Mystery bid for Sidmouth's Port Royal

A MYSTERY company has bid to re-develop Sidmouth s Port Royal.

A MYSTERY company has bid to re-develop Sidmouth's Port Royal.

The unnamed private-sector hopeful this week approached East Devon District Council (EDDC) members, claiming it has the "resources and capabilities" to "deliver an outstanding re-development" of the controversial site.

It was revealed at an EDDC executive board meeting on Wednesday that the company has offered to carry out a public consultation for the project, and cover the costs of a long-awaited development brief.

The Herald has learnt early plans for the company's Port Royal vision include housing Sidmouth's sailing and angling clubs, a Jurassic Coast Information Centre,

apartments, shops, public toilets and restaurants.

Architects have already visited the site to explore the "mixed use" scheme, which could feature three-storey buildings with "lower ground" levels.

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The bombshell led to EDDC talks over Port Royal being deferred until next month.

As members backed major regeneration projects in Exmouth, they admitted no progress had been made with Port Royal and the council is struggling financially to progress the bid. Sidmouth it is not a "priority" in a county-wide re-generation bid and does not qualify for vital funding.

However, in light of the "recent correspondence", corporate director Karime Hassan was asked to compile a report on a "way forward" for Sidmouth by October, setting out parameters on how the Port Royal area can be progressed, including working with private developers and harnessing local expertise.

Trustees of the Ham's Drill Hall will also be written to and asked to tidy the area, labelled as an "eyesore" by residents.

Sidmouth councillor Stuart Hughes revealed the mystery company's interest and said it is "well respected". Cllr Hughes said its identity must remain secret as any potential deal could collapse if it was revealed at this stage.

He described the prospect as an "exciting" one and said: "The decision (to defer talks) was the right one. It's a way forward on how we can progress this."

Cllr Peter Halse said he supported the recommendation "with trepidation". Of potential private investment he said: "Sidmouth is very important, it is the jewel in the crown of East Devon. This may not be opportunity the town needs and requires.

I believe the whole thing needs our officers to spend time working it out, and we don't just do what any developer might want."

Cllr Graham Liverton had earlier passionately championed progress for the Port Royal bid. He felt Sidmouth is "beginning to look shabby" and is suffering as other East Devon towns progress. He said: "We need to fight our corner. Nobody wants money taken away from Seaton and Exmouth, but their re-generation should not be at the expense of Sidmouth slipping by."

Cllr Liverton backed a request by Sidmouth Chamber of Commerce Chairman Richard Eley to set up a working party of "local experts" to help the Port Royal bid progress.

"We've got some (experts), lets use them." he said, "I'd Rather it comes from the bottom up than top down.