater share of your constituents' hard-earned taxes, rather than persecuting small businesses."
He said the council is considering a seven storey hotel on the Marina car park. The building work would affect them, he said.
He added: "Our market value is set to decrease dramatically. Surely then the fees should be reduced?"
Terry O'Neill, who runs Vaughans in Vaughan Parade, currently pays £755 for his licence. He has 23 tables at the front and six in Palk Street. The fees from April 1 would jump to £5,500, a rise of 609 per cent.
He said: We have had the wettest summer for 100 years and we are in the middle of a triple dip recession or whatever. I would have to seriously reconsider the future of the business."
Rob Newman, of Kitsons solicitors who are acting for the licensees, said: "The council conceded the rate is potentially higher than that applicable even in the city of Westminster, commenting simply 'but the outlook over the Torquay harbour is probably more amenable'."
He said Torbay was charging £4,000 for 20 tables, the City Of Westminster £3,764, Brighton £311, Bournemouth £180.
Rachael Weaver, Torquay town centre manager, said: "I don't think they will be able to continue trading the way they have been, particularly over winter."
Carolyn Custerson, chief executive of the English Riviera Tourism Company, said: "It is disappointing to hear in view of the importance of developing the al fresco dining and cafe culture further as highlighted in the tourism strategy.
"Regrettably the resort is still very seasonal and we need to be careful we don't impact the visitor experience all year round. Torquay harbourside is our shop window, we should be looking to protect it."
A council spokesman said: "The council has, in the past, only charged businesses for the administration costs of issuing a pavement cafe licence. "However, if the council owns the land in question we have a duty to ensure we charge an appropriate fee on behalf of the residents of Torbay.
"We wrote to several businesses in December to advise them charges associated with pavement cafe licences were being fully reviewed, and in particular where the occupied areas were on land wholly owned by the council.
"We remain in correspondence with businesses and their legal advisers, and in our letters we have explained the businesses do have the ability if they wish to reduce the areas and number of tables covered by each licence, which in turn would lead to lower licence fees."