EDDC's Premier Inn decision "disastrous", say Exmouth's Friends of Elizabeth Hall

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By PGStrange | Thursday, October 11, 2012, 17:31

FRIENDS OF Elizabeth Hall has slammed East Devon District Council's decision to choose Premier Inn as its preferred partner for developing the Exmouth seafront site. The community group says the move – which could lead to Premier Inn building a 60-room budget hotel on the site of the "iconic" Victorian building – is "disastrous", destroys "the hopes of thousands of 'little' people", and "sends out a clear message that EDDC controls and 'owns' Exmouth"…

FoEH – whose own bid to restore and extend the existing Elizabeth Hall to create a Community Arts and Visitor Centre was rejected by EDDC – has also criticized the bidding process. FoEH says that three of EDDC's five-member selection panel had previously publicly opposed redevelopment of the existing building, and were "clearly prejudicial to our case".

In its defence, EDDC says it made it "quite clear" – throughout the consultation, expression of interest and bidding period – "that the Elizabeth Hall site should be 'redeveloped' " and that "all bidders were invited to bring forward proposals that brought about a redeveloped site".

It also says that EDDC members and officers, "by saying 'the hall should not remain as it is' " were "encouraging" interested parties to study the selection criteria carefully while preparing their bids.

FoEH's views came as Exmouth People invited the community group to comment on EDDC's decision to choose the hotel chain (Premier Inn chosen to take on Exmouth's Elizabeth Hall site).

"Best deal for Exmouth"

In its announcement made last week, EDDC's Andrew Moulding, Chairman of Exmouth Regeneration Programme Board, said that the council was "convinced" that Premier Inn "provides the best deal for Exmouth".

"Premier Inn have been able to demonstrate to EDDC that their proposal offers most in terms of new jobs, additional spend and investment in the town and the greatest economic impact for the seafront itself. These are all factors at the heart of the Exmouth Vision ambition.

"It's worth adding that we didn't just go for the highest price either. We have gone for the option that we believe is in the best modern interests of the whole town".

The Premier Inn proposal is for a three-storey building, rising to four storeys in one section as part of the design, with 60 rooms. On the ground floor there would be a licensed café/restaurant open to residents and non-residents alike, offering food and drink from 6 am to 11 pm. In addition, meeting rooms and small-scale conference facilities have been included in the design, with an entrance onto Bath Road "offering improved links to the town centre

However FoEH says Premier Inn's proposal will:

  • Lose a public building and public open space
  • Reduce the town's visitor numbers and tourist money coming into the town
  • Increase competition for local business, such as the town's smaller B&Bs
  • Lose the chance of a "dedicated" community, arts and visitor centre
FoEH also believes that local firms are unlikely to be asked to build the new hotel or to supply it with goods and produce once it's up and running.

And while the new hotel will offer local employment, FoEH thinks it's likely to be just "casual, low-paid jobs for Exmouth's school leavers".

In contrast, FoEH says that its Community Arts and Visitor Centre would have used local building firms to renovate and extend the existing Victorian building, provided a range of jobs for local people and would have used small local business for supplies. Once completed, the Centre would have brought new and improved community facilities and visitor information to the town.

Bidding process criticized

FoEH has criticized the bidding process, saying that three of the five members on EDDC's selection panel – Richard Cohen (EDDC Deputy Chief Executive), Cllr Tim Wood (Exmouth Champion) and Cllr Andrew Moulding (EDDC's Cabinet Member for Strategic Development) – had previously publicly opposed redevelopment of the existing Victorian hall and were "clearly prejudicial to our case".

Asked to comment on this accusation, an EDDC spokesperson replied: "EDDC made it quite clear throughout many months of consultation, as well as during the expression of interest and bidding period earlier this year, that the Elizabeth Hall site should be 'redeveloped'.

"All bidders were invited to bring forward proposals that brought about a redeveloped site, and selection criteria were developed to reflect this and to ensure a fair process. EDDC members and officers, by saying 'the hall should not remain as it is', have only been encouraging interested parties to study these selection criteria carefully when preparing their bids.

"Any bidder proposing to keep the hall largely as it is would therefore have needed to demonstrate how all the selection criteria could be met to a higher degree than any other bidder. In a fairly scored bidding process, the Friends' bid did not score as highly as the winning bid."

Despite the Premier Inn announcement, FoEH says it's planning to keep its own campaign going and it has also "welcomed" Ron Roberts's suggestion that Exmouth Town Council should open a dialogue with EDDC to assume management of the hall.

For Exmouth People's interview with FoEH, go to: Exmouth's Friends of Elizabeth Hall on EDDC's decision

      

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