A scheme to rebuild Exmouth’s Devoncourt hotel and construct four apartment blocks has been rejected by East Devon planners.

In an at-times tense debate, the scheme for a new 65-bed hotel and 66 new homes was eventually rejected because it was considered to be overdevelopment and a design unsympathetic to its surroundings, with worries about parking also raised.

Seven councillors on the district council’s planning committee voted to reject the scheme – a motion proposed by vice chair Cllr Matt Hall (Liberal Democrat, Exmouth Withycombe Raleigh) – with four in favour of approving it.

Chair Olly Davey (Green Party, Exmouth Town) didn’t vote to reject the proposal but acknowledged it had been a “contentious application”.

The strength of feeling was fuelled by the building generally considered to be the town’s finest hotel before it became timeshare accommodation under 25-year leases in the 1980s.

“There were concerns about the ability of the design to blend in with its surroundings, the scale of the development and also there was a great deal of discussion about the availability of parking for the proposal,” Cllr Davey said after the meeting.

“We had several of the original objectors there, and they outlined similar concerns, including the amount of traffic that would be using the site.”

Exmouth Journal: The Devoncourt Hotel.The Devoncourt Hotel. (Image: Julie Hearn.)

Cllr Davey said a redesign meant the proposed development would now take up less of the site than initial plans, but the scheme still didn’t fit the design statement for the Avenues area, which states only a quarter of any given plot  should be developed.

Applicant Azim Lalani wants to demolish the existing hotel and replace it with a 65-bed alternative at the southern most part of the land, and also build four apartment blocks with 66 homes.

One of the blocks would have been for 15 affordable properties, with some being rented or for shared ownership.

But East Devon’s planning committee refused the application this week (Tuesday 21 May), following a marathon two-and-a-half hour debate on the proposals at their meeting last month.

The April meeting led to councillors agreeing to visit the site, during which councillors investigated their concerns about parking, as the new hotel would rely on the nearby council-owned Maer Road car park for its guests.

The council’s car parks manager told councillors that data suggested there would be enough capacity for the hotel guests, given that daily use is generally fewer than 100 transactions per day.

However, the car park is currently closed at night as it was previously used by “boy and girl racers”, although it was suggest it could be opened all night if demand from the hotel and other users existed.

Some councillors raised concerns about sewerage capacity. However, South West Water stated that storm overflow at the pumping station and the local sewer flooding downstream from the proposed development “is being investigated so the issues should hopefully be resolved before any new connection takes place”.

While the council’s landscape architect and urban designer retained their recommendations to refuse the scheme, officers said “the benefits of the proposal are considered to demonstrably outweigh the harm” with conditions put in place to mitigate certain impacts.

Cllr Davey said the committee would now have to wait to see whether the applicant would submit a revised scheme or try to appeal.

Malcolm Gigg, the agent for the applicant, was contacted for comment but was unavailable.

At the April meeting, Mr Gigg said that the scheme would benefit the area by providing “much-needed accommodation” to the town from both the residential and hotel perspective.

Mr Gigg told that meeting that while the hotel had tried to modernise its business model, moving away from timeshares towards regular hotel stays, remaining price competitive meant charging fees that didn’t fully reflect the cost of cleaning and heating some of the sizeable rooms.

“In some cases, a single occupancy room fee is being applied to an entire apartment,” he said.

“The hotel offering now is old and poor, and the proposal is for a new, enhanced hotel offering for Exmouth.”