Rules row could see Exmouth pubs remain closed

Is this another “Exmouth Regeneration” legacy problem? – Owl

Anita Merritt

An independent award-winning Exmouth pub and restaurant is one of many businesses in the town centre that should be looking forward to finally reopening next week does not know whether it will be financially viable after being told it has to remove its outdoor furniture, including a marquee, every night.

Spoken, which is situated in the pedestrianised area of The Strand, says it has found itself in the midst of ‘unnecessary bureaucracy’ with East Devon District Council (EDDC) and Devon County Council (DCC) due to lease restrictions which are said to be affecting businesses across East Devon.

George Nightingale, owner of Spoken, says he began applying to use the outside space on a temporary basis for post-lockdown trading seven months ago.

He claims it was only three weeks ago he was told by DCC the matter was going to ‘consultation’.

Now just days away from further lockdown restrictions being lifted permitting hospitality venues to serve people outdoors as from April 12, George says no further progress has been made.

As it currently stands, the venue which is permitted to trade between 6am to 1am, would have to remove its tables and marquee in between those hours and erect it again.

Both EDDC and DCC says the rules have to be observed. However, EDDC has confirmed it is considering whether alternative agreements can be made to help traders.

George said: “We have been told we are not allowed to keep anything outside overnight.

“It makes our outside unusable as it would take a couple of hours to take down the marquee and erect it again.

“As it stands throughout the region, marquees are classified as furniture, and all furniture must be removed from the already licensed space each night.

“This is not possible, practical or sensible, or has any common sense applied to it.

“What we can’t mitigate against is the weather so we will have to open on a day-by-day basis depending on the forecast. I can’t afford to employ a team of people depending on what the weather may be.”

Spoken in The Strand without any street furniture outside

Spoken in The Strand without any street furniture outside (Image: Google)

The problem lies in a clause in the lease which dates back to when the area outside the Spoken was previously a road ten years ago.

George explained: “There has not been a road here for 10 years but as it has not been declassified as a road, the council have stated it is ‘technically’ still a road.

“Previously I have put on a lot of street entertainment, but now the council is threatening to remove my licence permanently if I put anything up at all which is ‘blocking the road – a road that doesn’t exist’. All it would take is the council to remove one line in the lease, but it won’t – despite central government instructing councils to take a pragmatic approach to the reopening of hospitality.

“The rest of the country, such as Soho in London and areas in Bristol, are closing roads and finding ways to allow businesses to trade. However, both councils are trying to stop it so we will be effectively shut in anything other than perfect weather when the rest of the country is trading. How is that fair?

“We are one of the biggest hit industries by the pandemic and the government support has been first class. We want our town to be encouraging people to come out in a safe environment they want to sit in, but we are unable to provide that because of bureaucracy, and nobody willing to make a decision.

“Customers will quite rightly go to venues which can provide shelter from the elements on their own private land instead.

“Exmouth has a great opportunity to welcome visitors not going abroad and to provide a quality environment that will make them return in the future.

“How can this region and town centre that was purpose built for this be so left behind because of the unnecessary bureaucracy at a time when businesses and the region itself need it the most, and the council’s own remit is to support businesses?”

Calls are being made by local independent councillor Paul Millar to allow businesses in the town to be able to keep up outdoor coverings to enable them to reopen.

He said: “I am really concerned that some of Exmouth’s pubs and restaurants on the Strand, and elsewhere across East Devon, are being faced with the situation of not being able to open on 12th April after they have done so much to keep their customers safe.

“In my view, outdoor coverings such as gazebos and marquees shouldn’t be classified as furniture, the Secretary of State Robert Jenrick needs to make this matter clear to EDDC and DCC which has a legal duty to follow to the letter and the spirit guidance set by central government.

“For me, the burden of removing outdoor coverings for a few hours overnight and re-erecting them again in the morning is totally unreasonable. Businesses should be looking forward to reopening and staff should be allowed to fully focus on keeping the public safe.

“I have requested that officers at EDDC urgently contact councils in other areas of the country with a view to hopefully being able to amend our own local guidance in order to allow outdoor coverings to stay outside overnight where there is clear public support for this, such as The Strand.”

