Concerns over Sidmouth’s redundant Drill Hall site quelled

The front of the drill hall has been called untidy and a mess by resident Dave O'Connor.

The front of the drill hall has been called untidy and a mess by resident Dave O'Connor. - Credit: Archant

Concerns over the future of Sidmouth’s redundant Drill Hall site have been quelled by the town council, who are ‘not asleep’ and will be ‘scrutinising’ whatever comes forward.

In June, community groups were given six months to make a bid for proposals to redevelop the site - they have until February 4, 2019.

Exeter-based agent JLL, which was appointed by East Devon District Council (EDDC), plans to open the bidding up to the commercial property sector in the Autumn, giving them three months to put forward a bid.

Two members of the public came forward at the latest Sidmouth Town Council meeting on Monday. Resident Di Fuller raised issues with there being no published criteria on what the bids would be judged on. While, resident Simon Fern spoke out about his fears that the owners of the Drill Hall (EDDC) will simply sell to the highest bidder.

District and Town Councillor David Barrett said: “It would be impossible for me properly discuss the details of that criteria until it is discussed in the forum that decides the criteria.”

He added that the forum was hoping to meet soon and that he believed they would be looking at the criteria then.

Town Clerk Christopher Holland said: “My understanding is that it isn’t this council that gets the final say on this, it is not even this council who will have a say on this as such. We are being consulted and that is about it.

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“My understanding is that when the criteria has been agreed they will be made publicly available to everybody but that will be through the agent. It won’t be through us, it won’t be through EDDC. It will be through the appointed agent so that they are fair to absolutely everybody and that is commercial and community bids both. They have to be fair to everybody and treat everybody in exactly the same way. So approaching us or EDDC for other information is just not going to work, you have to deal with the agent.”

Councillor Ian Barlow said: “We were put on this to ensure it was transparent and that we were happy, that no one was being misled. It is absolutely transparent there is nothing being hidden, no has an advantage.”

Cllr John Dyson said: “I would stress I am active on this matter and the waiting on the criteria is as important as the decision. It really is crucial. I am a resident of this town, it is my ward and I take this very seriously. You have got to trust us at the end of the day.”

Cllr Louise Cole said: “I think we should draw back to the Neighbourhood Plan because we did extensive public consultation and there are policies which are currently being amended to reflex the statutory consultation that we did. I realise it is frustrating that it is not a made plan yet but I think that is how the town council is expressing its absolute support, not based on the views of councillors’ individual feelings, but based on what the community consultation said. I know we are in a slight impasse situation because it isn’t made yet but it is emerging. I think that is reassurance that it is those views that will need to have an influence on the criteria. It won’t be possible not to refer to what is there.

“They wont be able to be in opposition of each other.”

Cllr Frances Newth said: “We already have the guidance in place. It is in a conservation area, it is on the Jurassic Coast and the whole of the seafront will have to be taken into account because of the listed buildings that are in that area where the Drill Hall is. So I wouldn’t want anybody to be disingenuous to this town council because I know that every councillor in this chamber will be scrutinising whatever comes forward in the future but we have got to get things sort of set and ready for when the application does come forward.”

Councillor Ian McKenzie-Edwards said: “We have a voice in this and we should make the best use of it.

“Councillors have demonstrated they are vigilant in this matter and I think at this present stage we can’t do more than that.

“Don’t think we are asleep on this, the district councillors that we have on this council are conscientious and are doing their best.”