Concerns over plans for entertainment in public gardens

Connaught Gardens

It is hoped some of Sidmouth's Summer Play Season can be staged in Connaught Gardens - Credit: Picture: Alex Walton Photography

Plans by East Devon District Council to turn peaceful Connaught Gardens into an entertainment venue throughout the summer are proceeding apace, but are attracting some concerns.

It is hard not to see problems arising as the noise from amplified late night music is likely to trouble many local residents and hotel  guests in the area.

The general view within Sidmouth appears to be that many of these performances would be best conducted inside buildings which provide a good level of sound-proofing.

There is also a question mark over  the regular closing of large sections of the gardens to the public during the holiday season.    Connaught Gardens are usually ranked as Sidmouth’s Number One tourist attraction on Tripadvisor, and it seems a shame that visitors to the town, and residents, will be deprived of the use of the gardens, for long periods during the holiday season.

The thinking behind this idea is something of a mystery.  No-one seems able to explain why this privatisation of our public open space is under way.    Odder still is EDDC’s concentration upon Sidmouth and our prize public asset:   other towns are not having these events imposed upon them, it seems.    Why is it always Sidmouth?

Meanwhile, a big debate has started within EDDC in respect of our public toilets.   In fairness to the new leadership, the issue has not been addressed in recent years, and it is certainly time for a review.    Our toilets have been rather neglected in recent years, and the general view is that refurbishment and improvement must be undertaken, and the viability of some of the locations considered.     Maintaining and cleaning public conveniences across the District is costing around £1 million per annum, so it is a considerable cost.    And the provision of public toilets is not a statutory responsibility.

But East Devon relies upon its tourism industry, and many of our residents and visitors are elderly:  there is a very obvious need for a good service to be provided, and a reasonable number of public toilets within our towns is surely essential.  Its a matter of public health.

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EDDC owns and operates 26 toilet sites, and astonishingly the estimated cost of bringing them up to standard was £4.94 million.    So each location is going to cost an eye-watering £190,000 to bring up to standard.     Quite how this cost could be quite so high was not explained.

A consultation is coming along soon, and we expect public concerns to be made very clear.

A recent Chamber breakfast focussed on the festivals and events that Sidmouth’s voluntary sector are putting together for the enjoyment and participation of residents and visitors.     Ten years ago, Sidmouth really only had the Folk Festival, and there was not much else going on to entertain everyone.  Today, there are more than twenty organized events, and many of these, like the Science Festival, are becoming pretty big affairs and widely admired and recognized.     The whole town should be grateful to all the willing volunteers who organize these activities and contribute to our economy, and more importantly, our social cohesion and civic pride.   Hats off to all concerned.   Team Sidmouth is in good heart!

So it is good to see EDDC joining in with the announcement of ACED, Arts and Culture East Devon, which seeks to support the arts and culture sector across the district.    At the same time, EDDC have announced a new tourism strategy, an area that they have traditionally neglected, despite it being the most important part of our local economy.   In a post-covid world, a strong recovery of the hospitality sector is essential, and we must hope that an integrated and purposeful approach towards tourism, sport, recreation and the arts emerges from these new initiatives.

Irrespective of the arrival of the Indian variant, the government is proceeding with the removal of lockdown provisions, and life is returning to something close to normal.   It is great to see the town busy again and our cafes, pubs and restaurants offering something close to their old standards of service.    What difficult times these have been, and we must hope that vaccination will preclude the return of another covid wave.     But life will never be quite the same, and habits have changed.   Many of our businesses face an existential challenge, and lets hope that Sidmouth will rally round, as we usually do.     Good luck to all our businesses in the service and hospitality sectors.’’

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