Calls for round-the-table talks to aid the success of Exmouth seafront and town revamp

The planned revamp of Exmouth town and seafront will rely on round-the-table talks between town, district, and county councils for success, it is believed.

Exmouth’s regeneration vision can succeed more easily if it is not developed in isolation, proponents have claimed, writes local democracy reporter Bradley Gerrard.

East Devon Councillors want to create a steering group including all levels of local government to streamline the proposals.

Last week, members of East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) ‘placemaking in Exmouth town and seafront’ group suggested that the plans, which are at an early stage, may hit fewer challenges if town, district and county councillors work together.

East Devon’s leader Paul Arnott (Lib Dem, Coly Valley) gave the example of Exmouth’s Dinan Way extension, which has nearly £16 million of Levelling Up funding from the Government, as a project that could clash with the town’s regeneration plan if the different authorities don’t communicate with each other.

“In practical terms, we do need to have some form of political meeting with the county and town authorities,” he said.

“There’s an opportunity here with our plan, but there are also risks that we could diverge.

“And so, I think we should reach out in the next few days to the town and county councils to officially share our plan with them in its current form, start discussions and even form a steering group.”

Cllr Arnott’s suggestion was supported by the meeting’s chair, Councillor Nick Hookway (Lib Dem, Exmouth Littleham). The motion was approved.

The regeneration plans were presented by East Devon’s project manager Gerry Mills, and Gayatri Suryawanshi from WSP, a consultancy firm assisting with the plan.

Mr Mills stressed that any ideas in the plan at present were just that, and that nothing was confirmed.

Councillors debated competing issues, such as suggestions about further development on the seafront against the need for greater levels of sea defences, and encouraging more water sports activities in the town against the need to protect wildlife, the environment and ensure the beach remains accessible for all.

A key plank of the plan centres on making the seafront better connected with the town centre.

Councillors were generally in favour of this, however, some noted that if the area between the town and seafront was too open, then the effects of bad weather from the beach could make its way into the town.

Other suggestions included allowing development on some car parks and expanding others to help ensure the number of spaces remained the same.

However, Councillor Eileen Wragg (Lib Dem, Exmouth Town) said that one proposal to develop a car park into business units had existed for some time, but never got off the ground.

Cllr Wragg also balked at the suggestion of moving the leisure centre.

“I just can’t get my head around that,” she said.

“The cost of moving an organisation that has already had to have financial support from us and the government means that, at the moment, I think that’s a non-starter.

Suggestions of improving the entrance to the railway station, creating hubs of activity in different parts of the town, and considering reducing traffic in the town were broadly welcomed.

Councillor Olly Davey (Green Party, Exmouth Littleham), who chairs East Devon’s strategic planning committee, welcomed a focus on reducing cars in the town.

However, he questioned some proposals, including whether Exmouth Pavilion would make a better arts hub than the sports hub suggested in the current proposals.

“Also, if we are considering removing some parking along the seafront, this implies a loss of parking income for Devon County Council, so we would have to ensure we factor that in,” he said.

Mr Mills added that he had a strong relationship with the county council and that he and his team had been working to generate more regular dialogue with the authority in relation to various topics.

“Our plan will have to involved the county as we [East Devon District Council] don’t existing in isolation, and I’m quite sure that when they see our plan, they will see it as an opportunity,” he said.

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