'An air of optimism is returning and people are starting to look at new initiatives to revitalise the hospitality industry'

A close up of a saxophone being played with bright lights in the background

A jazz festival could come to Sidmouth in 2020 - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

As the vaccine begins to roll out across the country, an air of optimism is returning and people are starting to look at new initiatives to revitalise the hospitality industry and promote tourism.
A timely proposal has come to the attention of the Chamber and the Town Council, writes Richard Eley - chairman of Sidmouth Chamber of Commerce.
The organizers of a Jazz Festival that takes place at Rye in Sussex every year, have identified our town as suitable for a sister event in 2022. Given that the team who run the Rye operation have excellent connections, and the great advantage of experience, it seems that this idea has every chance of coming to fruition. No doubt it will be on a much smaller scale than our wonderful Folk Festival, but it looks like something that will bring a new clientele to Sidmouth and raise our profile. Sidmouth is ‘cool’ – whatever next! 
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Our MP, Simon Jupp, has been telling the Chamber about the opportunity offered by the ‘Levelling Up’ Fund, which the government is financing to the tune of a very substantial £4billion. Applications for schemes will be invited early in the New Year, and Whitehall is setting few restrictions upon what can be submitted.
Normally, Sidmouth faces an uphill battle with these government schemes, as we don’t meet the ‘deprivation’ statistical requirements. However, in a post-covid world, where hospitality has been especially badly hit, our reliance upon tourism may help us qualify. 
The key, as always, is to have a raft of proposals and policy initiatives ‘up and running’ so that an application to this enormous funding opportunity can be submitted early.
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It seems that a number of local groups are turning their attention to improving the condition and environs of our beautiful little river, the Sid. The Chamber can find no example of a shorter river in England, other than those which are a tributary of another. So the Sid, it seems, is special, as we always knew. 
And we note that the boundaries of the Town Council’s jurisdiction almost exactly coincide with the basin of the Sid, so our river is not the responsibility of a multitude of  authorities with competing and conflicting opinions and plans. No other river in England, we suspect, is enclosed within a single parish boundary.

So, to a certain extent, we are masters of our own destiny as far as the Sid is concerned. What measures, therefore, are being considered? 
The Vision Group is turning its attention to the delivery of a fish pass at School Weir; at present, sea trout are caught by hand and carried to the top of the weir so that they can continue their journey to their traditional  breeding areas. Sea trout are important for maintaining the stock of brown trout in the river, as they breed far more successfully than the trout that live permanently in the Sid.
And then there is always the possibility of the reintroduction of beavers and water voles. Both bring increased diversity to any river, and beavers would be expected to bring improvements to flood mitigation. 
So watch this space, Sidmouthians: no doubt, the various groups exploring the options would appreciate any helpful suggestions.
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The recent Chamber breakfast meeting (held via zoom, as every meeting is these days) may have been something of a breakthrough as far as the Beach Management Plan is concerned.  EDDC seems to have revised their approach in two important respects.
Firstly, Councillor Jung, who is Chairman of the BMP Steering Group, acknowledged that a permanent high concrete wall on Sidmouth Esplanade is inappropriate and would be unlikely to obtain planning permission. Secondly, it seems that EDDC are no longer so doggedly committed to the Preferred Option, but are now looking actively at other options. 
Both these changes are very welcome to the Chamber, as we have long campaigned against the idea of a Seaton-style ‘Big Wall’ on our seafront, and we have urged a more open minded approach. And we have consistently argued that the Preferred Option is a primitive and ineffective plan, which takes a sledgehammer to the problems we face: we have suggested a more subtle, sensitive and ‘softer’ methodology. 
We think that our stance in these two respects is widely supported amongst our members, and within the wider Sidmouth community.
There are plenty of alternatives to the ‘Big Wall’, and we are delighted that some of these are now, at last, being considered. 
EDDC’s new approach coincides with governance improvements to the Steering Group, which were much needed. Going forward, meetings can be attended by the public, and will be recorded.
This commitment to openness can only be a good thing.


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