However, in the mean time the rules will still apply.

A spokesman for DCC said: “We have to be fair and consistent with how we issue and manage the licenses, and the paved area of the Strand outside Spoken is classed as a public highway, therefore the general public have the right to access and use it.

“We are clear in the terms of the licence that items, such as tables and chairs must be removable. While we are able, under certain circumstances, to authorise the use of a highway for other activities, at other times it should be free for the passage of highway users.”

A spokesperson for EDDC said: “EDDC cannot comment on the position of DCC.

“With regard to the EDDC owned land, the trader entered into a Sitting Out Consent with EDDC on November 26, 2020, to allow the use of a sitting out area until September 30, 2021.

“The council’s Sitting Out Consent provides that all furniture and structures must be removed from the land overnight. The provision is clearly contained within the Sitting Out Consent signed by the trader.

“The council has confirmed that it expects the trader to comply with the provisions of the agreement that it entered into with the council.

“In view of the issues raised by this trader and others in the vicinity, the council is considering whether alternative agreements can be entered into to enable the traders to trade in the way that they wish.

“However, this could impact on the ability of the general public to use the Strand and particularly the community groups who use the area for fundraising. The council is keen to ensure that there is no detriment to the general public and the community organisations.

“The council will be in touch with the traders further as soon as possible to confirm a potential way forward.”

Anger over five month E.ON road closures

Ahh, Cranbrook again! The “light touch” developer-led way to build the future. – Owl

Anita Merritt

Cranbrook residents have raised concerns about five months of road closures in the town which is said to be already struggling with traffic and safety problems.

Three phases of road closures have been announced which began this week and will continue until September 3.

The planned work is to enable energy company E.ON to install a new eastern transmission main to supply hot water and heating to the eastern parts of the town and replace the need for the temporary energy centre currently operating near the Linden sales office.

Devon live has previously reported complaints from frustrated residents who say they have been faced with endless power outages leaving them without heating or hot water.

Although the works will impact on the B3174 – the old A30 – residents have been assured the whole of the stretch of the road will not be closed at the same time.

However, concerns have been raised by some residents who say that it will increase traffic problems in the town and it poses safety risks.

Cranbrook Town Council has said traffic and safety issue in the town are in need of review and have raised it with highway officers.

A local man, who has lived in Cranbrook for four years, said: “The official diversion for these roadworks send traffic away from Cranbrook, a route which is of some significant distance to the daily commuter that uses the B3174.

“Now it is widely known and accepted that people will drive through Cranbrook along Tillhouse and Younghayes roads increasing the traffic flow significantly.

“These roads are already of some concern for safety due to parking, traffic and a complete lack of pedestrian crossings in a town which is supposed to be a town promoting healthy living.”

Revealing what impact the first road closure has had on the town so far this week, he said: “As expected traffic around the morning rush hour was fairly stationary, both outbound and inbound. The primary cause for this was the traffic lights outside E.ON in the morning.

“The afternoon rush hour was again stationary inbound into Cranbrook. On Wednesday afternoon the traffic was not too bad as there is no longer a campervan parked just off the roundabout as you come into Cranbrook.”

Other residents have questioned why the works are taking place now rather than previously.

One man said: “Why is this even happening? Was it a surprise to E.ON and the council that more houses were being built?

“As usual zero forward planning. This infrastructure should have been installed years ago.”

E.ON has explained why the road closures are in place and how the works will benefit the town.

An E.ON spokesperson said: “Temporary road closures are necessary from time to time to ensure infrastructure improvements can be made. In this case, we’re working to expand the existing district heating network in the wider Cranbrook vicinity and install the resilience to support the ongoing growth of the district heating network.

“We’ve worked closely with the local authority to ensure we carry out the work safely, effectively and to minimise local disruption, in line with all their usual procedures.”

The announced road closures are:

April 6 to May 14 – From Younghayes Road roundabout to Treasbeare Lane (Treasbeare Cottages)

May 17 to June 25 – From Treasbeare Lane to Parsons Lane

June 28 to September 3 – From Parsons Lane to Court Royal

A spokesman for Devon County Council said: “This work requires significant highway excavation so traffic management is essential and has been carefully considered as part of the planning process.

