Vice premier and minister for the cultural heritage, Francesco Rutelli, has blocked the 300 per cent rent increase planned for bathing establishments along Italys coast this summer.

The previous government had approved the increase in rents that beach establishments pay to the state for use of the seashore in December 2003 and the hike was set to come into effect for the 2006 summer season. The new government has now halted the increase until September.

We are very pleased to have overturned this unacceptable situation that would have been a hard blow for beach-goers and tourist operators alike, said Rutelli after meeting with Italys regional tourist authorities.

This increase for bathing establishment owners would, in fact, have meant hefty prices rises for beach umbrellas, sunbeds and so on for holiday-makers, with negative effects on tourism and the Italian economy. According to Federconsumatori (a consumer association) prices are already set to increase by about 9 percent this summer season.