A decision to launch a marketing exercise over the final phase of the redevelopment of Exmouth seafront has been ‘called in’ for further scrutiny.
East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) cabinet last week narrowly voted to embark on the exercise to identify developer and operator partners for the Queen’s Drive project.
The vision for the plot features a ‘sun and sandals’ cafe, high-quality waterfront restaurant, 60-80 bedroom hotel, and an area for play and leisure.
However, the move will now be reconsidered thanks to Indpendent East Devon Alliance leader Councillor Paul Arnott.
Cllr Arnott has argued that a panel purposed with agreeing the selection criteria for the commercial development was not properly balanced.
Cabinet had agreed it should feature the leader of the council, portfolio holders for asset management and finance and economy, the service lead, project manager, and one Exmouth councillor.
Cllr Arnott said: “There remains well-documented and live concern in Exmouth. This was reflected in the election results of May 2019, when top-polling councillors all had seafront and Queen’s Drive issues in their manifestos.
“The number of elected members taking part in the selection panel is too few and has insufficient Exmouth democratic representatives.
“Under this resolution their involvement comes belatedly in the Queen’s Drive Delivery Group, which has hitherto been meeting in secret.
“The ongoing damage to the council’s reputation – given its decision to fund the construction of Queen’s Drive from public funds without a certain means of recouping that – is further exacerbated by this and the continuing insufficient inclusion of localised democratic representatives risk our reputation even further.
“The constitutional justifications to seek scrutiny of this are that this decision is likely to cause distress, harm or significant concern to a local community, or to prejudice individuals within it and that this matter has not been subject to proper consultation or debate with relevant interested parties.”
Cllr Kim Bloxham, vice-chairman of EDDC’s Scrutiny Committee, has accepted the ‘call-in’ on the grounds that it is appropriate to consider the appropriate size of the selection panel and the balance between representatives from across the district and those representing Exmouth.
The decision will now be discussed again when the Scrutiny Committee meets on Thursday, March 5.
If its members decide to take no further action, cabinet’s decision will come into force.
If they decide that the selection panel has been wrongly constituted, then their suggestion will go back to cabinet for reconsideration.
Suggested uses for the site include a new two storey café/restaurant on the existing Harbour View café site, a mix of play and open public space, and an 60–80 bedroom three- or four-star star hotel of high design quality.
A marketing exercise was set to take place to see if there is any commercial interest in the proposals.
It will take place in two stages – the first of which is to market the new restaurant/café and the hotel offer.
Once there is certainty of what can be delivered in terms of a hotel, the remainder of the site will be marketed for play and leisure uses.
Bids were due to be received and reviewed by May with a report set to go before cabinet with a recommendation on preferred developer or operator in July.
Current temporary attractions, including the Queen’s Drive Space, will continue on the site for this summer.