Drill Hall campaigner hits out at Port Royal ‘propaganda’

PUBLISHED: 12:00 14 September 2017

The Sidmouth Lifeboat station, sailing club and Drill Hall at Port Royal

The Sidmouth Lifeboat station, sailing club and Drill Hall at Port Royal

Archant

A campaigner determined to see Sidmouth’s Drill Hall considered as part of any regeneration plans for Port Royal has slammed ‘propaganda’ from project leaders.

Mary Walden-Till’s research into the history of the eastern town has covered much of the same ground as the scoping study commissioned by landowners Sidmouth Town Council (STC) and East Devon District Council (EDDC).

Town clerk Christopher Holland and Councillor Jeff Turner sat down with the Herald in a bid to reassure residents nothing has yet been decided – but Ms Walden-Till took issue with several of the points they raised.

She raised: “I know that both Cllr Turner and Mr Holland are committed to doing what they think is the best for Sidmouth so I was very disappointed to read something in the Herald (‘Port Royal could see massive development - or nothing at all’) which appeared to be propaganda rather than unadorned fact.

“If we want the best outcome for the town, we all need to make sure we are not playing games, even accidentally. If they can’t avoid ‘spin’ then they can’t claim to be open-minded on the issue. It is a matter of fact that both of them are on record as being vehemently opposed to preserving the Drill Hall.

“If the starting point is that the Drill Hall must be demolished, then it has to be accepted that it is unlikely that a developer would be interested in such a small plot, so then the search begin for a way to make it worth a developer’s time.

As a designer, it is important to me to start a project with no preconceptions about what should be removed or retained in order to achieve the desired result.

“The scoping exercise consultants should have started from the same point, and we should be able to see that they had considered a range of ways of increasing what Port Royal can offer to the town.

“This development should be about the town and not about ways of making money for the district as a whole. The district has already benefitted from Sidmouth’s loss in far too many circumstances: for example the loss of Fortfield Hotel to expensive apartments, the Section 106 money from which went to the district not solely to Sidmouth, and the upcoming loss of the council jobs at the Knowle, moving employment from Sidmouth to other areas of the district.

“To suggest that reusing the Drill Hall will of necessity ‘take away from other users’ of Port Royal is clearly ridiculous. How would preserving what is there at the same time reduce what is there?”

In a joint statement, Mr Holland and Cllr Turner said: “STC and EDDC would like to reiterate the aims of the scoping study. It is to research, investigate and report on the opportunities and constraints of improving the whole important Port Royal area.

“The councils have yet to receive the independent consultant’s Scoping Study to even begin discussing issues such as detailed designs, which would come further along in the project.

“The study is the start of a process that would, if supported by the councils, involve a much more detailed visioning for future consideration.

“To champion a single building at this stage which is a small part of a much larger area and be in constant opposition to a simple study which only aims to help inform councillors is not helpful.

“Members of both councils will decide how and if to proceed once the scoping study report is presented to them.”

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