‘I had to leave because of the abuse I was taking from a few residents’ – Exmouth Councillor speaks out amid now-shelved improvements which could lose the town a £4million government cash handout

A community champion for Exmouth has revealed he was forced to leave a public consultation for now-shelved £4million town improvements because of targeted abuse by some residents.

Councillor Jeff Trail (Conservative, Exmouth) said he felt “displeased” by the comments from the public at consultation events into proposals to improve the town’s ‘gateway’ which has now been shelved through lack of public support.

As a result of public feeling, more than £4 million of government cash set to be spent on pedestrian and cycling improvements in Exmouth hangs in the balance after residents opposed part of the scheme, writes local democracy reporter Bradley Gerrard.

The Destination Exmouth bid to the Levelling Up Fund had secured £15.7 million for the Dinan Way extension as well as planned improvements for Exmouth Gateway, notably enhancing the area around the train station and Imperial Road roundabout.

But the proposed scheme for the Exmouth Gateway works involved filling in a subway to provide more space for pedestrian and cycling infrastructure, alongside a new signal crossing to replace the existing zebra one.

In its first public consultation, Devon County Council found that 60 per cent of respondents did not support the closure of the subway, with 64 per cent rejecting the idea in a subsequent survey.

Devon’s cabinet heard this week (Wednesday, May 8) that the authority would now have to enter into talks with the Department for Transport (DfT) to see if the cash could be used in another way.

Opposition Councillors had urged the cabinet to consider pitching other projects to the Government as potential recipients of the cash, but officers said that given constraints around the funding, this would be unlikely.

The most optimistic option, officers added, would be to propose diverting the cash to additional improvements on the Dinan Way scheme.

Councillor Jeff Trail (Conservative, Exmouth) said he felt “displeased” by the comments from the public at the consultation events, especially as he felt the council had listened to suggested improvements and included most of them in a revised plan.

“At the second consultation, I was displeased with comments from members of the public directly inferred at myself and Councillor Richard Scott,” he said.

“I had to leave because of the abuse I was taking from a few residents.”

He added that he understood why the project could not go ahead without the underpass being filled in “as we need the extra space that would have given to implement the other improvements”.

“Councillors have listened to residents and taken their views, and the public does not support this scheme, which is a shame as it is massive investment from the Government into Exmouth,” he said.

“But residents and the town council have turned around and said they would rather it didn’t happen, so I therefore propose to go along with the recommendation to cabinet to withdraw that scheme.”

Cllr Scott (Conservative, Exmouth) said “we are a listening council and we have listened to residents”.

“The consultation shows quite clearly that residents do not support filling in the underpass, and without that, our experts say there is not a great deal we can achieve there, so it is a shame, but we are going to lose nearly £4.5 million into Exmouth.”

Councillor Martin Wrigley (Liberal Democrat, Dawlish), said the situation revealed the “problems” of Government funding that asks councils to “deliver impossible things in impossible timescales”.

“I understand why this has to be removed from the Levelling Up fund bid, but we do need to look at other opportunities for using that £4.4 million,” he said.

“There are further project adjustment requests that can be made, something I know as we have a similar issue in my district; you can do that and I would urge you to look at alternative ways for investing some or all of it, although I appreciate the timescale is shrinking making that a hard task.”

Councillor Frank Biederman (Independent, Fremington Rural) welcomed the “tremendous work” done by all involved in the scheme, but felt if Government had not underfunded local councils, the outcome could have been different.

“If they hadn’t taken £150 million in core funding from us and we had local government working together, it would do a much better job, and it would be community led, not Whitehall led,” he said.

“It’s disappointing as that amount of money into Exmouth would be a game-changer.

“It there’s any way of repurposing it, let’s make sure we try and get that money into the town.”

Meg Booth, director of climate change, environment, and transport, said there was a timescale linked to the funding and that the bid for the cash had been very specific.

“If we do anything, I think Dinan Way could be something we target, and we can have that discussion with the DfT once we know what the cabinet decision is,” she said.

This means it is not yet clear whether some or all the £4.4 million could go towards other improvements linked to the main Dinan Way scheme, which is to extend the road to connect it to the A376 and move traffic away from residential roads.

The cabinet voted in favour of pursuing the Dinan Way extension scheme, but to remove the Exmouth Gateway proposals.

 

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