Council marks time on old Drill Hall blueprint
06:00 03 June 2014
CAMPAIGNERS fighting to save an historic Sidmouth venue look set to be given until at least next summer to come up with a ‘viable’ proposal.
Friends of Sidmouth Drill Hall are looking to persuade owners East Devon District Council (EDDC) to grant them access alongside a fixed term ‘peppercorn rent’ that will see it used once again.
It is even hoped the 119-year-old premises could be ‘symbolically’ opened on August 4 for a public event to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the World War One.
The group feels it has made little progress with EDDC since the premises were given a stay of demolition in March last year.
“We’ve really got to start over again,” said Matt Booth, who leads the community interest company (CIC) behind the plan.
He hopes EDDC will give the group its blessing to pursue its plans for a ‘first stage’ of redevelopment.
“The CIC would then be in a position to look to raise an amount of investment to carry out an initial stage of redevelopment that would be easily recoupable,” said Mr Booth.
“This would mitigate any losses should a genuine proposal for redevelopment of the Port Royal area materialise.
“Were that to happen, the CIC would not oppose it so long as any plans were put to the people of Sidmouth.
“It has always been our position regeneration of the area should start with current assets and that it benefits no-one to maintain the situation as it has been for 20 years.
“A staged redevelopment of the Drill Hall, that would see it open and operational now, would populate and energise that part of the seafront, support Port Royal and the surrounding clubs, businesses and buildings, and inspire a number of new activities there that would benefit Sidmouth as a whole.”
Short and long-term visions for the hall have been drawn up by Sidmothian Alex Vick, who works for an architectural design firm in London.
An EDDC spokesman said: “The council’s view was that the ageing and ailing Drill Hall would be a hindrance to, rather than a positive feature of, a potential [Port Royal] redevelopment.
“We agreed to give Mr Booth time to investigate funding sources and come up with a convincing business plan. We resolved to wait for that plan to materialise.
“No time-scales were agreed but we knew it was possible he would need up to two years to seek and find the necessary financial backing.
“The opportunity for that business plan to be produced is ongoing. While this may take the outcome beyond May 2015, the only reason is to give the community group the time they need to make their proposals viable.”