Jurassic Visitors centre remains closed

….Whilst the council works out what to do with the building.

This is another Albatross seaside “regeneration” project whose genesis can be traced as far back as 2005. It was opened by the Princess Royal in 2016 and soon after claims were made that it attracted visitors in the tens of thousands.

In 2005 the Conservative “magic ingredients” of regeneration for both Exmouth and Seaton comprised: a supermarket close to the beach; a Premier Inn and an “iconic” building. The “Ocean” bowling alley in Exmouth and the Jurassic Centre in Seaton represented the “iconic” buildings.

Budleigh Salterton was “pencilled in” for a cut down version of the Ocean, using the same architect (Longboat Cafe site). Planning permission was eventually granted after a drawn out battle with objectors, spanning something like seven years, by which time the economic circumstances had drastically changed. As is now all too plain to see.

Exmouth has swallowed up over £3m of public funds for its non-commercially viable icon and now Seaton needs a minimum of £200K on top of the original £4m it cost to build with no guarantee that any business is waiting in the wings to take it on. (And, of course, we have the costs of the “no cost” spanking new EDDC HQ in Honiton)

So far Sidmouth has managed to escape.

Have these Conservative investment plans passed the test of time? Exmouth was looking to Robert Jenrick’s begging bowl before he was sacked. – Owl

Joe Ives, local democracy reporter www.radioexe.co.uk

Seaton’s Jurassic Visitors centre will remain closed while the council works out what to do with the £4.2 million building.

The centre, which opened in 2016, closed in September after Devon Wildlife Trust decided to cease acting as its operator.

The charity blamed “unique and unprecedented challenges posed by the covid-19 pandemic” as well as the need to undertake substantial, costly renovations to the attraction’s exhibitions, thought to potentially cost in the region of £200,000.

The number of people visiting dropped from 48,000 people in 2019/20 to 8,000 between March and September this year. The centre now falls under the responsibility of East Devon District Council (EDDC), which own the building.

Seaton’s Jurassic Visitors centre was an educational hub celebrating the 95-mile length of coast that stretches along east Devon and west Dorset where many fossils can be found. The coastline has World Heritage Status in recognition of its geological importance. 

The council is now exploring options including a repurposed Seaton Wetlands Visitor Centre or a ‘wetlands experience’ cycle route with hire bikes available from the centre, alongside health and wellbeing courses and activities.

EDDC is also considering leasing the building to someone who will use it as a general attraction centre, not necessarily focussed on the Jurassic Coast. The council is also discussing selling or renting the site.  If nothing happens in the coming months, the centre may be temporarily used as a café during the 2022 tourist season.

Either way, EDDC’s cabinet is setting aside £45,000 to pay for ongoing running costs of the unused building for the rest of the current financial year, which ends next March.

Speaking at a cabinet meeting this week, councillor Marianne Rixson (Independent East Devon Alliance, Sidmouth Sidford) requested that, given the centre’s hefty price tag, it should be referred to EDDC’s audit and governance committee so as to “understand the full ramifications of this failed project”, a suggestion approved unanimously by cabinet.

Echoing his colleagues concerns, Councillor Geoff Jung (Independent East Devon Alliance, Woodbury and Lympstone) said lessons needed to be learned. He added: “It was a great effort to introduce the Jurassic centre to Seaton and it really saddens me to see the facilities closed. Let’s hope we can make something out of this now. I would like to thank the Devon Wildlife Trust for their endeavours to make it a success and it’s a shame that it wasn’t.”

In a statement released after the cabinet meeting, council leader Paul Arnott (Independent East Devon Alliance, Coly Valley) blamed previous administrations and said: “We will work tirelessly to make sure that the eventual outcome is a vast improvement on what exists, and out of respect for the thousands of free hours given by Seaton people doing their best, we will make sure we find out and publish how this project was commissioned against the better judgement of so many people at the time.”

Devon County Council to get £5m from Household Support Fund for struggling families as furlough, Universal Credit uplift ends

“So we’re losing £15.5 million and we’re getting £5 million back. That doesn’t seem like a good deal for the people of Devon somehow.” Opposition leader Councillor Alan Connett. 

Never rains but it pours, as a lot of support ends at the same time. John Hart’s instinctive political reaction as the rains fell in February 2020 was: “Self-help is going to be the order of the day”. Boris Johnson seems to be distancing the government from current problems as well. – Owl

Ollie Heptinstall, Local Democracy Reporter sidmouth.nub.news 

Devon County Council is to receive just over £5 million as part of the government’s household support fund for struggling families over the winter.

The money is part of a £500 million national fund and comes just days after the end of furlough and the £20 uplift in universal credit. It’s to help people struggling with the cost of food, heating, water and other essentials.

Through their local councils, residents will be able to apply for what the government says are “small grants to meet daily needs such as food, clothing and utilities”.

Announcing the news at a full meeting of Devon County Council on Thursday, Councillor Roger Croad (Conservative, Ivybridge) said: “I’m anticipating significant allocations to the districts.” The council is expecting more information about who will be eligible for support shortly.

“We’re looking at voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations supporting responses to poverty and food insecurity, the Citizens Advice Bureau, fuel advice and support, children’s centres, early help teams [and] support organisations linked to water, energy and essential supplies.”

Councillor Rob Hannaford (Labour, Exwick & St Thomas) said the money was “extremely welcome” but warned, with the current cost of living pressures on households, that “it must be spent and spent urgently”.

But opposition leader Councillor Alan Connett (Lib Dem, Exminster & Haldon) compared it to the reduction families will face as the uplift in Universal Credit ends: “This really is a case that we’ve had a fiver taken out of our pocket and we’re getting sixpence back.”

“The five million is valuable – good work will be done with it no doubt. But 14,770 individuals across Devon claiming universal credit and were getting the £20 a week uplift; those families are faced with rising fuel costs as we’ve seen. We’ve seen that they’re obviously going to see increased food costs.

“So we’re losing £15.5 million and we’re getting £5 million back. That doesn’t seem like a good deal for the people of Devon somehow.”

Echoing Cllr Connett’s remarks, Councillor Yvonne Atkinson (Labour, Alphington & Cowick) said the new fund instead of the £20 a week uplift was “really a loss to people and people will have to go and beg.”

She added: “For already desperate people, to actually force them into that – perhaps for bus journeys or where they can ill-afford to go and make that case – I think it’s deeply shocking that the £20 has been taken away and replaced by this.”

Earlier in the meeting, Cllr Croad admitted he would “probably have to agree” that the Universal Credit uplift should have continued through the winter, but said: “The chancellor would tell us the uplift on the UC is in effect about £6 billion a year and I don’t think the country could probably afford it.”

More details are expected to be announced about the fund in Devon in the coming days.