A two-year battle to secure Rolle College for the community is on the verge of being won.
Roy Pryke, chairman of Rolle Exmouth Ltd (REL), said they were close to an agreement with owners Plymouth University, which would allow them to buy ‘over half’ of the Douglas Avenue site - including the 13,000 sq ft Owen Building - over the next three years.
This would allow REL, a not-for-profit company set up by Exmouth residents, to use the site as a post-16 college - an addition to the community college - and for exhibitions, concerts, theatre, business conferences and small business units.
It is thought the remainder of the seven-acre site not bought by REL would be acquired by a developer for housing.
The REL deal follows the closure of the campus in 2009, which eventually led to Devon County Council reneging on a promise to buy the site to use as a sixth form.
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Since then there have been numerous ideas for the site, such as a library and an academy of excellence for the tourist industry.
However, all the community ideas appeared dead last summer when the university invited bids for the site – the ‘preferred bidder’ was understood to have been Bovis Homes.
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But now university chiefs have integrated both the community and developer proposals and are giving REL three years to come up with the cash for the multi-million pound site - without fear of it being sold.
Jenny Bushrod, Plymouth University’s procurement director, said: “We are close to reaching an agreement...
“We have maintained our dialogue with Rolle Exmouth Ltd throughout our marketing of the site and we have been impressed with their total dedication to see the campus used for the benefit of the community. We are all extremely positive.”
On Monday, the town council pledged to ‘put its full weight’ behind the scheme and reaffirmed a huge chunk of its annual budget to kick-start fundraising efforts.
Roy Pryke, Chairman of Rolle Exmouth Ltd, told councillors: “We have done it. This is a good result for Exmouth.
“Part of me thinks that the really hard work is yet to come, but I feel we have got the best part of the site.”
He added: “It has been a roller-coaster experience and we have felt at times that we would not make it. But the university kept us fully informed and, in the end, we have the desired outcome.
“We now have three years to make it work. It is a big, exciting challenge and we shall need genuine support from the community to make it into a success story for Exmouth.”
MP Hugo Swire said: “It is fantastic news. This is an example of how a community can come together and insist on retaining a facility for the good of the community as a whole - in the face of others who might wish to maximise its value and develop it.”