12,000 battle to save Exmouth hall facing sell-off in seafront shake-up
A petition bearing more than 12,000 names has been submitted to councillors by campaigners fighting to save a beloved community hall.
Protesters are calling on East Devon District Council to reconsider selling off Elizabeth Hall in Exmouth, to help fund the regeneration of the seafront.
That redevelopment is itself controversial, with critics fearing it will damage the traditional family fun offering of the resort.
Nicola King, of Friends of Elizabeth Hall, said the facility provides more than just commercial value.
She told a meeting of EDDC's cabinet on Wednesday evening: "(The hall) lies at the heart of a welcoming and vibrant community spirit and provides revenue for the many charitable causes in our town. Just three weeks ago, the Hospiscare charity held a day at the Elizabeth Hall which netted them £3,500.
"The Elizabeth Hall might well be surplus to your requirements, but it is certainly not surplus to the requirements of the people of Exmouth."
The meeting came days after the Friends group won support from Exmouth Town Council for a simultaneous bid for the hall, which the campaigners have submitted in case their attempt to halt the sale fails.
Exmouth deputy mayor Bill Nash emphasised that the decision lay with the owners, EDDC, but said town council members were "impressed" by the proposal. But he said: "If it comes down to whether Exmouth Town Council can give an annual grant of thousands and thousands of pounds, that would have to be a decision for the people of Exmouth who pay their council tax.
"On the other hand, there are plenty of grants available these days from the National Lottery and others, so they may be able to make it viable."
The bid will be considered alongside others from the end of this week.
EDDC deputy leader Andrew Moulding said: "The Elizabeth Hall site has been the subject of much debate for many months so we now need to take a long hard look at all the options for moving forward.
"We have said all along that, while Elizabeth Hall is held in fond regard by many, the site has a huge role to play in encouraging much-needed new investment and prosperity to the seafront and town as a whole."
Meanwhile, another controversial element of Exmouth's regeneration programme took a step forward this week, when the town council voted in favour of a bus shelter and a covered stage area on The Strand.
The scheme, which will be paid for from a £500,000 pot of Devon County Council money, has twice been shot down because the proposed buildings were considered too big for the area.