Exmouth business owners and residents are still split regarding the seafront's transformation, despite East Devon District Council's £18m master plan being revealed almost two years ago.
In 2014, the authority's plans to transform the seafront, with a multi-screen cinema, an outdoor water splash zone and adventure golf park all lined up, were revealed.
The £18m development caused quite a stir within the community, with many disappointed that popular long-term businesses such as the Railway Carriage Café, the Harbour View Café and Jungle Fun Park would be no more once works began.
Now, almost two years on, it would seem the people of Exmouth still aren't sure whether East Devon District Council's move is the right one.
Harry Parkin, owner of Exmouth Leisure Amusements, said: “I'm one of the minority that is quite for it, because Exmouth needs improving. Everybody wants the water sports complex and the road will need to be moved to accommodate that, developers behind residential accommodation will pay for that.
Despite being one of the only businesses in the area to have a long lease, meaning he would have to receive funds to move from Queen's Drive, Harry said he would gladly move if it was the best thing for the town.
He continued: “I think I probably will have to move, but I'm still for it. My lease is for 21 years.”
One issue the business owner did have with the developments was what he described as a 'secrecy' surrounding the plans.
He said: “I don't think the council has been very forthcoming. I've asked them what the latest position is and they've told me they still have nothing to tell me.
“The schemes show I am being moved, but I haven't officially been told that. If it improves Exmouth and that involves me moving then I'm for it, but I don't like being constantly kept in the dark and hearing things first in the paper.
“I would like to develop the site, but there's no point when we don't know what is happening. The business is being starved of development.”
Another business owner also finding themselves in limbo is Harbour View Café owner Dawn Hirst.
She said: “It has been agreed that we can stay until September 30. We hope if EDDC is not ready to proceed with its plans that it'll let us stay. We're hopeful to be here longer should the building work not happen. We just want to stay as long as we can.”
But what do residents and visitors to the town think about the changes?
Ian Thomson, 62, said: “It's not a done deal yet, but I don't think there was a proper consultation. Businesses are shutting down and we still don't really know what is happening.
“I feel like EDDC has bulldozed Exmouth once again. We don't need a cinema when there is already one in the town, it'll put another business out. Housing and retail wasn't initially part of the plans either.
“I reckon it'll be a ghost town for many months and we'll lose visitors, which could have long-term effects.
“It has caused lots of unrest in the town.”
Slightly more positive about the development was 34-year-old Jack Davies, who lives in nearby Woodbury.
He said: “The seafront probably does need something doing to it, but it's a shame to the leaseholders that have to go. My worry is that they'll open a Starbucks, and coffee shop type businesses already here will waste away.
“The council doesn't seem to be very forthcoming, but EDDC can be a difficult council to get information from.
“If there's a real need to change the road that's fine, but I worry about the environmental impact. It's an area of scientific interest. The Maer is an important factor of the beach.”
And the seafront saga has even caused ripples as far as Bristol, with holiday maker from the city James Lewis saying: “I've been coming to Exmouth for 30 years and I know it like the back of my hand. I think the developments are going to ruin a lovely old seaside town. There used to be a lovely hall where they've built the Premier Inn.
“I think they are turning the seaside town into a mini Blackpool. It's a shame.
“It's a changing front. Is it changing for the better, I don't know? It's an old Victorian seaside town being changed. It'll look hideous and ruin the seafront.”
However, seeming to have a change of heart, the 48-year-old said: “I guess it all depends on the height and scale of it and all to do with the planning. Something might be presented that doesn't look too bad. But if it looks massive it will be horrible. If the design still has a village feel it might be ok.”
His wife Ellie, 38, added: “The bowling facility is used for a couple of months but the community feel has gone.
“We did miss the hall and the market when we came down this time.
“I just think if it ain't broke don't fix it. Why not renovate what's already here?”
A representative for East Devon District Council said: “The council is very much aware of the mix of views about regenerating Exmouth and we understand that change can be a challenging concept for some. What we are seeking to do is to create jobs, attract new visitors and new businesses with a multimillion-pound investment in the seafront. We have already seen success with the Strand and the Premier Inn, both of which are a boost to visitor numbers and businesses. We are investing £1.2m on Mamhead slipway to re-establish Exmouth as an even better leisure marine location.
“From a consultation perspective there have been numerous opportunities for people to have their say on the future of their town and the seafront. Widespread consultation was held during the Exmouth Masterplan exercise in 2010/11 and the Exmouth redevelopment in 2012/13. When outline planning permission for the site was approved in January 2014, the council carried out further public consultation in autumn 2013.
“The council has always said that more consultation will be carried out by the developers when they bring their proposals forward. The developers' consultation will need to be conducted to the satisfaction of the council, in its capacity as landowner, and will be carried out before any formal detailed planning applications. The planning applications that then follow will reflect this consultation and will be subject to further public consideration during the planning application process.
“The council has been in negotiation with the businesses on the entire site – its tenants – as far back as 2012 and they have regularly been kept updated on the redevelopment process. As landowners, we have always said that if a tenant can stay for a period of time during phased development then we will explore these possibilities with them and we have done so.
“Unfortunately the litigation process with one of our tenants continues to cause considerable delay to regenerating the seafront and until this has been resolved, the council is not in a position to make progress on this vital project.
“The council has compiled a comprehensive list of questions and answers about the regeneration proposals which is available on our website at http://eastdevon.gov.uk/regeneration-projects/regeneration-projects-in-exmouth/exmouth-regeneration-frequently-asked-questions-and-answers-february-2016/“
Originally posted on the Express & Echo: http://www.exeterexpressandecho.co.uk/Jury-s-Exmouth-seafront-development-plans/story-29069835-detail/story.html