Tourism policy must stay over Sidmouth hotel site plans

PUBLISHED: 11:30 15 August 2011

The derelict Fortfield Hotel before its fire and demolition

The derelict Fortfield Hotel before its fire and demolition

Fortfield redevelopment could spark loss of more Sidmouth hotels warns hotelier

ALLOWING the building of apartments on the site of the demolished Fortfield Hotel, could signal the end of other Sidmouth hotels.

This warning was made by Mark Seward, owner of two seafront hotels, at Wednesday’s breakfast meeting of Sidmouth Chamber of Commerce.

He hosted the meeting at Dukes, and told guest speaker Kate Little, head of economy, planning and countryside services at East Devon District Council: “If this is allowed on a viability basis then there are hoteliers in this town who will be able to interpret this viability clause and manufacture a similar situation, and so our hotel stock will diminish considerably.”

EDDC’s development management committee will consider an application by ZeroC developers to build 31 apartments on the Fortfield Hotel site when it meets on Tuesday, August 23.

The company has an option to buy the site from owner Andrew Torjussen.

Mrs Little suggested the site was on the “cusp” of the boundary of an area covered by EDDC’s policy to include a tourism element on new developments within that area.

She was left in no doubt how the town’s hoteliers and traders felt about possibly losing the site for tourism after telling them: “There is no market there (for a hotel) at the moment.”

Mr Seward believes others in Sidmouth’s tourism industry could stop refurbishing their hotels and let them become dilapidated if this tourism inclusion policy is ignored, setting a precedent.

“Guests won’t return, it becomes less viable, makes less profit and then the case is argued that mid-market hotels are not viable,” he said.

Chamber chairman, Richard Eley, said the Fortfield Hotel had never been put on the market for sale as a hotel, so it was impossible to judge whether it would have been viable.

Businessman Edward Willis Fleming said Sidmouth High Street was robust because the town had good hotel stock, bringing in a good turnover of people into its shops.

Losing hotels would, he said: “diminish the quality of the High Street”.

Mr Seward added: “Fields has people coming in from our hotels on a weekly basis. If there are residents in flats (on the Fortfield site) they will not spend anything like the money in the retail environment.”

Mrs Little, who advised the hospitality association and chamber to put their views to next month’s planning committee, said if the application was refused she had no doubt evidence would be produced to a planning inspector by the applicant that the site had not been viable for many years.

*ZeroC has said it is committed to helping ensure £1.5million would be spent in Sidmouth on tourism, affordable housing, schools and public open spaces, if permission is granted.

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