Concerns have been raised about South Hams District Council potentially cutting subsidies for lifeguards on local beaches.

At a number of privately owned beaches, including Bantham, Blackpool Sands, Challaborough, Hope Cove and Thurlestone, the council currently funds the provision of RNLI lifeguard services.

The council subsidy covers the difference between the cost of provision of the lifeguards and the contributions received from the private beach-owners. Currently there is a shortfall of more than £28,000.

But from Sunday, April 1, 2018, the funding will be cut, which it is feared will mean a reduced service if land-owners refuse to pick up the full costs.

The four Conservative Party councillors on SHDC’s beach management working group, along with Cllr Rufus Gilbert - as the council’s lead executive member - proposed the cuts.

Jacqi Hodgson, the Green Party’s parliamentary candidate for the Totnes constituency, which covers the beaches, said: “These are yet more Tory cuts that could potentially put lives at risk. For the district council this could be a devastating blow to its reputation, for the landowners it could adversely impact their safety record and it could harm the beaches’ attractiveness to tourists, with a knock on effect to our local economy.”

A South Hams District Council spokesman said: “The council, along with the rest of the public sector, faces a tough budget setting period later in the year with a budget gap of just under £600,000. During the autumn budget setting process, the council will need to consider the costs of all of the services it provides, both statutory and optional.

“Provision of lifeguard safety on private beaches lies with landowners, although we have historically provided services where the landowners have been unable to do so. “We will consider the lifeguarding grant for private beaches as part of our budget process. No decisions have yet been made about how next years’ budget will be spent.”

Cllr Rufus Gilbert said: “I'm sure many readers will have noticed how on many private beaches, such as National Trust, Bantham and Blackpool Sands, they have become increasingly commercial with pay-to-use car parks, water sports outlets, kiosks, mobile traders etc.

“All of which provide income for the landowners. Most councils around the south-west have reviewed their safety provision and many have chosen to ask for a contribution for the service.

“It is not for council tax payers to subsidise a business outlet. Some such as Blackpool Sands have been contributing for years, whereas others resist. The outcome was to give two years notice to the non-payers of the withdrawal of the service, so as to give them time to adjust.”