In advance of the 5th Feb 2018 Sidmouth Town Council meeting to discuss the Consultant’s report on the Port Royal Scoping Exercise I have written the following email to both STC Councillors and the Sidmouth Councillors on East Devon District Council. Links to the pdfs referred to in the email can be found below it.
With reference to your upcoming deliberations on the outcome of the Scoping Exercise I would like to draw your attention to the following issues.
a) The public consultation survey.
Having assessed the raw data in depth it has become clear that the report on the answers given may have created an over simplistic impression of what was said in respect to the narrative responses. As an example, Q5 was about what people would like to see at Port Royal. In the report it is stated that 56% of respondents support having some sort of refreshments outlet at Port Royal. When this number is corrected against the full number of respondents, not just those who chose the answer the question, it can be seen that in fact 46% supported this.
Furthermore simply collating the responses question by question can give a false idea of desired outcomes where it happens that one respondent expresses the same opinion in multiple places. Question responses need to be checked longitudinally to identify unique responses and weed out duplication.
I attach a document, where I have attempted to do this. The clearest opinion which comes through is that people value the heritage of the area and don’t wish to lose it.
As can be seen from the above document many people expressed frustration with the form of the survey. I know that some people found it so difficult that they chose instead to write a letter (email) to Councillors and express their views in this way. It would appear that none of these responses have been assessed, doing so could make a considerable difference to the overall result. Is it possible to take these letters into account too? If not then the democratic process is failing.
b) Problems implicit in demolition before rebuilding.
I know that elements such as flood zoning have been assessed but there are other costs and difficulties which appear to have been overlooked. Most of these pertain to demolishing the Drill Hall.
You may be aware that English Heritage, although they declined to List the building as external changes meant it didn’t fully meet the criteria, have stated that it is an asset to the Conservation Area; and that two respected Conservation experts who work with Historic England have stated their professional opinions that the interior makes the building important to save. There is also the fact that when the previous application to demolish the Drill Hall was made, EDDC officers stated that there would have to be compelling reasons put forward in order to over-ride its existing statutory protections. What you may not have taken into consideration is the fact that the footings of the Drill Hall did little to disturb the ground it was built on, and that all subsequent development of the turning circle and toilets involved depositing extra material rather than removing any.
As such, with the underlying ground having been a river delta at one time and remains from the Roman era having previously been found there, it would be necessary for a thorough archaeological survey to be carried out from the western boundary of the Drill Hall to as far as the eastern and northern boundaries of any proposed new building. Such a survey would be expensive in both time and money even if nothing of value was found. If important finds were made at a level below existing footings for adjacent buildings on the site then it could mean that the whole site had to be assessed.
This necessity will seriously affect any price to be gained for the site.
c) Money which can be made without demolition.
I fully understand the necessity for Councils to make the greatest return possible from their assets, however, selling them off may prove a costly loss when guaranteed returns from a vibrant economy are factored in. If the tourist economy of Sidmouth is boosted then the income Councils make from things such as business rates and parking charges will provide a steady return.
In this context the Drill Hall can be seen as a funding engine.
There are many grants available to historic buildings and their owners, and there are many organisations who will help owners access such funds. The Prince’s Regeneration Trust and the Architectural Heritage Fund are two well known ones. As an individual, and one who does not own the building, I am ineligible to apply for these grants but either Council could do so.
It is very likely that such applications would be successful as Heritage venues are becoming increasingly important in the economy of the country as a whole. The recent announcements from the department of Arts, Heritage and Tourism make it quite clear that the government considers Heritage and Tourism to be some of the priorities for the coming years.
Uses for the Drill Hall are obviously open for discussion but it is important to note that the main hall is the same size as the hall at Stowford and therefore larger than any hall within the reach of the average tourist in Sidmouth. With two smaller rooms in front of the hall, a small room directly above them, and a basement space which is the full size of the building footprint, the venue would lend itself to many purposes.
As a tourist attraction this building could be an asset to the town, while still maintaining a hall for hire to bring in money from Folk Week and other groups who have expressed a firm interest in hiring the hall for events.
‘Heritage 2020’ http://www.heritage2020.net/about/ might also be something to be aware of.
d) Sidmouth’s Built Heritage.
Not many people realise that Sidmouth has the greatest number, by far, of Listed Buildings in all Devon; with the exception of Exeter itself. Not only that but the Manstone Estate of Council houses set the standard for its time and was opened by the Minister for Housing. We also have the huge body of work from Mr Sampson where public and private buildings share a common aesthetic. These three facts alone put Sidmouth in an almost unique position within the country. Adding in the purely Sidmouth aesthetic of the Cottage Ornee, Sidmouth can offer admirers of architecture something which can be found nowhere else; and yet we do not capitalise on it.
It would therefore be my wish, were I in a position to bring it about, that the Drill Hall should be turned into a Museum of Architecture, in a similar way to the one to be found in Bath. However, in Sidmouth we would also be able to showcase the traditional crafts which are still to be found in Devon, such as thatching. There are grants available to create modern museum experiences with interactive media so this isn’t an unrealistic ambition. We could also use it to market Sidmouth to Architecture/Sociology/other allied University courses to bring in off season visitors.
In addition, Sidmouth residents would benefit from an asset which taught local children about their land-based heritage in the way that the Sidmouth Coastal Community Hub CIC teaches about their sea-based heritage. It would help to build a sense of place and increase community cohesion, creating all the documented benefits for physical and mental health such intangibles bring with them. I can supply links to the relevant research if required.
e) The negative effects of shade.
Shadows can create many physical problems with heat loss, cold surfaces and restricted plant growth. There are also psychological effects which I am sure we have all experienced. The attached pdf considers the problems a large building on Port Royal could produce in terms of shade.
f) The legal position regarding demolition in Conservation Areas.
A pdf giving the salient points is attached
I apologise for the length of this email and thank you for reading it. Despite the length it only gives an overview and I am happy to expand on any of it if you would like me to.
kind regards, Mary Walden-Till