EXMOUTH town councillors have refused to support East Devon District Council's ambitious seafront transformation plans amid calls for current business holders to be "properly" consulted by local authority bosses.
At a special meeting of the town council to discuss the proposals for a £10m, 3.6 hectare 'leisure zone', many councillors expressed their dismay at the lack of consultation between the district council and current business holders.
Councillors voted against the Queen's Drive Leisure Zone proposals by 11 – 8 with one abstention by deputy mayor councillor Bill Nash.
The planning application includes a water sports centre, a large indoor and outdoor play and recreation area, retail areas, restaurants and cafés, holiday accommodation, a public square and parking for 250-plus cars.
But, as previously reported by the Echo, existing business owners within the development zone including Fun Park owner Chris Wright and Harbour view Café owner Dawn Hirst, do not feel they have been kept informed of the proposals.
They have expressed their anxiety that they haven't been given any assurances that they will be involved in the new scheme and as a result the future of their livelihoods is uncertain.
Keith Southwell, owner of the model railway which has been there for 43 years, said he had heard that there were plans to relocate the railway to the World of Country Life Museum but he had not bee formally consulted on this.
Councillors Alison Greenhalge, Sandy MacQueen, Pauline Stott, Maddie Chapman and the Mayor, Cllr John Humpreys all spoke in favour of the plans.
Cllr Greenhalge described the plans as a "wonderful opportunity" for Exmouth and "brilliant for our younger generation".
But Cllr MacQueen, and others, called for the district council to address the way it had consulted people.
Cllr Maddie Chapman, said that the current leaseholders should have first refusal on being involved in the new scheme.
"They're part of this town, they need to be part of this whole development," she added.
Cllr David Chapman said he would like to see current tenants being given a "discount" to help them be involved.
Cllr Nash, said the current leaseholders should have the "first bite of the cherry".
Alison Haywood, regeneration manager at the district council attended the meeting and explained that the purpose of outline planning permission was to "establish the different uses" of the site.
She said if the plans are approved in December, developers will be approached and be asked to come forward with their suggestions reflecting the consultation process.
She confirmed that the council would not be selling the land but would either be offering long leases or asking the developers for what is called a receipt – a premium charged to the developer.
Councillor Eileen Wragg, however, challenged this principle. "This suggests the sale of land," she added.
"We've heard the frustrations of current lease holders who have not been allowed longer leases, there hasn't been constructive dialogue between East Devon and the long-standing lease holders who cannot have been expected to invest large sums of money in their sites because they have short-term lease." She added: "This is about the commercialisation of our seafront, this is the selling off of council's assets, we've heard that receipts will be raised. The rest of East Devon is in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, what you've got left is Exmouth seafront.
Councillor Trevor Cope also questioned whether current tenants had been consulted adequately and said the view of council officers "seems to be at odds" with the business holders.
Mrs Haywood admitted she had not had conversations with all the tenants but had invited anyone to have discussions with her if they would like.
Cllr Cope requested justification of the need for retail use as some of the retail units at the bowling alley complex still had not been taken.
Many other councillors reiterated their opposition to the plans.
Councillor Brian Toye said: "It's going to completely change the nature of the seafront, since the covenants have been lifted, it is open to development."
Councillor Steve Gazzard, said: "We're in grave danger of destroying our heritage and what people come to this town for. It's charm and natural beauty will be ruined."
A council spokesman said: "We have been talking with all the leaseholders on site for several months now. Most recently, this has included letters to all leaseholders, including Mr Southwell.
"We recognise the importance of dialogue and will continue to talk with all the businesses on site throughout the development process."