“We will continue to work with E.ON to monitor any disruption and minimise the impact where possible.”

Cranbrook Town Council has assured residents the whole of the B3174 will not be closed at the same time for months and all traffic will not be going past the Education Campus.

A town council spokesperson said: “In all cases the signed diversion route is via the A3052, but we know that drivers with local knowledge will use more local routes to avoid the closure.

“We understand that Highways England declined consent to use the A30 as a signed diversion route.

“While we appreciate this situation will create more traffic in the town and that this will, at times, be inconvenient and cause some delay to motorists, the disruption is unavoidable while this essential work is carried out.

“There have been demands to stop all parking along Younghayes Road and along other parts of the main local routes through the town, but that would have the effect of creating faster speeds through the town.

“While parked vehicles cause delay and disruption to traffic flows, they have the added impact of slowing and calming traffic. So this is a balance between inconvenience and overall safety.

“Any requests for temporary parking restrictions would be a matter for the highway authority, but at this stage the town council is not seeking any such restrictions.

“The question of pedestrian crossings in the town is a more general issue and one that the town council and locally elected members have been pursuing with the highway authority along with other traditional road safety measures.

“To date the approach in Cranbrook is to have no traditional lines and signs and allow the design of roads and differing surfaces to create road safety features and traffic calming.

“For some time we have felt that this policy for Cranbrook is in need of review and have raised it with highway officers. We have plans to address this in a meeting with the highway authority and the MP after the forthcoming county council elections.

“In addition to pedestrian crossings, we will be asking the highway authority to review the use of white and yellow lines in the town to address the instances of inappropriate and inconsiderate parking particularly adjacent to road junctions, on footways and across cycle ways.”

Highways England were approached for a comment.

Restoration plan for historic Salston Manor green-lit

Plans to save one of Ottery St Mary’s most important buildings have been approved.

Daniel Clark 

East Devon District Council’s planning committee on Wednesday morning unanimously agreed to support plans that would see 13 new homes built within the grounds of the former Salston Manor on the edge of the town.

The plans would also see an extension to the building constructed for a further two homes, and would enable a previously consented but not implemented scheme for the conversion of the main building to form 11 flats to go ahead.

Councillors heard that the site is outside the built-up area boundary of Ottery St Mary and was contrary to Local Plan policies, particularly as no affordable housing was to be provided, but that the wider benefits from the restoration of the listed building outweigh the negatives of the scheme and thus it was recommended for approval.

The Salston Manor Hotel in Ottery St Mary

The Salston Manor Hotel in Ottery St Mary

Development manager Chris Rose said: “This will secure the future of the heritage asset so we have to decide whether bringing the listed building back into use outweighs the harm of the buildings in the countryside.

“Officers are of the opinion that the proposals would result in less than substantial harm to the character and setting of Salston Manor. In the absence of any significant harm to the character and appearance of the area, the residential amenities of the occupiers of surrounding properties, ecology, or flood risk, it is considered that the proposed development is acceptable, bringing a major benefit through the restoration of the listed building.”

Chris Riley, the joint owner and applicant, said that the principle of development had already been agreed for a scheme to enable the restoration of the heritage asset, and that the plans were sympathetic and balanced and were needed to fund the restoration works.

Cllr Geoff Pratt, who represents the Ottery St Mary rural ward, said: “The problem is that the building has suffered so much damage in the last 14 years since lying empty and the cost must be extraordinary to deal with the matter, so I understand why they are making this application today.

“It is a famous building for Ottery St Mary and listed, and it needs to be dealt with, and we need to go along with this, and we can decide the heritage benefits will outweigh any harm to the property. I want to look after this listed building and this is the main priority here.”

Redevelopment of The Salston Manor Hotel in Ottery St Mary

Redevelopment of The Salston Manor Hotel in Ottery St Mary

Cllr Philip Skinner added: “It is sad it has fallen into the disrepair it has. The history of the building is vital for Ottery. This will be a massive job and while it is a departure from policy, it is for the greater good. I recommend this for approval as I don’t want it to fall into disrepair.”.

