Ten years since Exmouth seafront redevelopment plans proposed

It is now ten years since redevelopment plans for Exmouth seafront were first put forward. But now fresh proposals for something to finally happen on the site are moving closer.

Daniel Clark www.devonlive.com

The plans have faced delay after delay – so much so that the temporary attractions installed in 2018 have had to be made permanent. Several visions for the Queen’s Drive site have come and gone and fallen by the wayside.

But now, East Devon District Council aims to move a step closer to finally ending the long wait. The start of exciting new plans to regenerate sites across Exmouth town centre and its seafront are beginning, with the launch of public workshops and an online questionnaire.

The Placemaking in Exmouth Town and Seafront Group – which is being led by East Devon District Council – is looking to gather residents’ and visitors’ thoughts on the key themes and characteristics they want to shape future developments. An online questionnaire focuses on the future for Exmouth, looking for views on how various key sites can be improved.

Two workshops will be also held for the general public on Thursday 14 July, from 7pm until 9.30pm, and on Sunday 31 July, from 10am until 12.30pm, at Exmouth’s Ocean Queen’s Drive on the top floor. All the views gathered will be used to help shape developments in Exmouth town centre and seafront in the future.

Cllr Paul Arnott, East Devon District Council’s leader, said: “Exmouth is by far the biggest community in East Devon, and it is vital to listen to the opinions and wishes of local people. We are very grateful indeed to all the town councillors, local residents and stakeholders who have advised us on how best to approach this new consultation and now look forward to hearing what everyone wishes to say. Thank you for taking part.”

The questionnaire asked people if they agree or disagree over improvements focused around the Jurassic Coast, a traditional seaside theme, a unique selling point, being open all year around, and whether it should offer something to everyone.

Questions are also asked about whether improvements need to be made to the town centre, to make the town more environmentally friendly, sport and leisure facilities, open spaces, derelict areas of Exmouth, and arts and culture facilities.

South West Research Company will also be conducting 400 on-street face-to-face interviews in July and August – 150 and 250 interviews respectively, on behalf of the council.

Cllr Nick Hookway, East Devon District Council’s portfolio holder tourism, sport, leisure and culture, said: “At the first stakeholder session, which was held last Monday, there were many comments on how Exmouth needs to unlock the puzzle that visitors often experience when moving around the town centre to get to the Seafront.

“Exmouth is blessed with a superb seafront and together with the Exe Estuary Exmouth is an attractive place to visit. Exmouth is a lovely place to live and work in as well. However, there is a need to develop new places that will enhance the town, improve the visitor experience and provide better amenities for residents. New developments will lead to economic growth and provide job opportunities.

“EDDC would like to hear the views of residents as these new placemaking proposals are put forward. May I encourage as many residents as possible to take a few minutes to complete the consultation.”

It was back in 2012 when plans to redevelop the area between the old lifeboat station and the Maer first came forward, with the intervening period seeing several iterations of the plans not coming to fruition – with the scheme being referred to as ‘Exmouth’s Brexit’.

While phase 1 – the relocation of the Queen’s Drive road – and phase 2 – the watersports centre – have been completed and are open, phase 3, the longer term vision for the site remains in doubt.

Planning permission for the redevelopment of a 3.6-hectare swathe of Queen’s Drive has been granted, and has been implemented, the council say, with the realignment of the road. The attractions currently on the Queen’s Drive space – the replacement for the former Fun Park now have planning permission to stay on the site permanently after two temporary were granted – but ultimately may not be the final use for the stretch of land.

In 2012, plans to redevelop the area between the old lifeboat station and the Maer, known as the Splash Zone, formed part of the Exmouth Masterplan which sets out future regeneration in the town The controversial plans divided opinion in the town in 2013 when more than 500 people completed questionnaires about the authority’s intention to redevelop the area between the old lifeboat station and the Maer, known as the Splash Zone.

When asked for a general opinion, 52 per cent of respondents of the questionnaires were in favour of the overall proposals with 41 per cent against. The remaining seven per cent did not express a preference. In December 2013, East Devon District Council’s Development Management Committee gave the go-ahead for the development of the Queen’s Drive area in Exmouth.

The outline permission includes the realignment of the road to give easier access to the beach and stunning views from the proposed new watersports hub, cafe and public open space. The detailed plans included luxury flats, shops, eateries, a multi-screen cinema and a new Harbour View Café and coastwatch tower.

At the same time, a new action group was launched to ‘save’ Exmouth seafront from developers, with Save Exmouth Seafront concerned that the £18m redevelopment would mean some of the town’s oldest most popular businesses closing. In October 2015, the Carriage Café on the seafront left the town. It had been open for nearly 50 years and the restored 1956 carriage business’s closing brought an end to an era for residents.

