Renting out East Devon’s parks for private events could generate ‘significant’ income

Sidmouth in summer. Connaught Gardens in its full floral glory. Ref shs 7006-33-15AW. Picture: Alex

Sidmouth in summer. Connaught Gardens in its full floral glory. Ref shs 7006-33-15AW. Picture: Alex Walton - Credit: Archant

Renting out public parks like Connaught Gardens for private functions like weddings, sports tournaments and big-screen events could generate ‘significant’ sums.

East Devon District Council (EDDC) is looking at ways to generate revenue to help balance its budget but Sidmouth councillor Cathy Gardner urged caution.

The authority is set to actively market its open spaces, assist in arranging events and improve the range of attractions.

Speaking at Wednesday’s joint overview and scrutiny committee meeting, Councillor Gardner said: “It’s nice to think about raising extra income but it’s important to think about long-term costs.

“We have to think about the effect on businesses, particularly if people go home or somewhere else. You have to consider the strain on parks – use can compact the grass, create extra rubbish and the toilets are busier.

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“The long-term implications can be significant.”

Cllr Jill Elson said when Exmouth’s Manor Gardens closed for a private event, the volunteer stewards faced ‘derogatory’ comments about how public park should be accessible.

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She added: “I think we’re going to have issues in some areas because of the charging scale. Many charities that use the Strand are reconsidering because of the charges.”

Defending the proposals, EDDC officer John Golding said: “This is something we are looking at very carefully. We’ve done quite a lot of research on what our facilities are doing. The big wheel in Exmouth is a good example – many events don’t require closures of our assets. We will look at it very closely before we agree to a strategy approach.

“We have to make sure our budget balances. There’s a potential to generate a significant amount of income.”

Officer Andrew Ennis said last year there was damage to the grass during Sidmouth FolkWeek and organisers had helped put it right. He said Manor Gardens in Exmouth had hosted weddings and a pride event, and the council had also had success hosting open-air cinema screenings that brought in £6,000.

“We can manage this with a minimal impact on the community,” he added. “We are committed to delivering high quality open spaces and we want to make sure our assets work for us.”

The proposals are yet to be debated by EDDC’s full council.

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