SPECIAL REPORT: Consultants submit hotel, café/restaurant and play zone vision for Exmouth seafront

A vision to further redevelop Exmouth seafront with a 60-80-bedroom hotel, high-quality restaurant and play and leisure area is set to take another stride forward.

Consultants HemingwayDesign and Lambert Smith Hampton (LSH) have submitted their report and recommendations for Phase Three of the Queen’s Drive project to East Devon District Council (EDDC).

Suggested uses for the plot include a two-storey café/restaurant on the existing Harbour View café site, a three- or four-star hotel of ‘high design quality’ and a mix of play and open public space.

EDDC’s cabinet will discuss the proposals when it meets on Wednesday, February 5.

Its officers have recommended that the authority launches a formal marketing exercise to identify developer and operator partners.

A final decision on what to take forward is set to be made in July.

Phase One of the redevelopment project – the relocation of the road – has been completed. Phase Two – a watersports centre – has a scheduled completion date of summer this year.

Councillor Geoff Pook, EDDC portfolio holder for asset management, said: “We welcome the findings and recommendations in the report.

“HemingwayDesign recognises the potential of the site to become a special place and be a real driver of positive change for Exmouth.

“We now need to complete the marketing, make some bold decisions and get on with delivering this site for the people of Exmouth.”

A report by EDDC’s project manager for place and prosperity to cabinet quotes HemingwayDesign as saying: “This has been a process that has got under the skin of Exmouth and delivers ideas and opportunities that are genuinely focussed on and rooted in the place, are joined-up and progressive”.

It also quotes the firm as saying on its vision: “We believe this can be achieved through the creation of a high-quality, inclusive, mixed-use, year-round leisure offer that links to, and complements, the wider seafront offer.

“The site provides potential to lift the accommodation offer that currently exists in the town and provide greater choice for people to stay in Exmouth, contributing toan increased visitor expenditure in the local economy.”

The report also quotes Lambert Smith Hampton as saying: “Exmouth is currently missing out on some of the opportunities that are available from hotel and restaurant businesses that are keen to find new venues and that can bring exciting new additions to the town.

“Such facilities can give more choice to local people as well as encourage visitors to stay in the town for longer than just a day trip and spend more money in the local economy…commercial investment will help to create a high-quality selection of leisure attractions and can help with the capital and running costs of play space, public space and landscaping.”

The Harbour View Café site

The officer report to cabinet says the site offers scope to be redeveloped to provide a relaxed but good-quality ‘sun and sandals’ offering on the ground floor – with decking and seating that has direct access from the beach.

A large restaurant with terraces providing a more formal dining offer, combined with stunning panoramic views, is planned for the first floor.

The Coastwatch service could then be situated on the second floor within a tower area designed specifically to meet its operational needs.

A new restaurant and café offer could create 25–30 full- and part-time jobs.

The consultants are quoted as saying: “There can be few better sites in the UK to create an accessible modern ‘barefoot’ beachside café/bar/restaurant with all-year-round appeal.”

The report says: “The option for refurbishment or remodelling of the existing Harbour View Café building has been considered, but the building would require significant and comprehensive refurbishment, and a refurbishment or remodelling is not a cost effective option and would not result in a financially viable scheme.

“Furthermore, a refurbishment option would not offer the town the opportunity to secure the economic benefits of having an attractive, contemporary building that raises Exmouth’s status and promotes all-year, daytime and evening activity at this part of the seafront and drawing visitors from across the region.

“LSH report that, when this opportunity was tested with some regional cafe and restaurant investors, it was very popular.

“Operators believe that this location would become a distinct and unique attraction in the south west given the superb beachfront position with estuary views, and will become a food destination in its own right, with a catchment of one hour-plus travelling time.”

The report recommends a redevelopment of the café site to include:

  • A café/restaurant/with ancillary takeaway ground floor;
  • High-quality restaurant on the first-floor;
  • Additional outdoor seating/balconies/terraces;
  • Coastwatch tower on the second floor with a shared lift serving all floors;

Hotel/holiday accommodation

Original proposals for the Queen’s Drive included a hotel – and there is planning consent for one at the rear of the site.

