Lifeboat cafe re-opens despite legal row

A cafe supporting a local lifeboat has re-opened after closing for one day over a legal row.

The River Café at Blyth All-Weather Lifeboat Station has been trading for six years, raising funds to help keep the lifesaving vessel afloat.

But bosses closed the facility on Monday after the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) said there was no planning permission or lease in place following months of correspondence.

However, Barry Elliott, chairman of the all-weather boat, re-opened the café on Tuesday after informing the HCA that he had submitted a lease and planning permission had been secured at the time the café opened in 2008.

Mr Elliott said: “There was a lease put forward last July but we couldn’t agree the terms to it. I wrote to the HCA with the wording that would have to go into the lease from our side and have been working with them towards completing this lease.

“As well as local residents, the café is used by spiritual and disabled groups. It’s a key part of the community. Everyone was shocked to hear we would have to close it.

“We closed the café on Monday as they asked but I re-opened it the next day and said to the HCA that the café is operating as normal unless I hear otherwise.

“We’re still working with them on the lease. We haven’t had to put anyone on the dole.”

The café, at The Old Tugboat Jetty at Dun Cow Quay, helps bring in more than £1,000 a week for the lifeboat and employs seven members of staff.

However, speaking on Tuesday a HCA spokesman said: “Last year, the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) became aware that the Blyth All Weather Lifeboat Station (BAWLS) were operating a café from The Old Tugboat Jetty at Dun Cow Quay with neither planning consent nor our permission.

“BAWLS has occupied the Jetty for several years without ever signing a lease and have therefore been under a ‘Tenancy at Will’. Attempts have been made by the HCA to complete the lease to permit the use of the property as a lifeboat station and the mooring of a lifeboat.

“This offer was made on the condition that the café ceased operation.

“As the café use continued to operate the HCA issued a notice to terminate the Tenancy at Will in July 2014. The HCA notified BAWLS that they would be seeking to take occupation of the premises on October 3, 2014 providing them with nearly three months to make alternative arrangements and vacant the premises.

“In a final attempt the HCA offered BAWLS a lease in September 2014 to continue the use of the lifeboat station and the mooring of a lifeboat jetty.

“Again this offer was made on the condition the café use ceased operation. The HCA understand that BAWLS are considering their position.”