Anger at hotel plan for Victorian hall site
A prominent Victorian building in a Devon seaside town is likely to be replaced by a hotel after the Premier Inn chain was named as preferred bidder for the council site.
Thousands of people signed a petition opposing East Devon District Council's decision to sell Elizabeth Hall in Exmouth, which also prompted a protest march in the town.
But at a council cabinet meeting on Wednesday night councillors overwhelmingly backed the bid by the hotel chain over proposals from the Friends of Elizabeth Hall community group and another residential development.
The new hotel, with a cafe and restaurant on the ground floor, could now be built and open for business by as early as spring 2014.
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The council said Premier Inn "scored highest against a wide range of set criteria" which included economic impact, job creation, investment, design quality and regeneration potential, as well as price.
"Having studied all the proposals carefully and listened to what each of the bidders had to say, we are convinced that Premier Inn provides the best deal for Exmouth in terms of taking on this important site," said Councillor Andrew Moulding, chairman of Exmouth Regeneration Programme Board.
"This is a fantastic vote of confidence in Exmouth and the interest shown by a major national brand is a very real boost to our vision for bringing new life and energy to the seafront.
"Premier Inn have been able to demonstrate to East Devon District Council that their proposal offers most in terms of new jobs, additional spend and investment in the town and the greatest economic impact for the seafront itself.
"These are all factors at the heart of the Exmouth Vision ambition.
"It's worth adding that we didn't just go for the highest price either.
"We have gone for the option that we believe is in the best modern interests of the whole town."
Premier Inn is proposing a three-storey building, rising to four storeys in one section, with 60 rooms.
A ground floor licensed cafe and restaurant would be open to residents and non-residents alike. Meeting rooms and small-scale conference facilities have also been included in the design.
The Friends group said it was "devastated" by the decision. It had proposed turning Elizabeth Hall into a community arts and visitor centre, leasing the building from the council.
It has ruled out appealing against the decision on the grounds of cost and is seeking the views of members to see whether they should continue to fight the sale.
"We're so devastated we can't think straight," Jilly Green, who presented their bid at Wednesday's meeting, said.
"It's hard to know quite how to proceed, but we're meeting later to discuss the way forward."
The council said it would be working with Premier Inn to refine the proposals before a detailed planning application is brought forward.
An application is expected by February next year with work expected to begin on site, subject to planning permission, before the end of 2013.