I'm left stunned

PUBLISHED: 07:00 13 April 2013

The process of Premier Inn on the Elizabeth Hall site grinds ever onwards.

We all have had the opportunity of examining the plans and submitting our comments via the planning portal of East Devon District Council or in a letter to our Town Hall.

I, amongst others, have submitted my comments; mainly objecting to the design, height and positioning on the site, together with perceived parking problems and dismay at loss of amenity, ie removal of public toilets and loss of community hall facilities.

It was with high expectation that I attended the Exmouth planning meeting held at the Town Hall on March 25, 2013, dedicated to discussing the Premier Inn planning proposals submitted by Whitbread.

I hadn’t attended a planning meeting before so I was unsure of the process.

I presumed that the councillors would have been made aware of the submissions by the public and that their content would form the basis of the discussion.

We were told that at that time some 29 submissions had been made – one in support and 28 against.

Six people spoke from the packed public gallery, one in support and five against. The councillors present (not all had attended) were then invited by the chairman to make their contribution.

The Lib Dem councillors went first; all registered objections on perfectly proper planning grounds.

They spoke of the building being too massive, too high, too far forward on the site, inappropriate style (Art Deco versus Victorian) etc and deplored the loss of amenity, especially the public toilets.

They highlighted the impact of the height of the building (four floors) on the view of the estuary from the Beacon and the Beacon from the Esplanade/beach.

These views aligned with the 29 objections and with the five public speakers earlier.

Next came the Conservative councillors.

Everyone who spoke made no objections whatsoever. They all praised the design – “iconic” I suppose (ironic??) – just what Exmouth needs!

One councillor even attempted to declare that the height had no impact on view from the Beacon because the building was a few metres below the level of the Beacon! She waved a drawing about, thus proving she had no conception of line of sight.

I was unaware that only a selection of councillors were entitled to vote, those on the planning committee. The vote split totally along party lines, six (Conservatives) approved and four (Lib Dems) opposed.

Thus planning was supported by Exmouth Town Council.

I was stunned! Not only had there been no debate of the merits or otherwise of the plans, no discussion whether it complied with the Planning Position Statement (we were told was inviolate whilst we were bidding); the fiasco was totally political with the Conservatives dominating courtesy of an in-built majority.

Where is the recognition that 12,000+ members of the public (60 per cent from EX8) signed a petition to save the hall. These people probably do not want Premier Inn on this site but are forced to accept the sale.

I believe Exmouth Town Council, having declared in mid-2012 that they backed the Friends of Elizabeth Hall bid unanimously, should have found it in themselves to criticise the Premier Inn plans, not simply approve them.

I thought it was a given that any large developer asks for more, anticipating being knocked back to its acceptable level during the planning process.

I am forced to think that Whitbread will say to themselves: “We should have submitted plans for an 80 bed hotel, given that Exmouth Town Council is such a push-over.”

Mike Green

via email

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