Premier Inn, part of Whitbread PLC, has emerged as the preferred bidder to take on ownership of the Elizabeth Hall site on Exmouth’s seafront.
A Premier Inn hotel with a new-style café/restaurant on the ground floor could now be built and open for business by as early as Spring 2014.
Cllr Paul Diviani, East Devon District Council Leader, wrote in the Western Morning News recently about the difficulties facing seaside towns, then looked at the Exmouth Vision as one of the ways to try and make progress. The Western Morning News do not place comment and opinion pieces on-line, so we have added Cllr Diviani’s piece to the Exmouth Vision website.
In difficult economic times it can be hard to look too far ahead. Yet in East Devon – as across the South West – our seaside towns are staring at urgent challenges which may determine prospects for prosperity for many generations to come. Holding fewer cards than for many years, our local authorities must look to play their hand in a different way.
Most seaside towns will recognise each other’s plight: disappearing traditional marine industries; seasonal and lower-paid local employment; young people leaving to find work while older generations, having left work, look for the peace and quiet. What each wants from their home town is changing. Nearby larger towns and cities dominate as sources of better-paid and year-round employment, as well as places to spend money. In looking to welcome seasonal visitors it grows more difficult to provide balanced economies that cater for the mundane requirements of everyday life – jobs, security, community coherence – alongside the expectations of those who travel in hope of leaving the mundane elsewhere.
Despite these worries, most people cherish their luck to be able to live by the sea. Quality of life is often the first thought for those asked why they love where they live. Here in East Devon, communities in Exmouth, Budleigh, Sidmouth, Seaton, Beer and beyond know just how eager many others would be to swap places.
Looking ahead, though, such communities face major economic hurdles against a backdrop of game-changing austerity. Elected councillors of all colours know that their ability to fund change directly is shrinking. Government is cutting funding which, although we have pursued efficiencies, still reduces our spending power – especially with our commitment to freeze the Council Tax. Available public finances to support regeneration are now at their lowest levels for many years – and will most likely only diminish further! We can regret it, even resent it, but we must get on with looking at different options. In East Devon we feel that means forming ambitious partnerships with private providers to share risk and invest serious sums in bringing jobs and prosperity in the years ahead.
Exmouth, East Devon’s biggest town, offers an easy epitome of ‘work-life balance’ for many. But no one should ignore Exmouth’s challenges, especially for the young; narrowing job opportunities, rising housing costs and availability, faded attractions and public services under pressure. For some, the prospect of change is perceived as giving into the clumsy march of developers putting profit before place. For others, carefully-balanced development marks the only way to entice the new investment and opportunity worthy of a refreshed 21st century identity.
In East Devon, the ‘Exmouth Vision’ is a package of development looking to build a bridge from past glories to future prosperity. Through Exmouth Vision, our role is to create an environment where fresh investment becomes probable, not just possible. It is a framework for regeneration which balances many interests, expressed through recent consultation across the town and building on previous exercises stretching back 10 years or more.
For those who know Exmouth, transforming the ‘Estuaryside’ is the Vision’s largest single element. Retail, new jobs, community facilities and transport improvements are all part of ambitious plans for this important ‘Gateway’ to the town. It should greatly improve links to the town centre while upgrading the whole town centre experience and image. ‘Exmouth Splash’ is a key proposal to provide a new recreation and leisure zone on the seafront, appealing to all ages in all weathers and offering affordable attractions. Nearby Elizabeth Hall has been a great servant to Exmouth but now looks out of place for a modern seafront location where redevelopment can help bring new jobs through greater investment.
Of course not everyone agrees with this direction of change. There have been petitions and protests aplenty, and allegations of asset-stripping and selling the town’s soul to the highest bidder. Emotional stakes are running high, but we remain confident that Exmouth Vision is acting upon an impatience for improvement that has been broadly expressed across the town for many years.
Everything was modern in its own time. The Victorians were far from reticent in tearing down and rebuilding in the modern architectural styles of their day. Similarly in the ‘50s, post-war architecture was in a heyday of modernism and new construction. The less we say about the ‘70s the better but the point is that change is inevitable and welcome. It is also a threat for the seaside towns that don’t embrace it when other competing towns do. Across the country there are coastal gems respecting their heritage and building anew, looking forward and making a future for themselves: Scarborough, Margate, Rhyl, Folkestone to name but a few.
Like so many other towns around the coasts of Devon and Cornwall, Exmouth has its work cut out to find a sustainable future. If there’s one message those grappling with these possibilities in Exmouth could send further afield it’s this; let’s take the difficult decisions now to make sure change works in our favour. Otherwise it will happen without us.
Formal bidding to take on Exmouth’s Elizabeth Hall site has closed this week, with future development at Mamhead/Pierhead also up for discussion as part of the Exmouth Vision.
From the end of this week, EDDC members will consider all applications to buy the Elizabeth Hall site, while on Wednesday Cabinet members will rule on possible next steps for improvement at the important Mamhead/Pierhead location further up the seafront.
With the bidding process for the Elizabeth Hall site now ended, EDDC members now have a number of formal proposals to consider against criteria set up earlier in the summer. These are designed to ensure regeneration and economic impact for the seafront are weighed alongside financial offers.
This remains a commercially confidential process so more detail cannot be given at this stage. As part of considering each of the proposals from Friday, members will take a view on the time needed to reach a final decision.
