Will the Ham be in Sidmouth redevelopment plan?

A view of the eastern end of the town. Photo by Simon Horn. Ref shs 7858-10-09SH

A view of the eastern end of the town. Photo by Simon Horn. Ref shs 7858-10-09SH - Credit: Archant

An historian’s fears the Ham could be built upon when Port Royal is redeveloped have been echoed by a Sidmouth representative.

Mary Walden-Till, who has been researching the history of the Drill Hall, said the seafront space is the only property in the area not owned by East Devon District Council (EDDC) – so it may try to assume ownership.

Councillor Matt Booth shared her concerns that the authority may try to facilitate a ‘swap’ for another piece of land and said the process needs more public scrutiny.

EDDC and Sidmouth Town Council – the latter of which is trustee for the Ham after it was left to the resort in a covenant – said it is too early to pre-empt what the results of a ‘scoping’ study for Port Royal will be.

The scoping exercise will look at any restrictions and covenants to determine exactly what is possible and what is not.

Mrs Walden-Till, who has been looking through Land Registry documents, said: “Given that EDDC owns the land on which stand the lifeboat station, the sailing club, the Drill Hall, the toilets, the swimming pool and the Ham car parks, this leaves only the Ham to be a Sidmouth Town Council land contribution to the redevelopment.

“To effect a ‘swap’, Sidmouth Town Council, as trustee, would have to show that the replacement land would be able to fulfil the same function for residents and visitors as that stated in the conveyance.

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“I would contend that moving the charitable land away from the tourist area of Sidmouth would mean it could not be – as the Charity Commission requires – ‘an equally suitable property’.”

EDDC’s cabinet last week gave the go-ahead to a £10,000 scoping exercise for Port Royal – but not before concerns were voiced that the project brief was not sufficiently ‘clear and robust’.

Among the issues, Cllr Booth contested that the Ham is not town council-owned, but held in trust by it for the people of Sidmouth.

He added: “Therefore, the issue of public consultation takes on a whole new level of importance and it is depressing that EDDC has to date said only that there will be one public meeting in the scoping study and it will not entertain or confirm any further public consultation. Call me cynical, but that could lead one to think that they have already considered all this and will be setting out their stall either for a land swap or, if it comes to it, compulsory purchase.”

In a joint statement, EDDC and Sidmouth Town Council said: “The [scoping] study is merely asking the questions and providing the answers. It is then up to the councils to decide themselves – democratically and publicly at the end of the process – what they wish to do with the results, which will come before both councils in the new year. It is far too early in the process to pre-empt what the results may be.”

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