Questions over Exmouth’s bowling alley purchase

Cllr Paul Arnott, leader of the council, said: “It is extraordinary that the council made this purchase and the only knowledge we had of it was with a press release. The point is not about the process but that we didn’t know about it, and it hadn’t been reported, and I still don’t understand why we weren’t told.”

Daniel Clark, local democracy reporter and Radio Exe News

Council deal done quickly to avoid competition

Questions have been raised by East Devon councillors about why the council spent nearly £3 million buying Exmouth’s seafront development ‘Ocean’ this year, despite many councillors not knowing about it.

The centre, which was dogged by delays when it was constructed in the late 2000s, was originally known as the ‘bowling alley’ and now houses a soft play area, two restaurants as well as bowling. It is also marketed as a wedding venue. It is operated by a company called Leisure East Devon, which also runs leisure centres across the district. The building was acquired in March for £2.7 million, but the reasoning and the process was only presented to councillors last week. 

Cllr Kevin Blakey, who at the time of the purchase was the portfolio holder for economy, said that the decision was taken quickly under agreed commercial investment frameworks to avoid competitors coming in to “gazump our position.”

He added: “We had a chance to make a sensible investment that brings in money for the council and had this been out in the wider world, we may have lost that. It was not an attempt to play secret squirrels and keep the council in the dark, but for good sounds reasons, and I would not do anything different now.”

Tim Child, senior property and estates manager for the council said that the council also own adjacent land and has opportunities to unlock potential of the wider area encompassing Queens Drive, Harbour View Café and Ocean into one ‘offering’. He added: “The business case to invest was based on the income stream from LED but for the reasons mentioned, other opportunities are open to EDDC that would not have been open to other purchasers and hence the investment is worth more to EDDC than other purchasers.

“There is a forecast net income in year 1 of £79,000 which represents a return of 2.79 per cent increasing to £99,000 (est) and 3.47 per cent in year 2 and if a more cautious approach is taken to EDDC maintenance liabilities then a net income of £49,000 representing 1.73 per cent increasing to £68,000 (est) and 2.40 per cent in year 2. These rates of return are after borrowing costs and do not reflect possible enhancement in capital values.”

Cllr Geoff Pook, the then portfolio holder for asset management, added: “It was a commercial property investment, the due diligence was done and it had a value of the income it was generating. We did go through the process and it was the one that was agreed. This is a key development on Exmouth seafront and to own it and controlling it seemed to be a good thing for EDDC to control the development that goes ahead.”

But Cllr John Loudoun said that it was disappointing that seven months after the acquisition, this was the first time they had the chance to find out what they have done and for what reason.

Cllr Paul Arnott, leader of the council, said: “It is extraordinary that the council made this purchase and the only knowledge we had of it was with a press release. The point is not about the process but that we didn’t know about it, and it hadn’t been reported, and I still don’t understand why we weren’t told.”

He added: “People were surprised that the council bought this – it was on sale for quite a long time before the council bought it, and I am certain there was no other buyer. The building hasn’t generated the profit and footfall and turnover that it was expected to do, and even with the present tenants, there is a possibly we can talk to them and discuss how we may adapt the building so it fits in and compliments all the other developments on the Queen’s Drive area.

The cabinet agreed to note the report around the process of the acquisition, and that a further report over the future of Ocean would come back to the cabinet at a later date.

Owl repeats the history:

The long, sorry, back-story

The Bowling Alley (now the Ocean) was considered, at the beginning of the century, to be the single “Iconic” building that would regenerate Exmouth, rather in the way that the Tate regenerated St Ives. It gained initial planning approval in 2002. But Its construction was dogged by the need subsequently to submit 16 revised plans. During construction the site went on hold for a couple of years so that a court case concerning faulty design aspects could be resolved.

So – 25 June 2013  “Spectacular top-floor bowling alley venue on the way”

Exmouth’s seafront bowling alley is set to create up to 40 new jobs when its new wedding and events venue opens this summer.

Sean Keywood 

Workers are currently putting the finishing touches to the Ocean Blue suite, located on the top floor of the Coast complex on the Esplanade.

As well as a large main function room with a permanent stage and bar area, there are also large roof terraces, with weatherproof speakers, enabling guests to gaze out across the seafront.

The venue will also be obtaining a marriage licence, allowing it to host the whole wedding day, and there will be a bride suite and groom suite provided for the wedding couple to get ready.

Coast is setting up its own wedding service to operate from the venue, and proprietor Isaac Robb says the opening of the new facilities – which will also host other events – is good news for the town.

He said: “It’s a really exciting thing, not just for us but for the whole of Exmouth. We want everybody that has functions or events to come and look at the room.

“We think it’ll sell itself by the views it has. Everybody who sees it just gasps.”

Just by word of mouth, the Ocean Blue suite already has five events booked ahead of its August opening, including a charity casino night in December, and Isaac says he is lining up a “very big musical act” to perform next summer.

As part of the new operation, Coast needs to recruit 30 to 40 staff, ranging from a master of ceremonies, events managers and wedding planners, to chefs, bar and waiting staff.

These jobs will add to the 30 already created at Coast since the ground-floor bowling operation opened at the start of the year.

Anyone interested in applying for the new roles should send their CV to Coast by post.

However, within a couple of years EDDC were having to engineer a take-over.

10 June 2015 LED take over lease of Exmouth sea front facility

The lease of the Ocean bowling and restaurant complex in Esplanade has been taken over by LED Leisure Management.

Daniel Wilkins  10 June 2015

LED has announced they will be running the sea front entertainment facility with immediate effect.

The complex will continue to offer 12 lanes of bowling, plus a Bar and Grill and Sega Entertainment Centre, on the ground floor.

Later this month a new soft play area is due to open once the fit-out and staff training is completed.

Ocean will also continue to offer a venue for weddings, conferences and other events.

Councillor Andrew Moulding, chairman of Exmouth Regeneration Programme, said: “This is fantastic news for everyone who lives in Exmouth or who comes to the resort for holidays or leisure.

“This is already a wonderful facility in a prime position on the seafront. With LED management, their ideas and marketing expertise, it promises to be a very popular all-weather attraction for families as well as a place for parties, celebrations and meetings of all kinds.

“I look forward to seeing it go from strength to strength in the coming months and years.”

Now in 2020 you the rate payers appear to have bought it outright