HemingwayDesign says new attractions such as Sideshore, the watersports centre, will bring additional overnight visitors to the area who will need somewhere suitable to stay.

The EDDC officer’s report to cabinet adds: “There are significant regeneration benefits to be gained from good-quality hotel bed spaces being available within the town of Exmouth and specifically on the Queen’s Drive redevelopment site.

“It will bring additional overnight visitors and expenditure to the town and offer a more ‘all-year-round’ presence to help animate and populate the seafront in and out of season.

“This will boost the town’s daytime and evening economy and also provides added security to the seafront.

“It will provide employment and training opportunities and could bring financial gain that can be invested in the remainder of the site.

“A hotel on the site could help fund the desired public amenities and help diversify the current accommodation offer in Exmouth.

“LSH have been soft market testing the proposal for holiday accommodation.

“It was their view that the site will appeal to a broad range of hotel operators and LSH advise that it is worth pursuing a higher quality 3* to 4* operator where there is interest in buying into the long term vision for the Phase 3 site with the play and leisure offers that are desired.

“Some hotel operators have expressed an interest in both the Harbour View Café site and the main Queen’s Drive site which leads LSH to advise that, if a marketing exercise is to be progressed, it should be for both sites together.”

A hotel operation only could create between 15 and 20 jobs with more roles arising from additional facilities such as a gym or spa, says the report.

Play and leisure space

The Queen’s Drive Space, including its dinosaur-themed play park, has been in operation for the last two summers and will continue for this year.

The report adds: “This has demonstrated that not only do residents and visitors enjoy and value the modern and free-to-use play area, pop-up food and drink offer and a programme of events, there is also an enthusiasm by the community to use the space to create their own community events and gatherings in a manner that was not previously possible.

The Queen\'s Drive Space on Exmouth Seafront

The Queen\’s Drive Space on Exmouth Seafront

“There will also be opportunities to use open space alongside and the public realm in front of the watersports centre for events, making Queen’s Drive into mix of multifunctional spaces.

“LSH report that there is demand from a range of operators for a combination of food and beverage with indoor/outdoor leisure concepts for the open area of the site.

“Such an offering can be explored through the marketing exercise and could sit alongside the free play offering.”

Next steps, as recommended in the report, will be for the council to consider if the proposed hotel/café uses offer a ‘financially viable development that optimises income’.

The report says: “In order to determine this it is necessary to engage with the development/operator sector through a formal marketing process.

“Thereafter the mechanism for delivering the play and leisure uses within the site can be explored.”

Next steps

Subject to cabinet approval, a ‘marketing brief’ for the site will set out the details of what type of development the council is seeking to achieve – and will take place in two stages.

Stage one is to market the new restaurant/café opportunity and the hotel offer.

Stage two, once there is certainty of what can be delivered in terms of a hotel, would see the remainder of the site marketed for play and leisure uses.

The stage one marketing brief will make clear to prospective bidders that the hotel will only require part of the site and the majority of the plot will be required for a mixed play/leisure offer.

Bids will be received and reviewed by May before a report goes to cabinet with the recommendation on preferred developer/operator in July.

It is also recommended to cabinet members that the Exmouth Queen’s Drive Delivery Group should continue to hold its meetings in private.

When the group was set up in September, it was agreed it would meet behind closed doors until January 1.

If, following the marketing exercise, there is an opportunity for EDDC to be involved in direct investment and delivery of new development, this will be assessed through its ‘commercial investment framework process’.

This would then be reported to cabinet, as would any assessment of what should happen if not all of the land is disposed of following the marketing exercise.

The officer’s report concludes: “Phase Three now remains to be completed and this report recommends the process to take this forward in line with established marketing and procurement practice.

“The project is now poised to enter into a full commercial marketing process and this will complete the full visioning and scoping exercise and generate the final detail required to enable the council to have all the information it needs to make key decisions.

“While the process is under way during 2020, the site will remain active as it has done since 2018, with the continuation of the popular temporary uses at Queen’s Drive Space.”

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