Cold war breaks out in village

Helen Smith with her ice cream van.
Helen Smith with her ice cream van.
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AN ice-cream van owner says she is prepared to take legal action against a parish council, branding its objections to her application for a street-trading licence as a ‘witch-hunt’.

Helen Smith has been operating from the corner of Riverside Road in Alnmouth since February 2010 but, following a change to regulations, she has had to apply to Northumberland County Council for a new permit.

At a parish council meeting last week, however, councillors agreed to make a formal objection amid claims that the van spoils views of the coast, is a threat to the viability of the village shop and a danger to traffic and pedestrians.

Chairman Bill Bourne told members: “There have been no letters in support of the application, but more than 50 people have attached their names to these concerns. It therefore seems to me that this parish council has little option but to object.”

But Mrs Smith – a former parish councillor in neighbouring Lesbury – says the objections have all come from a petition drafted by one local trader and she also dismissed the road safety concerns as unfounded.

“I was quite annoyed when they brought up road safety,” she said.

“The highways department has never had a problem with me being there. It’s a public parking space which is free from restrictions.

“In the time I have been trading there, there has not been a single accident.

“I was just as shocked by the other reasons they gave for objecting. For them to recommend I be refused a licence on grounds of competition is absolutely disgraceful.

“I also asked the planning department specifically about my van spoiling the view. I was told it couldn’t, because it is not a permanent fixture.”

Mrs Smith says a second ice-cream vendor got a licence to trade in Alnmouth recently without a single objection from either residents or the parish council.

She added: “It’s starting to look like a witch-hunt, but I’ll leave no stone unturned until I get justice. What really aggrieves me is that I’m local – my mother’s family has lived in the Alnmouth area for five generations – but I’m being treated like an outsider.”

But Coun Bourne said the allegations of bias were unfounded.

“In the two years that Mrs Smith was trading previous to the introduction of the new system we received a number of complaints, both to the parish council and when people came to an open meeting, objecting on the same grounds we recently laid out. The parish council concluded that this lady was trading legally and it was our view that we could not and should not intervene.

“To say that there has been a witch-hunt is untrue. The parish council has been even-handed and defended her right to trade. Because of the change to the county council’s rules, it has had to be reconsidered.

“We asked through the newsletter for people to give us their views, which they did. All the replies we received were objections – we did not receive a single verbal or written contribution in support. Based on this, I don’t really see what else the parish council could have done but object.

“We had no objections to the other ice-cream van trading from the beach, which it has done for the last 11 years.

“The difference is that it is not trading on the street – if it did, we would have seen the same objections made to the renewal of its licence.”

Mrs Smith’s licensing application will be decided by a county council committee at a later date.