Exmouth's Friends of Elizabeth Hall on EDDC's decision

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By PGStrange | Thursday, October 11, 2012, 17:50

LAST WEEK Exmouth People invited Friends of Elizabeth Hall to comment on East Devon District Council's decision to choose Premier Inn as its "preferred" partner to develop the seafront site. After discussion by the "open and democratic group", here are its replies…

EDDC says that Premier Inn hotel is the preferred bidder for the Elizabeth Hall. What does Friends of Elizabeth Hall think about EDDC's decision?

It's a disastrous decision for Exmouth. It will mean the loss of a public building and public open space along with the loss of the Friends' proposal to provide Exmouth with a dedicated Community, Arts and Visitor Centre.

Premier Inn is proposing a three to four storey, 60-room hotel, plus a café/restaurant, open to residents and non-residents alike, on the ground floor. What does FoEH think of the proposal?

If a budget hotel on this "prime site" is the best that EDDC can bring to Exmouth, then residents and businesses should be very afraid about the rest of EDDCs plans for the "regeneration" of Exmouth, particularly for our relatively unspoiled seafront, unique estuary environment and open "public" land.

Does the group feel that EDDC has made a mistake?

Yes, because it will mean an increase in competition for local business – such as the town's smaller B&Bs – taking away money from the local economy and local charities. We also believe it may reduce – rather than increase – visitor numbers to Exmouth.

But surely it will bring more visitors in to Exmouth, who, in turn, will spend more money in the town?

We think not. Premier Inn is successful at providing low-cost rooms for very short stays. Guests stopping for just one or two nights are unlikely to venture into Exmouth town centre, let alone bring new custom to the town. Their discretionary spend, if any, is likely to be spent on the sea front. Worse, by incorporating a restaurant/café into this new hotel development, Premier Inn will probably keep much of the tourist spend in-house.

But won't the construction of the new hotel help local building firms? And, once it's built, won't local firms be supplying goods and produce?

We doubt it. Big business usually have contracts and central purchasing, so it is hard to see new, local businesses being grown on the back of this development.

The new hotel will offer jobs for local people though?

While a hotel/cafe may provide casual, low-paid jobs for Exmouth's school leavers, we've met many parents whose ambitions for their children lie higher than minimum wage bed-making, cleaning, catering and kitchen work. And while there will be employment for a couple of managers and chefs, what guarantees are there that will be recruited locally from people who are unemployed, when current employees can be promoted from other branches of Premier Inn?

So why would FoEH's proposal for a Community Arts and Visitor Centre have been a better option?

It would have brought new and improved community facilities and visitor information to the town. In year one, it would have employed Exmouth building firms to repair the roof and build a new kitchen and café, and over the next two years, a modern extension. It would have employed local people – both voluntary and paid – and used local small business for supplies.

What reasons has EDDC given FoEH for turning down its bid?

The voting panel scored us poorly on the weighted criteria.

One of the five panel members – Richard Cohen [EDDC Deputy Chief Executive] – expressed his views about the Elizabeth Hall in a presentation to Exmouth Town Councillors on Monday 12 March. He said the building is "not adequate for purpose. You cannot redevelop inside the building itself. It needs something else there." And at a public meeting held at the Elizabeth Hall on 14 June 2012, two other members of the voting panel – Cllrs Tim Wood [Exmouth Champion] and Andrew Moulding [EDDC's Cabinet Member for Strategic Development] – did not support our proposals to redevelop the Hall. .

The fact that these three members made up 60% of the voting panel responsible for scoring the weighted criteria was clearly prejudicial to our case, even before we attended the interview with EDDC on 26 September.

[EDDC has replied to this accusation. See EDDC's Premier Inn decisions "disastrous", say Exmouth's Friends of Elizabeth Hall for full quote from EDDC].

We feel that in the interests of openness and transparency, the three bids, together with the criteria scoring, should be made available for the public to view, so that Exmouth residents can decide for themselves whether or not the Premier Inn bid really was selected with the best interests of the Exmouth community in mind. A copy of our bid is available at Exmouth Town Hall.

What of the FoEH petition, signed by more than 12,000 people, and the large amount of support within the town?

We are still waiting for the reply from Richard Cohen [EDDC Deputy Chief Executive] regarding the results of the petition and the reply to a number of questions that were put to the Cabinet at the petition handover.

Why does the group think EDDC ignored the petition and went with a large hotel chain?

We think EDDC is more interested in engaging with big business rather than engaging with the local community in trying to achieve the aims and ideals of the coalition government's Big Society.

How does FoEH view the consultation process – including the confidentiality clause that meant FoEH couldn't speak out during this period – that has taken place in recent weeks?

To say the consultation process was flawed would be an understatement. As regards the confidentiality clause, we are an open and democratic group, so it was difficult for us – and our supporters – to maintain our silence, especially when during that period, EDDC Leader Paul Diviani wrote an "opinion" piece about the Elizabeth Hall for the Western Morning News, reprinted on EDDC's exmouthvision website (Building a bridge from past glories to future prosperity).

Is FoEH planning to appeal EDDC's decision?

This depends on what feedback we get from our supporters who represent various groups in the community. Since the Town Council unanimously supported our business plan and bid, we assume they will want to help us appeal the decision and aim to have meetings with all Town Councillors regarding this.

Ron Roberts recently asked Exmouth Town Council to open a dialogue with EDDC to assume management of the hall. Now that FoEH's bid has failed, Exmouth Town Council may follow Ron Roberts's plan. If so, will FoEH be backing it?

We support Ron and others who have the welfare of the town and its residents and visitors' interest at heart. If he and others can help save this community provision, we welcome his initiative. He like us wants to save and regenerate what Exmouth people value the most – our public buildings and spaces, our natural environment, our history and the unique flavour of our town.

What other plans has FoEH got lined up?

We intend to hold a FoEH meeting on Tuesday 16 October at 7pm to brief our supporters on our plans and to get their input. We have already booked the Council Chambers of the Exmouth Town Hall for this meeting, but this may be subject to change depending on the response. For updates, people can check our website or phone Nicky King, our supporters co-ordinator, on 01395 276583.

Have you got a message to give to your supporters?

Yes. The team wants to thank everyone for all their hard work, messages of support and commiserations. Since it is clear they wish to continue the campaign, we continue to need their input and would ask them to keep emailing us at Friendsofelizabethhall@aol.co.uk or to phone Nicky on 01395 276583. Residents can also email us with their suggestions as can any new supporters who would like to add their names to our mailing list.

Finally, what does FoEH think that EDDC's decision means for Exmouth?

Sadly, more of the same, since the Elizabeth Hall site was the key to unlocking the entire MasterPlan development of the Exmouth seafront and estuary.

Many residents have already spoken to us. Some are heartbroken, others angry. It has confirmed to them – and us – that they have no voice. They believe that Exmouth is being exploited and possibly ruined by EDDC. They do not believe this is the way to regenerate this wonderful town we all love and is yet another missed opportunity to provide Exmouth with a regenerated historic building.

Choosing Premier Inn as its preferred partner over FoEH's Community Arts and Visitor Centre speaks volumes about EDDC and its relationship with big business. It destroys the hopes of thousands of 'little' people. It sends out a clear message that EDDC controls and 'owns' Exmouth, and that Exmouth residents should keep their mouths shut and let 'big brother' continue to give our seafront and estuary to the developers on a plate.



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