At around the same time, more than 1,000 residents and visitors took part in the Exmouth Seafront Survey, initiated by Cllr Megan Armstrong. Led by author and analyst Louise MacAllister, the survey aimed to discover if plans for a multi-screen cinema, outdoor water splash zone and adventure golf park were wanted by those who would be using the facilities.

East Devon District Council were then working with Moirai Capital Investments of Bournemouth to put forward proposals to “breathe new life into the nine acre council-owned seafront site at Queen’s Drive with a range of exciting leisure facilities”.

Organisers said the survey showed 95 per cent were against the redevelopment, it showed widespread support for the businesses at the time occupying the seafront and that many Exmouth residents felt their concerns regarding the plans had been ignored.

In April 2016, Exmouth residents went to the polls, and around 95 per cent of those who turned out to vote want more consultation on multi million-pound plans for Queen’s Drive. Called by concerned residents, the parish poll saw 4,754 people – 17.8 per cent of the electorate – take part. But the summer of 2016 saw Moirai Capital Investments sacked as the developer due to the length of time it had taken for them to bring more plans.

September 2016 saw the Jungle Fun attraction and Arnold Palmer Putting Course closed for the last time. Hours earlier, locals and tourists had flocked to the attraction for one last round. The crazy golf course was established around 40 years ago.

In November 2016, campaigners in Exmouth staged a protest march calling for further consultation on controversial seafront redevelopment plans. The Save Exmouth Seafront protesters set off from the lorry park in Marine Way and marched through Imperial Road, The Strand and Alexandra Terrace before finishing on the seafront.

April 2017 saw the reserved matters application for the seafront redevelopment approved. It meant the council could now go ahead and build the £18million redevelopment of a 3.6-hectare swathe of Queen’s Drive, but had no plans to do so. Had the application been rejected, it would have meant the outline permission for redevelopment would have no longer been extant and sent the project back to the drawing board. The Fun Park, run by the Wright family, closed after more than 40 years at the end of August 2017, with a vigil held and floral tributes presented.

A last gasp bid to reprieve the Fun Park from closure failed two weeks later, when East Devon councillors voted 26 to 21 against extending the lease of the Fun Park. The contents of the Fun Park were auctioned off the following day. The Harbour View café was also due to close at the same time, but has seen its lease extended, and is still operating now.

Floral tributes laid inside the swan at Exmouth Fun Park

Floral tributes laid inside the swan at Exmouth Fun Park

October 2017 saw Grenadier reveal their plans for the Watersports Centre, before submitting the formal planning application in February 2018, which was then approved in June 2018 by eight votes to five, with a full opening taking place in the early part of 2021.

The temporary attractions for the seafront at the Queen’s Drive Space, which include the food and drink area and the dinosaur-themed play park opened in May 2018, having been given planning permission in March 2018. Permission was initially granted for one year, followed by a second permission for a further three years. That expired in March 2022, but the council agreed to make that use permanent earlier this year.

Work began at the end of 2018 to realign the Queen’s Drive road, which was completed in June 2019, although questions have been raised about where the funding for the road, which East Devon District Council paid for, actually came from.

At the end of 2019, HemingwayDesign and Lambert Smith Hampton submitted their vision for Phase Three for Exmouth Seafront to East Devon District Council. The suggested uses for the site include a new two storey café/restaurant on the existing Harbour View café site to the south of Queen’s Drive, a mix of playspace (including free play) and open public space on the remainder of the site, and an 60–80 bed 3–4 star hotel of high design quality.

East Devon District Council’s cabinet, when they met on Wednesday, February 5, 2020, agreed to launch a formal marketing exercise to identify developer/operator partners for the Queen’s Drive site. But the council’s scrutiny committee then unanimously agreed that the panel for the purpose of agreeing the selection criteria for the commercial development was not properly balanced, and expressed their anger at how they felt Exmouth residents were not being listened to.

The current view of the Exmouth seafront site

That process was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic and a change of administration, in August, full council accepted that recommendation and sent it back to cabinet, who are now able to make the decision they wish over the future of Queen’s Drive, although as of yet, no firm plans have come forward.

That meeting saw councillors agree and express a desire to ‘Get Seafront Done’, as Cllr Joe Whibley put it, but that as Exmouth is the biggest town in East Devon, it was critically important to the economy and the reputation of the council that they do the right thing and get a scheme that is both popular with the residents and viable in the long term.

The ultimate decision over what happens with Phase 3 will lie with the council’s cabinet, as under the council’s constitution, it falls within their remit rather than that of full council. They have now launched this latest consultation to once again gauge the views of residents in the town ahead of more concrete plans coming forward.

If you need a copy of this consultation on paper, in large print, or in any other format, please email: exmouthconsultation@eastdevon.gov.uk or call 01395 519960 by Friday, 12 August, or can be filled in online at https://www.eastdevon.gov.uk/exmouth-consultation-summer-2022/