Re-imagining Port Royal

PUBLISHED: 06:30 04 January 2016

Sidmouth, Port Royal. Picture by Alex Walton. Ref shs 0934-03-12AW

Sidmouth, Port Royal. Picture by Alex Walton. Ref shs 0934-03-12AW

Archant

Sidmouth's eastern town could become a canvas for creative talent from across the globe in a competition to attract 'alternative ideas' for the area's redevelopment.

‘Re-imagining Port Royal’ will encourage architects, artists and designers to submit their vision for regenerating the whole neighbourhood, including the Drill Hall and Mill Street car park.

Its organiser, Sidmouth-born architect Henry Beech Mole, says he hopes the project will attract hundreds of entries, help raise the profile of the town – and could eventually lead to the winning plans being put into practice.

But East Devon District Council (EDDC) and Sidmouth Town Council, which are preparing to launch a separate ‘scoping exercise’ as a precursor to any redevelopment, have warned the initiative is ‘premature’.

The contest would first involve a public consultation, the results of which would be used to formulate a brief for entrants.

Henry, associate director with RBM Architects, which has offices in Sidmouth, said competitions were common in the design world and are frequently used to attract a wide range of ideas.

He said: “This is unique because often competitions are based around a single building or individual plot and not a large site like Port Royal.

“Hopefully it will help put Sidmouth on the map in design circles, and it will be really interesting to see all the different ideas.

“A lot of architects are London-based, but we could get entrants from New York or Tokyo.”

The Port Royal area is earmarked for 30 homes in the draft East Devon Local Plan.

The district council’s policy is to ‘promote a mixed-use redevelopment’ in the area, but there has long been debate over exactly what it should involve.

Henry added: “Any development obviously relies on someone paying for it, but I would hope that maybe the winner of the competition, or one of the top three, will spark some interest for someone who can pick it up and run with it.”

The best entries will be exhibited in Sidmouth in summer 2016.

The project is being backed by Cathy Gardner and Marianne Rixson.

The pair were approached by Henry after he read their views on the future of eastern town’s regeneration in the Herald.

Both represent Sidmouth on EDDC, though they said they are not helping with the competition in their capacity as elected councillors.

“The opportunity to work with award-winning architects does not come along very often,” said Marianne. “It’s a great opportunity for Sidmouth.”

“If you are approached by someone brandishing a clipboard in the Port Royal or Mill Street area, please don’t turn away!” said Cathy. “We’d like as many people as possible to give their views and get involved in this project.

“It’s also important that this project is seen as complementary to any work done for the Neighbourhood Plan, which will start early in 2016.”

An EDDC spokesman said: “It’s good to see that the councillors are taking an interest in this project.

“But what they are suggesting is somewhat premature.

“Both the town council and district council are already working together on behalf of Sidmouth to plan the future of Port Royal in a comprehensive way.

“Most important to this project is that key partners in the town will be engaged in the scoping exercise taking us towards a shared outcome.

“While architecture is a vital element of this development, it helps to get the basics in place first, such as defining a boundary, land ownerships and lease arrangements for example.

“Getting it right for this part of town is going to take time, cooperation and commitment.”

Christopher Holland, Sidmouth Town Council clerk, said: “The idea of a design competition is an excellent one, but it is about six months too early.

“Let’s get the basics in place with the scoping exercise first and then start looking at design.”

More information on the competition is available at www.easterntownpartnership.com or by emailing henry@rbmarchitects.com

EDDC is set to press ahead with its own plans to begin a £10,000 ‘scoping exercise’ for Port Royal. See page six.

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