It’s ten years since Exmouth seafront redevelopment plans first came forward. And things are no closer to any final vision for the site being decided upon.
[See also “The sad planning saga of Exmouth’s albatross – the Ocean Bowling Alley” which traces the seafront regeneration history back to 1993. Then there is the recent reminder that Karime Hassan, Exeter’s “Golden” Chief Executive and Growth Director, established an Exmouth regeneration programme in 2005. – Owl]
Daniel Clark www.devonlive.com
Delay after delay has beset the Queen’s Drive site. Several visions have gone forward, been proposed, and then dropped.
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’. Another year will soon get under way, without any clear long term knowledge of what the seafront will eventually look like.
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.
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.
The 2023 summer is set to see the events space at Queen’s Drive once again tendered to attract an operator for the season. LED are once again set to use the fitness space, as no longer term vision is likely to have been agreed.
Residents’ and visitors’ to the seaside town were last summer asked what they wanted ultimately as the long term plans for the seafront. The results of the consultation will be used to appoint a professional team to develop a terms of reference and a plan for a Placemaking Strategy for Exmouth Town and Seafront – but that won’t be happening until later in the year.
THE LONG HISTORY OF THE EXMOUTH SEAFRONT SAGA
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.
But 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”.
Exmouth seafront Splash Zone plans
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.
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 in 2022.
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 a 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.
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.
In 2022, the fairground provider took up occupancy of the Queen’s Drive Space on July 7, 2022 and then departed three weeks later without any notice or contact, impacting negatively on other traders due to the loss of footfall. The Events Team tried to find a replacement but the lack of lead-time proved challenging.
The dinosaur park once again proved very popular and councillors agreed that they would like to see it maintained and extended, perhaps using CIL money. The park is free to use and important for the community particularly in the context of the cost of living crisis, and needs to be maintained well for reasons of health and safety.
There is a firm proposal for LED to take on the Fitness Space at Queen’s Drive for the 2023 and 2024 seasons, but not immediately post-Christmas. Following a debrief meeting with the traders at Queen’s Drive Space, all the current traders have submitted interest in taking the pitches for the 2023 season.
Planning consent is being prepared for the fitness area as the temporary permission expires in July 2023 and needs to be renewed. The Events Space has been marketed as agreed to see if a reliable operator can be secured either for the whole season or for the summer holidays.
In terms of the development options that were provided to respondents, the top two responses were that developments should provide income and jobs for a variety of different business types, not just one type and there should be improvements to the unoccupied and derelict areas of Exmouth.
A further report will come back to the Placemaking in Exmouth Town and Seafront Delivery Group and then Cabinet setting out Terms of Reference for Placemaking in Exmouth in the first half of 2023. Following this, it is then hoped that eventually there will be some progress in finally coming up with a long term vision for the seafront.