Watchdog delays decisions over hotel, eatery and play zone on Exmouth seafront

Key decisions on whether a hotel, restaurant and children’s play zone will be built on Exmouth seafront  have been further delayed. 

The latest hold-up has been prompted by an East Devon District Council (EDDC) watchdog taking issue with a panel crucial to the Queen’s Drive redevelopment bid.

A 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.

Cabinet members last month narrowly voted to embark on a marketing exercise to identify developer and operator partners for the project – but their decision was ‘called in’.

And the authority’s scrutiny committee last week unanimously agreed the panel tasked with determining the selection criteria for the commercial development was not properly balanced.

Members also expressed their anger that Exmouth residents were not being listened to.

Under EDDC’s constitution, final decisions on the future of Queen’s Drive are made by the cabinet.

Its members agreed in February the panel should feature the leader of the authority, portfolio holders for asset management and finance and economy, the service lead, project manager, and one Exmouth councillor.

But scrutiny committee members stated that it should consist of one member from each of the five Exmouth wards – and that officers should not have voting rights.

Their recommendation will now go to the next full council on April 22. Any decision resulting from that meeting would then have to go back before cabinet on May 6.

It means any marketing exercise cannot begin until after this date – delaying the process by at least three months.

Redevelopment chiefs had initially hoped commercial bids would be received and reviewed by May – with a report and recommendation on a preferred developer and operator being considered in July.

Councillor Vicky Johns told last Thursday’s scrutiny committee meeting: “What is the point of having local councillors and not using them?

“We should be asking the Exmouth councillors what their residents want. We have been voted in to do what they want, not to tell them what they want.”

Cllr Eileen Wragg added: “We are being told what we should be having there, but the people want a proper say and you are not listening.”

Cllr Maddy Chapman said: “This is not what the public signed up to.

“There needs to be more involvement with the local people. We don’t want a developer – we want what we were told we would get, and it is about time people pulled their socks up.

“I don’t see any hotel worth its salt building on Queen’s Drive with a play area infront of it.

“It is not what was promised, which was a futuristic play area for the children. We were promised something exciting and this is not exciting. I am damn-well fed up of it.”

The scrutiny committee unanimously agreed that the selection panel should consist of the leader of the council, portfolio holders for asset management, finance and economy, and one member from each of the five Exmouth wards.

Members also ruled that the panel should select the criteria, evaluate bids and then make a recommendation to cabinet in relation to any preferred bidder.

If no external bidder is identified, councillors said the redevelopment plan should be sent back before cabinet  with full public engagement.

The scrutiny committee also recommended that, if the council was minded to invest in a hotel or other business, this decision should advised by auditors.

Exmouth seafront marketing exercise decision ‘called in’ to face further scrutiny