The proposal will see 13 new dwellings constructed within the grounds in three blocks situated to the south-west, east and north east of the main house respectively.

In addition, an extension to the main house to the east will be constructed which would house a further two apartments, and two further flats in a link extension. Combined with the existing flats within the building to be built out as part of the 2013 application, this will give 13 flats in total within and attached to the main building, making a total of 26 units within the entire site.

Dismay as East Devon placed in lowest tier for funds – can bid with slim chance of success

In Owl’s eyes this is a cynical way of dangling phantom carrots in front of desperate councils.

EDDC will receive £230,991 as part of the Government’s £56 million Welcome Back Fund.

The money can be used to provide or improve outdoor areas for socialising, smarten up the streets and organise events such as festivals and markets to support local businesses.

Or councils can “use”, Owl prefers “gamble”, any amount of the funding they receive to put together a bid for up to £20 million from the Levelling Up Fund, to regenerate and improve town centres in their areas.

Remember in December 2019 (just before the general election) Simon Jupp recorded this promise : Exmouth will receive new funding from the Government’s new Future High Streets Fund. The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities & Local Government, Robert Jenrick, has confirmed that Exmouth will receive funding to help secure up to £20 million pounds from the Government’s new Future High Streets Fund? – Never happened.

As we approach the County elections “Jumping Jupp Flash” says he has spoken up for Exmouth and now it’s down to the council to make a strong bid. But what realistic chance does it have, ranked in the lowest third for priority? In effect, if no money comes it won’t be Jenrick or Jupp failing to deliver their promises but because either EDDC failed to bid or their bid is a failure. Catch 22.

So, now you see it now you don’t, as much of the “Welcome back fund” of nearly £231K finds its way into the trousers of  “Bid Consultants”. – Owl

Dismay as East Devon placed in lowest tier for funds

Daniel Clark

Councillors from East Devon were united in their dismay that the district has been placed in the lowest tier for a Government regeneration fund – with one joking that they should rebrand the district as a ‘red wall district’.

The Government last month created the Levelling Up Fund, which brings together the Department for Transport, the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Treasury to invest £4.8 billion in high-value local infrastructure.

The Fund will focus investment in projects that require up to £20m of funding, but bids above £20m and below £50m will be accepted for transport projects only.

However, East Devon District Council was only placed in the lowest of the three categories, and the prospectus for the fund outlining that while the preference will be given to bids from higher priority areas, bids from categories 2 and 3 will still be considered for funding on their merits of deliverability, value for money and strategic fit, and could still be successful if they are of exceptionally high quality.

The council’s cabinet, when they met on Wednesday night, unanimously agreed to recommend to the full council that a budget of up to £100,000 is made available to enable a bid to be put together, but they, as well as councillors from the Conservatives, were left disappointed by East Devon’s categorisation.

Further discussions will be held with the district’s three MPs over what bids, if any, East Devon chooses to submit, with suggestions over a bid for the regeneration of Exmouth town centre, the Axminster relief road, the Seaton seafront enhancement scheme, as well as improvements to existing infrastructure among the ideas floated at the cabinet meeting.

Cllr Paul Hayward, portfolio holder for economy and assets, said: “We have to take the opportunity as if we didn’t we would be lambasted., but is £100,000 that we need to spend wisely. We need to ensure the MPs understand the significance of that amount of money from the East Devon budget on what is a bid of a punt and it has to be supported 100 per cent by the MPs and they have to hold the Secretary of State’s feet to the fire and that it has to be considered greatly.

“If we are to spend £100,000 on EDDC money, then it has to be on a very understanding that the bids will be supported actively and positively.

“This could be very positive for the district and I look forward to talking to the MPs, but I am dismayed we are in Tier 3.”

On the suggestion that had been made by Conservative group leader Cllr Andrew Moulding, who added East Devon in Tier 3 was a disappointment, that a bid for the ‘ready-made’ Axminster relief road be considered, Cllr Hayward added that if they went down the route of the relief road, then they could end up with a better road placed in the right place rather than one located due to the cost and income from the house building to fund it.

