Select Committee on Communities and Local Government Committee Second Report



List of Participants

Dr Phyllis Starkey MP (Chair)

Sir Paul Beresford MP

Mr Clive Betts MP

John Cummings MP

Mr Greg Hands MP

Dr John Pugh MP

Alison Seabeck MP

Mr Tony Alexander (Principal, Exmouth Community College)

Mr Andrew Bailey (Web Group)

Mr John Bain (Clinton Devon Estates)

Mr Simon Bolt (Chairman, Exeter Chamber of Trade and Commerce)

Mr Robin Carter (FWS Carter & Sons)

Mr David Conway (Exmouth World Heritage Coast Project Promotion Group)

Mr Paul Diviani (East Devon District Council (EDDC) portfolio holder for the Economy and Regeneration)

Cllr Miss Jill Elson (EDDC Communities portfolio holder and Exmouth member)

Mr Chris Fayers (Eagle One Ltd)

Mr J D Fowler (Eagle Investments Ltd)

Mr Andrew Gibbins (Natwest Bank PLC)

Mrs Pat Graham (EDDC member, Chairman of Exmouth Town Management Partnership)

Ms Cherry Harris (Exmouth Youth Worker, Devon County Council)

Mr Frank Hart Venn (Exmouth Rotary Club)

Mr Karim Hassan (Corporate Director, Environment, EDDC)

Mr James Hassett (Chief Executive, Market and Coastal Towns Association)

Ms Kay Homer (South West of England Regional Development Agency)

Mr Bernard Hughes (Local businessman, East Devon District and Devon County Councillor)

Mr Peter Jeffs (Director of Communities, EDDC)

Mr Malcolm Sherry (Business consultant, Chair Honiton/East Devon Chamber of Commerce)

Ms P Stuart (Stuart Line Cruises)

Mr Humphrey Temperley (Devon County Councillor and member, South West Tourist Board)

Ms Joan Thomas (Devon Cliffs Holiday Park)

Mr John Ward (Cranford Nursing Home)

Mr John Wokersien (Town Clerk, Exmouth Town Council)

Mr Simon Wood (Chamber of Trade)

Cllr Eileen Wragg (Mayor, Exmouth Town Council)

Mr Fowler stated that Exmouth was a difficult town to categorise. It called itself a resort, but was more a town. It was economically dependent on Exeter, with a high proportion of retired people. There was no pressure to develop Exmouth as a coastal resort. Tourism was declining as traditional British resort goers were dying out. There was no development along the sea front, and the District Council was happy in some ways not to revive it. In the meantime development was occurring in other places, and therefore jobs were created elsewhere, leading young people to leave the town and adults to seek work elsewhere.

Cllr Wragg stated that Exmouth needs to move away from the 1960s and '70s, and capitalise on the natural environment. The town had an SSSI in its estuary, was part of the Jurassic Coast and was on the verge of hosting a visitors' centre. The County, District and Town Councils were all working together. One problem was that development would attract retired people, and this created an area of low paid work which meant young people could not afford to live in the town. Exmouth had a very large community college with 2,300 students, and it needed to keep young people in the town.

Mr Bolt expressed his view that in Exmouth there was a lack of jobs and inadequate road infrastructure. Public transport was also needed, but roads were more important, as better roads would attract more commuters. Exmouth was on a peninsula and at present was an 'end point going nowhere'—it needed to go somewhere.

Mr Hassett stated that there was a regional issue of a lack of affordable housing and employment. The economic future of the town was uncertain. The fishing industry was long gone, and tourism was restructuring itself.

Cllr Miss Elson explained that Exmouth Council had to provide facilities for rural areas and day visitors, so not just its 36,000 residents, but more like 90,000. It needed to build on its opportunities, such as the forthcoming expansion of Exeter airport and the Skypark — it was the nearest coastal town to the development.

Mr Jeffs said that the town was split over embracing tourism. As well as the commercial economic benefit it brought costs to residents: low paid work which in turn placed pressure on social housing; 420 holiday homes potentially empty for much of the year; unstable seasonal employment, which also led to difficulty finding housing; temporary economic immigrants coming to the town for work which could present language issues and need for specialist services.

The greatest proportion of the town was the over 65s (23%), which meant there were more pensioners than under 20s, leading to inter-generational conflicts of view; such as between the vision of the area as a peaceful retirement place or that of a vibrant holiday resort or a place for young people to enjoy. Tourism also made demands on the taxpayer, e.g. maintaining sea front gardens, seating and beach cleaning.

Mr Alexander stated that the school was in very poor repair when he arrived four years ago, and has improved since, with lots of community support. However the funding it received was very low—10-15% lower than other areas, e.g. Birmingham, where he had last taught. There was no provision for EFL teaching. From 2007, the school would like to make use of the Rolle College Campus of Plymouth University, shortly to be vacated, which had superb facilities. There was a possibility that these buildings would be sold as a hotel or conference centre, which would be bad for the community college. Sixty-four per cent of pupils stayed on to the Sixth Form, the majority doing A-levels. The college wanted to increase the vocational courses it offered too. Half the leavers went on to higher education, but a low number of these returned to the area. Twenty-two per cent of leavers went into local employment.

Mr Bain stated that the location of future employment land was of central importance for the economic development of Exmouth, in order to counter the dormitory effect of Exeter.

Ms Harris raised the issue of supportive housing. In particular, she stressed the importance of affordable housing for young people.