Cabinet members are due to receive a petition concerning the Elizabeth Hall sale. In the context of a potential bid to buy from the Friends of Elizabeth Hall, cabinet and selection panel members will then consider the petition as part of their overall deliberations.
Cabinet will also consider whether EDDC should press ahead with its own proposal to shape the strategic future of development at Mamhead/Pierhead.
Such a move could allow a new, longer and re-aligned slipway for public water access as part of a co-ordinated regeneration package for the area.
‘This is an important week for the Exmouth Vision,’ said EDDC Deputy Leader Andrew Moulding. ‘The Elizabeth Hall site has been the subject of much debate for many months so we now need to take a long hard look at all the options for moving forward.
“We have said all along that, while Elizabeth Hall is held in fond regard by many, the site has a huge role to play in encouraging much-needed new investment and prosperity to the seafront and town as a whole.
“We also need to look very closely at the future potential of Mamhead and Pierhead, not least because of the critical state of the existing slipway. Our challenge is to work closely with many partners and shape a single scheme that benefits water-users, residents, visitors and landowners alike.”
A red carpet evening was staged at East Devon District Council’s Sidmouth headquarters on Thursday, when local councillors gathered for a celebration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
The Lord Lieutenant of Devon presented prizes in a competition for local council achievements. Awards were presented in recognition of the contribution made by town and parish councils in three categories:
Community Award – best achievement of a council in the last four years that has directly benefited the local community
Youth Award – best council initiative that has directly benefited young people.
Future Project Award – a council’s most exciting plan(s) already in the pipeline.
The event gave councils an opportunity to highlight and celebrate their achievements. Sharing successes means that other councils can benefit from the good practice of others. Exmouth scooped two prizes:
Town Community Award (Winner) Exmouth.
The Exmouth Festival has evolved over the years starting with a small committee of Town Councillors who engaged local musical groups and schools to perform over the Spring Bank Holiday Weekend. It was grant aided by the Town Council and supplemented with donations. The Festival has now grown to a week-long festival and an Arts Manager has been appointed, supported by the Town Council. Every year the festival gets bigger and bigger with more acts and more community volunteers to help steward events. The Festival was originally town council led but now is community led with the town council being the facilitator. The community engagement is in all aspects of the event – from stewards, through many community-based groups taking part in the festival itself, through to businesses who have sponsored each day and agreed to host fringe events. Huge numbers attend the event to enjoy the rich and varied programme.
Town Future Award (Winner) Exmouth.
The Exmouth Town Team was set up at lightning speed by Exmouth Town Council working with the community in response to the Government’s call for pilot projects to rejuvenate the British High Street. It now has the potential to be a catalyst for new partnership approaches to promoting the Exmouth economy. The decision to carry out this project was to bring together the local councils and traders in Exmouth. The outcome of the bid is as yet unknown but the formation of the Town Team has already been positive. Traders are working together on a range of issues – negotiating improved signage in the town, starting late-night opening in the town and improving marketing and customer service skills.
Special awards (and £100 cheque) were presented to a parish council and town council in each of the three categories. Entries were judged by an independent panel of judges who looked for ideas that demonstrated innovation, partnership working/community involvement, value for money and achieved the greatest benefit to the community.
We will work with you on Splash Zone proposals, EDDC tells tenants
EDDC held a “very constructive” first meeting with tenants on Queen’s Drive, Exmouth on Tuesday, as the Council starts to look at how the site could be improved as part of the Exmouth Vision for upgrading and strengthening the links between the seafront and town centre.
Council representatives at the meeting made it clear that no decisions have been taken and that the suitability of the land for any forthcoming development needs to be established first.
Officers and Councillors promised to keep tenants informed on progress and during the meeting answered a number of initial questions from tenants who are understandably concerned about the impact any changes may have on their businesses and livelihoods.
A slide presentation reminded the tenants that some of them had taken part in the consultation held by consultants working on the Exmouth Masterplan on behalf of the district council.
Three key objectives came out of that exercise:
- We want to strengthen the local economy
- We want to ensure quality of life for the local community and
- We want to broaden Exmouth’s appeal to visitors and investors
There was general agreement at that time that Exmouth needs to up its game if it is to compete and win against other rival resorts that are forging ahead with improvements in visitor facilities and enhancing the experience for tourists and shoppers.
The Queen’s Drive area is a stunning location and it was important to invest in making the most of it for the sake of today’s Exmothians and the generations to come.
The Splash Zone or funpark area was identified as ripe for improvement as a “new vibrant, colourful, active and fully integrated tourism/leisure zone focused around ‘play’ for all ages”.
EDDC’s representatives reminded the tenants that the Council is investing £700,000 over four years to support the proosals and help them come to life. This underlines EDDC’s commitment to Exmouth and backing improvement for the years ahead.
South West-based architects Stride Treglown have been engaged to help with developing design options.
The overriding message for the tenants was: “This is our opportunity to do something a bit special for Exmouth. This isn’t about a lick of paint – we’re thinking big ….and this is potentially an opportunity for your businesses and your organisations, not a negative”.
Afterwards Councillor Tim Wood, EDDC’s Exmouth Champion, said: “I’m pleased that we have been able to sit down with the tenants of this important seafront site and begin what will be a long and thorough process of ongoing discussions with them, addressing their concerns.
“We were able to lay out our initial ideas and explain that we have no firm plans. Indeed, we need to do a lot of research on the geology of the area before we can start to come up with some outline proposals. We want to avoid rumours and people jumping to the wrong conclusions”.