Cllr Bruce de Saram added: “It is distressing to see us in the third tier but a joint bid could be successful and I hope we will work with the MP to get a successful outcome.”

Cllr Marianne Rixson added: “We should make better use of existing infrastructure rather than building more. Many bus routes have been cut and what we need instead of more loss of services is for buses to be reinstated and rural areas to need frequent affordable bus travel, as this is something we need to do if we are going to reduce carbon emissions.”

Cllr Jack Rowland said he was puzzled by the categorisation that placed East Devon is Tier 3, alongside the likes of Richmond, saying: “To think that equates to us with the same economic deprivation strikes me as slightly flawed.”

The cabinet unanimously agreed to note the prospectus and timescales for submission of bids, endorse the next steps to develop a bid, including meeting with MPs, and to recommend to Council that a budget of up to £100,000 is made available.

Cllr John Loudoun jokingly suggested a fourth recommendation that would have a cast iron recommendation that will get East Devon out of Tier 3, saying: “We recommend to the council that we rebrand the district as ‘East Devon – a red wall district’ – there you go and we’ll get the money.”

Simon Jupp, MP for East Devon, had previously said; “I have spoken up for Exmouth in Parliament and now funding which can be used to develop plans to improve our town is on the way. East Devon District Council needs to submit a strong bid to be considered for up to £20 million for Exmouth’s High Street. I hope the council will work with me to grasp this opportunity for the good of our town.”

Devon council boss says Government should pay lockdown rent arrears

A Devon council is expecting a rise in homelessness when a ban on evictions introduced during the pandemic runs out at the end of May.

Edward Oldfield 

Torbay Council leader Steve Darling is backing a call by MPs for the Government to tackle the problem by helping tenants repay rent arrears built up during the last year.

The Liberal Democrat wrote to the local government secretary Robert Jenrick at the start of March about helping people keep their homes.

Cllr Darling said the council was supporting a Citizens Advice Bureau campaign for emergency grants and loans to help cover rent debts.

In Torbay, more than 330 households sought help from the council after losing their privately rented homes due to financial problems in 2019. Of those, 131 families had to be housed in emergency temporary accommodation.

Cllr Darling said the figure was only slightly lower in 2020 despite the ban on evictions, and the council was expecting the number to rise when the ban ended.

He points out in his letter that a quarter of homes in Torbay are privately rented.

The council leader said: “We welcomed that the Government has committed to a ban on bailiff enforced evictions in most cases for the time being.

“However, particularly during the third lockdown many people are facing further shocks to their income.

“Urgent action is needed to avoid leaving millions of renters with spiralling debt and at risk of eviction.

“Existing support, like the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the Covid Winter Grants Scheme, is welcome but not targeted at renters.

“The Government should put in place a national programme of loans and grants to help people who have fallen behind on rent due to the pandemic.

“Grants should be directed at people in the most financial difficulty, like those who are eligible for benefits or who wouldn’t be able to repay a loan in 5 years.

“The loans should be Government-backed and interest-free. This will bring England in line with Scotland and Wales and will help renters move forward following the pandemic.”

On Wednesday, the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee of MPs said many renters would be at risk of becoming homeless when the evictions ban ends, BBC News reported. It added that the problem would be made worse by rising unemployment as job support schemes ended.

To prevent a rise in homelessness, MPs said the Government should provide targeted support to tenants to repay rent arrears built up over the last year. They estimated it would cost between £200m and £300m and would reduce homeless spending in the longer term.

As part of efforts to increase the stock of social housing in Torbay, which is below the national average, a new council-owned social housing company is buying around a dozen homes in Paignton town centre.

The properties in Bishops Place are the first to come under the control of TorVista Homes, a provider set up by TDA, Torbay Council’s economic development company.

The company gained registered provider status in early March, allowing it to start purchasing properties.

TorVista Homes has been backed with £25million of council funding and is planning to develop a series of new social housing schemes in Torbay.