Owl’s question: why is EDDC involved in running a theatre at all? Perhaps it’s because Leader Diviani has a soft spot for them as he worked in the entertainment industry in the 1970s and 1980s!
“A debate over pay-and-display parking charges at a Sidmouth venue spilled over into claims key parties were not consulted and that officers repeatedly go over councillors’ heads.
East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) scrutiny committee raised concerns the proposed regime – aimed at raising up to £30,000 a year for the Manor Pavilion – could deter users and be ‘counter-productive’.
Members were told they could not ‘call in’ the cabinet’s decision to approve the new charges, but they could make recommendations on the implementation.
Graham Liverton, an honorary alderman of the council, said: “I do appreciate the efforts you’ve gone to get this on the agenda, but I fear it won’t make a jot of difference.”
He chairs the Manor Pavilion steering committee, but said he had received a letter from an officer saying it is ‘no longer required’.
The meeting heard that, while members can still meet, it will no longer be administered by an EDDC officer.
Mr Liverton said: “In other words, because we disagreed with the decision [to introduce charges], we get the sack. I think that’s a great shame. The whole thing, from beginning to end, has been disgraceful.”
He said many key users had to learn of the proposals in the Herald, adding: “The communication from EDDC has been so abysmal – it’s beyond belief.”
Officers said Sidmouth’s ward members had been told about the proposals, but admitted the town council was not consulted.
Councillor Maddy Chapman raised concerns no vote was taken about the future of the steering committee, adding: “Too many decisions are being made in this council that aren’t going through the proper channels. “Any amount of money won’t be enough to put new chairs in that theatre. It’s not going to work.”
Cllr Cathy Gardner added: “This is another example of how the council seems to be acting in a heavy-handed way of ‘we know best’. There are ways to make this usable for people who actually use the Manor Pavilion.
“If it means people don’t use the car park, that’s counterproductive. I can’t see how much money it will raise – it could have a big negative impact.”
The income from the car park’s 21 spaces will be ring-fenced for investment in the theatre and arts centre.
Theatre manager Graham Whitlock said its 277 chairs ‘will not last’ another five years and a previous quote said they would cost £150 apiece to recondition.
EDDC also hopes to bring in an online ticketing system he said will cost £10,000 a year.
“By charging for the car park we can continue to develop for the future,” added Mr Whitlock.
Scrutiny committee members backed EDDC’s plan to extend the maximum parking time from three to four hours, and called for the charges to end at 6pm, not 8pm as proposed.
They also said consulting users, ward councillors and Sidmouth Town Council should be an important part of the process.