A HEATED debate broke out over controversial plans for Weymouth Town Council to take over the running of a popular beachfront cafe - with some fearing the moves will risk taxpayers' money and would lose the authority public support.

Others claimed emotion should be put aside from the debate into the proposed takeover of Aunty Vi's Cafe, and instead focus remain firmly on the income that could be generated for the authority from running the venue.

Following a live-streamed meeting, which was viewed by around 100 people - the highest attendance at a Weymouth virtual council meeting this year - councillors voted to go ahead with the takeover. Seventeen members voted in favour and 11 voted against the moves.

The decision has devastated Peter Townsend and his family, who have run the cafe for 14 years. He accused the council of 'lack of compassion' and said councillors have ignored the wishes of the community.

Dorset Echo: Peter Townsend will cease to run Aunty Vi's Cafe at Weymouth Beach near Brunswick Terrace following a council decision Picture: Peter TownsendPeter Townsend will cease to run Aunty Vi's Cafe at Weymouth Beach near Brunswick Terrace following a council decision Picture: Peter Townsend

Speaking on behalf of her father who was too upset to comment, Peter Townsend's daughter Poppy said: "We are unhappy with how the council dealt with this – especially the lack of communication in the lead up to the meeting. "There was no compassion or courtesy. The council has not listened to the wishes of the community. We did our best to give the community a voice, but unfortunately it was not enough.

We’d like to say thank you to all who have supported us. It has been the silver lining in amongst all of this chaos."

Dorset Echo: Pete at the cafe in happier times Picture: Peter TownsendPete at the cafe in happier times Picture: Peter Townsend

Previously there had been discussion of an option to extend Mr Townsend's lease under emergency Covid guidelines, however the council discounted this, saying the option only applies in a crisis situation.

The current Aunty Vi's building and equipment is owned by Peter Townsend and cost him £40,000 in total. The council estimates it will have to pay £57,000 to set up a new kiosk at the site.

Opening Wednesday night's debate, town mayor cllr Graham Winter urged councillors to put emotions aside and concentrate on the facts of whether it made financial sense for the council to run a beach kiosk in an attempt to generate income amid funding cuts by central Government.

Dorset Echo: Customers at popular Aunty Vi's Cafe were outraged at the plan - amid huge outcry in the wider community Picture: Ellie MaslinCustomers at popular Aunty Vi's Cafe were outraged at the plan - amid huge outcry in the wider community Picture: Ellie Maslin

First to speak was councillor David Gray (LD), who said he met with representatives at Bournemouth, Christchurch & Poole Council, which runs 20 beach kiosks "with a turnover of millions."

"Our proposal to run the café in-house achieves council income with a purpose," he said.

Cllr Richard Nickonson (Con), voting against the plans, said: "We shouldn't be risking taxpayers' money by dabbling in tea huts. Councillors seem to think they can dip and and out if it doesn't go to plan - this sends completely the wrong message."

Cllr Christine James (Ind) agreed and said: "The business case figures have been plucked out of the air - we didn't have enough funds last year for an attendant at the new beach toilets but now we magically have £57,000 to put into a tea kiosk. I don't think we should be playing shop keepers."

Cllr Tia Roos (Lab) said: "The £57,000 is coming from the council's Parks and Gardens budget and would be better spent tackling issues such as vandalism. We've got to be careful about being frivolous - I don't think the public will support us if we vote for this."

Cllr Kevin Brookes (Con) added: "We need to be a good landlord and be democratic and transparent - I don't think £57,000 to set this up is a good idea."

Cllr Jan Bergman (Con) said: "Putting families out of business in the middle of a pandemic is not good leadership. The public wants the council to be empathetic, kind, have morals and be ethical."

Cllr Tony Ferrari (Con) questioned the business case for the take over. He said: "The figures are simply wrong. We will not make money running a tea shop. This is standard council behaviour and always ends in tears. If we've got £57,000 to spare we should take if off the council tax precept."

In favour of the proposals, councillor David Northam (LD) said: "With less money from central Government this is a challenge we need to rise to. Other councils are exploring this route - the town council should keep up."

"If the public disagree they have the right to vote me out of office - I shall be voting in favour."

Cllr Howard Legg (LD) said: "There's a risk to anything you do - some of the tenants of the beach kiosks are struggling to pay us. If councillors don't agree with the financial forecasts perhaps they should vote to go now. I'm annoyed by people saying we can't be successful (at running a a café) - I think it's a great thing to do."

Council leader David Harris (LD) said: "Weymouth residents pay some of the highest council taxes in the country - we have a duty to keep tax as low as possible. We can't run events in the town if we haven't any money - the only way to generate income is to raise tax precept or find funding from other sources (such as the kiosk.)

Cllr Gill Taylor (LD), also in favour of the plan, said: "There's a lot of poverty locally - if we start small (with the kiosk) and work from there to find way to generate income, we could freeze the council tax precept or reduce it."

Cllr Luke Wakeling (LD), also in favour, said: "Everything we do requires funding. If we never try anything we'll definitely never achieve anything."

Cllr Lucy Hamilton (Lab), supporting the plans as a way to generate income, said: "For the best part of a decade funding to councils has been cut, cut, cut by the government."

Cllr Alex Fuhrmann (Lab), in support, said: "We don't have a choice - go big or go home."

Cllr Ken Whatley (Ind), who represents Melcombe Regis where the café is based, also supported the takeover and said: "We've had a terrible year - we need to be commercially sensible."

Both cllr Graham Winter (LD) and cllr Kate Wheller (Ind) said they were 'on the fence' during the debate, before voting in favour of the plans.

Peter Townsend's daughter Poppy Townsend said: "We would like to thank the councillors who voted against the takeover. Many of you fought hard for us – and we will always remember the support you showed."

Futher anger was caused after one individual appeared to attempt to try to influence the results of an Echo reader poll ahead of the meeting.

For more on that story click here.