Cllr Miss Elson stated that affordable housing was being addressed by the Council, but that there were particular difficulties in the area with housing supply. Currently 1,800 people were on the housing register awaiting accommodation in Exmouth. She explained that there was a risk that more holiday properties would close in future due to the impact of the closure of the teacher training facility within Exmouth. This was because the properties tended to be rented during term-time to students and during the summer as holiday properties, in order for owners to maintain a regular income.

Mr Fayers explained that there was no affordable housing as part of the new marina development. However, a section 106 agreement had ensured that affordable housing would be provided within the town centre by the developer. This provided less affordable housing than the current local policy.

Mr Conway provided an overview of the proposal for the development of the Exmouth Gateway Visitor Centre. This was described as a major, ambitious project for the town that was supported by all partners. A feasibility study had been completed with financial assistance from the SWRDA—this estimated visitor projections at 250,000-300,000 people per annum. The proposal was for this development to be complete by 2009-10. The funding for this project had been allocated, but not formally committed as yet; however negotiations were taking place with the Living Landmarks Lottery Fund.

A number of meeting participants expressed the view that the night-time economy within Exmouth was booming, with young people being attracted into the town from a wide catchment area. This had a real economic benefit to the town, but had associated issues that needed addressing. In particular, given the high resident older population this did cause tensions.

English Nature and the RSPB were supportive of the visitor centre and were content that there would be no adverse effect on the environment.

Ms Homer explained that the RDA had had cross-departmental meetings on the visitor centre. £7.1 million had been committed to the Jurassic Coast, with nine towns benefiting. This was a major opportunity for the Exmouth-Swanage coast. Everything had to comply with the UNESCO science development plan.

Mr Diviani stated that tourism represented 20% of the East Devon GDP. It was therefore balanced by other sectors. The RSS and the Regional Enterprise Strategy had increased employment provision. Many residents were resistant to change. The biggest problem, when the Cranbrook development was devised, was that the resources for infrastructure were not in district council control. Exmouth and its surroundings needed an iconic project to turn it into a tourist centre.

Ms Stuart informed the Committee that Exmouth had won an award for the best value family coastal resort. Stuart Cruises now operated all year round. The Exe was the top river in the country for wildlife and attracted visitors in winter. Other people were starting to realise the potential for winter activity. She felt that many people in the meeting seemed to be against tourism, when in fact there was great potential which went undeveloped. The sea front swimming pool, for example, went unmodernised, and holiday camps were expanding and not being noticed. Stuart Cruises now employed ten people plus seasonal part timers.

Ms Thomas stated that the season was getting longer because of walkers. Exmouth had an excellent nightlife which attracted visitors.

Mr Wokersien said that it was very lively at night. There were three clubs and lots of pubs, it was a developing sector. Some described the town as Jekyll and Hyde. Local people came for the nightlife, even from Exeter, not just tourists. This could create problems with the elderly residents. There were also 'boy racers', and the CCTV which had been installed with grants needed renewing, with no financing available to do this.

Cllr Miss Elson stated that there were more licensed premises in Exmouth than Exeter. Almost all policing was done at night, and the elderly population was unhappy that most daytime shifts were taken by Community Support Officers.

Mr Alexander explained that Exmouth Community College was the largest employer in East Devon. Tourism would be a big boost to the sector, especially once the Plymouth University Rolle College Campus had moved. The seaside culture could encourage academic underachievement as low qualifications only were needed for much local work.

Mr Hughes stated that the Committee should not think that Exmouth was not optimistic. Nimbyism and other anti-groups were preventing development. There had been a petition of 12,000 signatures to oppose Unlocking Exmouth, but at the same time, there was a recognition in the town that 'something needed to be done'. The town had really suffered when Clark's factory had closed down, and the heart needed to be put back into the town. There were now 16 charity shops in the town centre—it was gradually running down. Part of the problem was that the Council appeared to expect developers to pick up the costs of infrastructure improvement, for example, a £4 million watersports centre on the front had been proposed; was this to be entirely paid for by the developer? Work was needed on the roads, but this had been abandoned on cost grounds. Financial support from central government was needed.

Mr Temperley stated that the problem for Exmouth was that it was too big to come under the assistance of the Market and Coastal Towns Association but too small to be a national priority.

Mr Hassan said that the town did not look deprived on a day-to-day basis but it was not fulfilling its potential. It had struggled to access national funds so that was why it was now looking towards the private sector. The regeneration of Exmouth did need to be part of a wider project.

Cllr Wragg stated that it should be made clear that a relatively small number of people were opposed to development; the petition was not reliable. The local press had supported the negative point of view until recently, but now was encouraging positive responses.

Mr Fayers said that Exmouth had only one third of the hinterland that most towns had because of the coast and the estuary. Although the visitor centre plans were laudable, they were not a panacea for the town's economy. Returning visitors would be essential to success, and other problems the town faced should not be forgotten.

Mr Hart Venn stated that the people of Exmouth were very supportive of the voluntary sector. The visitors' centre would be an on-going, evolving one which should attract return visits. The development's goal was to attract people who would return regularly.

Mr Bolt said that towns need an 'attractor' to generate visitors. Exmouth had relied too much on its resort side but now had new plans. However the town centre needed to be better, with proper planning and transport links.

Mr Conway explained that the visitor centre would go out to the wider community, encouraging local and longer-term visitors. It was linked to the expansion of the community college. The County Council did fund development; it had for example financed the cycle path on the coast at £1.9 million per annum.

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Prepared 7 March 2007