This is a complex question about the eastern part of Sidmouth which has been pondered for over 150 years, but if we restrict ourselves to recent ideas then it comes down to a simple choice.
Do we want to build something which is a big block towering over the Ham and obscuring the view of the cliffs and Hangar? Something that removes all the buildings which currently stand there, replaces them with a new block of some sort, and brings changes to the last remaining links with the sea?
Or do we want to retain the open character of the area, reinforcing the elements to do with the sea and the activities which take place on it, and creating human scale buildings in a way which echoes the other end of the Esplanade as we look across Station Road to the Fort Cafe?
The details of designs are open for discussion within either option but that is the clear choice.
The 2016 competition entries for the Re-imagining Port Royal showed that architects consider the latter option a viable one.
The work done over the years by Sidmouth Drill Hall Hub and Seafest have shown that a large number of residents value the links with the sea.
The Sailing and Gig Clubs have healthy memberships.
Jurassic Paddle show the appetite of visitors for sea-based fun.
The support given to the Harbour and Pier options of the competition entries show that people want to increase the ability of the sea to bring tourists into the town.The competition entries also showed that retaining the Drill Hall can be a positive element in Port Royal re-development.
We have yet to learn of Sidmouth Town Council and East Devon District Council’s intentions for the area, the Consultants Concept proposal has not been assessed by them, but we have enough examples of what they have done in other areas to be fairly certain it will tend towards the ‘big block’ option. They seem to favour large corporate investment where the financial gains are good and the effort required by them is minimal. They sometimes allow this to over-rule concern for the character of the area.
We are now getting towards the formation of a Neighbourhood Plan, due to a lot of hard work from volunteers and support from Sidmouth Town Council. There have been a series of household and targetted questionnaires and many meetings with different interested groups.
For Port Royal they have pulled together a comprehensive overview of results which can be downloaded from their website.
This tells us much more about what the people of the town want, although it does not tell us what visitors want.