BOAT owners are being held "to ransom" by Somerset Council over "unjustifiable" charges, claims Minehead MP Ian Liddell-Grainger.

Amateur sailors with boats moored in Minehead’s council-owned harbour have been asked to pay £200 each year for a permit to launch tenders from the slipway. This is in addition to the mooring fees, making it more costly for boat owners to access their crafts.

Mr Liddell-Grainger, MP for Bridgwater and West Somerset, said the charges were "unjustifiable and should be scrapped". He added that it was "deplorable" that fees had been imposed without prior consultation.

Mr Liddell-Grainger said: "This is one of the most poorly-equipped harbours in the West Country. There are no electricity points for boats, no showers and the only ‘facility’ is a single cold tap. Yet rather than improving facilities for harbour users the council’s only aim appears to be to bleed them white.

Somerset County Gazette: Bridgwater and West Somerset MP Mr Liddell-Grainger Bridgwater and West Somerset MP Mr Liddell-Grainger (Image: Ian Liddell-Grainger)

"It’s no wonder the harbour is so under-used: people are simply taking their boats somewhere else. You cannot charge people money for mooring their boats and then tell them they have to pay again to get out to them: it’s outrageous - like selling someone a car and then announcing the engine is extra."

The £200 tender fee at Minehead’s harbour is "ten times what is charged" at other harbours and marinas around the coast, and boat owners feel they are being "unfairly penalised", Mr Liddell-Grainger claims.

Minehead harbour, also recently announced an increased charge of £120-a-year for a permit to launch a kayak from the slipway.

Mr Liddell-Grainger says the latest fee rise, in addition to the controversial removal of two 300-year old cannons from the 17th century harbour last year, places a "large question mark over the authority’s entire management ability".

Councillor Federica Smith-Roberts, Lead Member for Communities, Housing and Culture at Somerset Council, said: “Minehead Harbour is run and maintained in line with statutory and regulatory requirements including the Port Marine Safety code.

"As the Statutory Harbour Authority (SHA) we are required to maintain and improve. This allows the SHA to raise dues from all users of the harbour, commercial, leisure, residential and others, for the use of the harbour which includes the slipway and other infrastructure.

"The harbour is a municipal harbour and has to, as far as possible, be run on a cost-neutral basis.  The dues this year were raised in line with other council charges. We are aware of a few isolated users being unhappy with the charges and we have been looking to address this. However, this does take time with the small harbour team in place. 

"The SHA continues to work towards improvements within the current difficult financial position that Somerset Council finds itself at this time. We are more than happy to speak with Mr Liddell-Grainger to provide a more complete understanding of the current issue.”