A LEGAL battle is brewing as four businesses refuse to pay for outdoor seating over claims of ‘unsafe practises’.

Lyme Regis Town Council introduced cover charges in 2011, the same year as a tripartite agreement was signed between the town council, West Dorset District and Dorset County Council to clarify where the responsibility for managing and maintaining the Marine Parade lies.

But four businesses – the Old Boathouse, the Alcove, Largigi Thai restaurant and Ocean View restaurant – have signed a letter to the town council stating their refusal to pay the cover charge.

The letter, included in the agenda to last night’s management and highways committee meeting, states: “Because of the information we have received regarding ownership of Marine Parade and the tripartite agreement, there are many abnormalities and unsafe practises of these agreements.

“The above named businesses will therefore cease to pay any further invoices for outside seating until satisfactory legal evidence is produced and agreed. We will be claiming for all monies to be returned together with interest cost and compensation if a satisfactory judgement for the above named businesses is awarded.”

Charges stand at £125 per cover for premises with tables – increased from £120 in April this year – with charges for premises with chairs only at £10.

A report to the committee reveals that cover charges are expected to generate income of £22,683 this financial year. But the income being withheld by the four businesses who have signed the letter is £13,340.

As per the Tripartite Agreement, the town council is responsible for ‘the street furniture, barriers, floral decorations and shrubs and litter bins’ along the Marine Parade, and the income raised through the cover charge is spent on this maintenance. Surfacing remains the responsibility of the county council.

It is not the first time businesses have raised concerns over the charges. The report reveals that the owner of the Alcove requested that the fee be reconsidered in March 2013. The request was refused.

The report states: “A report reviewing cover charges was considered by the Town Management Committee on 11 September 2013. The report drew comparison with the cover charges applied by six other councils. In each instance the cover charge was significantly less that that levied by Lyme Regis Town Council. However there is reason for this: the charges levied by principal councils were on land designated as a highway and such charges are restricted by legislation to administrative and enforcement costs only.”

The committee discussed the report and recommendations will be passed to the full council to consider at its meeting on November 1.