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‘2,000 jobs at risk’ at private beaches

Strict interpretation of 2006 decree forcing private beaches to reduce in size

12 August 2019
By Connexion journalist

MORE than 2,000 jobs are being lost on the Riviera’s private beaches as they reduce in size to conform with the law, says a hospitality union.

A 2006 decree says private beaches may take up no more than 20% of a natural beach and half of an artificially constructed one, and the government has been strictly applying this rule.

The rules aim to ensure the coast remains public property with plenty of free access.

René Colom­ban, president of plagistes (private beach managers) for Umih in the Alpes-Mari­times, said the losses are mounting up as beaches have been making sure they comply.

This particularly happens when 12-year concessions to run stretches of beach are renewed. The year in which this happens varies from commune by commune.
In Nice, he said, they have already reduced their plots and lost on average 80 sunbeds per private beach, or 1,000 overall.

Fewer beds means fewer staff, which he estimates will amount to at least 2,000 fewer jobs on the whole Riviera from Menton to Cap d’Agde once all beaches have complied.

The decree also says structures such as restaurants must be built in such a way that they can be taken down. It lays down the 12-year maximum limit to concessions and says in many communes – other than large tourist areas meeting strict criteria – structures must be taken down at the end of the season.

Umih says the impact in the Alpes-Maritimes, as well as neighbouring Var resorts such as Ramatuelle with its famous Pampelonne beach, is disproportionate compared to the Atlantic coast, where beaches are much bigger. They have had to reduce space taken up by sunbeds and tables and in many cases completely rebuild.

Last year in Juan-les-Pins’ eight beach restaurants which did not meet the rules were demolished by the owners after they lost a court battle. The state sent in bulldozers to demolish several in neighbouring Golfe-Juan and Vallauris-Plage, including Tétou, which had been running for a century.

Owners who were subject to court orders for not complying were unable to bid to continue renewed concessions this year.

In the bidding, existing plagistes compete with others who would like to run their spots.

In Nice, plagistes recently put in bids for new concessions in 2020 and in Cannes, where new ones started this year, there have been two changes.

Mr Colomban, who runs Nice’s Blue Beach, said: “In Cannes they have made a lot of investment and transformation – they have spent up to €2million each – and for us in Nice it will be next year.

“You invest at the start of the concession so as to pay it off over the 12 years.”

He said there are no grants. “The bidding process is stressful. In Nice, there are people who have run beaches for many years, with their families, and you can get people coming in thinking ‘I’ll get a beach and renovate and sell it on’, so it opens the doors to big investors and foreign companies.”

He said the most flagrant example is Pampelonne, where the private beach structures were razed last year and there are many new concessions.

Many are now big financial firms or luxury hotel groups which offer use of the beach to their guests and charge other people €80-€100/day. Around €15-20 is more usual.

“They sacked a lot of old plagistes who’d been there for more than 40 years and the locals are furious because they can’t go to the beach any more,” he said.
Mr Colomban said Umih feels the state has been inflexibly strict over the decree.

For example, it had asked for the 20% to apply to the whole beach area of the commune, including creeks, as opposed to each specific stretch of beach.

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