Grassed fitness area use idea for former car park plot on Exmouth seafront wins support

A former seafront car park in Exmouth is set to be grassed-over and temporarily used as a space for outdoor fitness.

East Devon district councillors this week backed plans for a ‘low-key’ leisure use on the Queen’s Drive plot.

It had previously been used a 50-space car park since 2019, writes Local Democracy Reporter Daniel Clark.

The authority’s Exmouth Queen’s Drive Delivery Group also agreed that the food and beverage traders operating as part of the Queen’s Drive Space  should be given the opportunity to return for 2021.

Existing attractions – including the dinosaur-themed play park – will remain on site for the upcoming summer.

Councillors also supported a proposal to allow an an events space to be utilised by the community and other organisations.

Service lead for place, assets and commercialisation Tim Child told the meeting: “In terms of temporary uses for the car park land, for next season or two, the favoured uses related to low-key fitness-type uses.

“The rationale for this being that it would fit well with the council’s health and wellbeing agenda and is consistent with themes in the Council Plan.

“It supports Covid recovery for small businesses and would provide much-needed wellbeing opportunities for the community, would not compete with businesses in the vicinity, contributes to the tourism agenda and Exmouth as a destination in providing additional activities, would provide a range of activities across the age bands, and we know through the events team that there’s ample demand.”

He added that the costs of laying to grass and any fencing were ‘not insignificant’ – around £30,000 to £40,000 – but less than many other types of surfaces or uses.

Councillor Joe Whibley said: “People might have the perception that we are not thinking big and may have the opportunity to do more, but, given the initial use, it is turning the paved area green as we are investing in green space.

“It is a real statement of intent of what the space was originally meant to be – community land.”

Cllr Chris Wright added: “By grassing the area, it can be managed through the events team.

“It is a difficult situation for anyone in the leisure businesses to know what will happen and, if we grass it, it becomes an informal open space, even if we don’t manage it.

“We are where we are and the summer will be difficult, but now is the time to get on with it.”

Cllr Steve Gazzard said: “We have to move forward on this or we will be talking about this forever.

“We have to think that things will get better and we have to bite the bullet on this and get it started and hope that, come Easter, people will come, too.

“It will be a huge investment in Exmouth and give them a wonderful experience when they come.”

EDDC’s cabinet will decide on the proposals.

The Queen’s Drive Delivery Group unanimously recommended that temporary uses on the Queen’s Drive Space for 2021 remain as they are – and traders are given the opportunity to return.

It also voted eight votes to none, with three abstentions, to suggest that a temporary planning application be submitted for up to two years on the former car park site.

It is recommended the area to be grassed-over, by seed or turf, and used for fitness.

Phase one of the overall Queen’s Drive regeneration project – the realignment of the road and the car park – has been completed.

Phase 2 – a new watersports centre – is on the verge of completion.

The long-term use of the third and final phase of the project remains unclear.

Current attractions at the Queen’s Drive Space only have planning permission until March 2022.

The delivery group also recommended to cabinet that up to £200,000 be made available from a Business Rates Pilot Reserve for a development surveyor and an engagement/project officer for a term of two years.

This role would be dedicated to moving forward a suite of ‘place and prosperity-based projects’ in Exmouth.

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