Tuesday, 24 December 2013

"Tourism rises" ... but questions remain for East Devon

Further to the piece on the tourist industry in Sidmouth
Futures Forum: "Tourism rises" ... but questions remain for Sidmouth
there are questions about the status of things in the District as a whole...

The Local Plan clearly states that "Tourism is a key sector in the East Devon economy"
Futures Forum: East Devon and toursim

Tourism comes out on top:

East Devon is an attractive environment for enterprise witnessed particularly by the number of thriving small businesses. We have a vibrant tourism industry and some high quality jobs particularly in the Western part of the District with good access to the Exeter work market too. As a District we have low unemployment rates.


“To conserve and enhance our environment through the social and economic well-being of the people who live and work here is vital – not least for that most important industry, tourism, where the environment, both natural and built, are always cited as the single biggest attraction."

In fact, the largest employers in East Devon are very much part of the tourist trade:
Together we can help end the suffering | The Donkey Sanctuary
Stuart Line Cruises | Home

There does seem to be a question, however, as to how the District Council considers tourism - as seen during a debate at the House of Commons involving 'stakeholders in Exmouth' in 2006:

Mr Fowler (Eagle Investments Ltd) stated that Exmouth was a difficult town to categorise... Tourism was declining as traditional British resort goers were dying out. There was no development along the sea front, and the District Council was happy in some ways not to revive it. In the meantime development was occurring in other places, and therefore jobs were created elsewhere, leading young people to leave the town and adults to seek work elsewhere.

Mr Jeffs (Director of Communities, EDDC) said that the town was split over embracing tourism. As well as the commercial economic benefit it brought costs to residents: low paid work which in turn placed pressure on social housing; 420 holiday homes potentially empty for much of the year; unstable seasonal employment, which also led to difficulty finding housing... Tourism also made demands on the taxpayer, e.g. maintaining sea front gardens, seating and beach cleaning. 

Mr Diviani (East Devon District Council (EDDC) portfolio holder for the Economy and Regeneration) stated that tourism represented 20% of the East Devon GDP. It was therefore balanced by other sectors. The RSS and the Regional Enterprise Strategy had increased employment provision. Many residents were resistant to change. 

Ms Stuart (Stuart Line Cruises) informed the Committee that Exmouth had won an award for the best value family coastal resort. Stuart Cruises now operated all year round. The Exe was the top river in the country for wildlife and attracted visitors in winter. Other people were starting to realise the potential for winter activity. She felt that many people in the meeting seemed to be against tourism, when in fact there was great potential which went undeveloped. The sea front swimming pool, for example, went unmodernised, and holiday camps were expanding and not being noticed. Stuart Cruises now employed ten people plus seasonal part timers.

House of Commons - Communities and Local Government Committee - Second Report

Moreover, several responses to the draft Local Plan have questioned the commitment of the District Council to the tourist industry: 
East Devon Proposed Local Plan Consultation 2012

East Devon's countryside is an asset and not, as described in one part of the LDF, "undeveloped land". It is a farming asset and a tourism asset providing an essential part of the AONB. As such it needs stronger protection by EDDC rather than the bringing forward of new plans for its "development".

Sid Vale Association - LDF Response

In his foreword to the New East Devon Local Plan, East Devon District Council leader Councillor Paul Diviani writes: “From the spectacular Jurassic Coast, through the rural landscapes of our Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, we are truly blessed with wonderful surroundings.”

Bad for the area - Home - Complete France
Green outcry - Letters - Sidmouth Herald 

The Core Strategy document was especially neglectful of tourism, which accounts for 14% of the East Devon economy. We are pleased that this has subsequently been recognised and presumably will be addressed. The importance of tourism to retailing is obvious. In many Sidmouth shops, for example, tourist expenditure will be at least 50% of total turnover. The household income figures released by Devon County Council have shown conclusively that the expenditure of Sidmouth residents cannot sustain the quality individual shops of our town centre. This can only be possible through the boost provided by tourism. We need all-year-round tourism, and we need high-value tourism. It is therefore worrying that recent statistics from South West Tourism show East Devon tourism going downmarket faster than any other District in the region.


We have serious reservations concerning the specific allocation of up to five hectares of additional employment land. To quote the Chamber of Commerce’s submission to the Local Plan: “We do not think it is sustainable and we are worried about the impact upon the environment and the strain upon our services and infrastructure. Only by valuing our landscape and protecting our environment are we likely to achieve the socio-economic conditions in which communities can thrive.”
There is simply no evidence that Sidmouth requires extra employment capacity on this scale. Out-of-keeping sheds, within bland new factory estates on green field land, amounting to an industrial site in excess of 11 football pitches, will not help promote the commercial vitality of the town. Rather, such clearly excessive and technically unwarranted development will be fundamentally detrimental to Sidmouth. The town is a thriving location for tourism, which is the primary generator of the local economy. And as such, the hospitality, retail and service industries do not need vast tracts of new ‘employment land’, but the maintenance of quality provision of these activities. Commercial development on the perimeter will not only remove trade from town centre businesses, but will be unsightly and, therefore, act as a serious deterrent to visitors coming to enjoy our unspoilt countryside.

... including misgivings from District Councillors:

In East Devon the principal business and a main driver for our economy is, in my view, tourism and therefore in developing policies that support that part of the economy we will have to ensure that our countryside and built environment is right to sustain tourism.


However, District Officers point to the low-pay and low-skills associated with the tourist industry:

A high proportion of jobs in the District are in the tourism sector, which is 
often poorly paid seasonal work with limited opportunities for training and 
progression (16% of jobs in Devon overall are related to tourism). 

The tourism industry would be likely to remain one of the key employers 
within East Devon District, which leaves the economy vulnerable to any 
structural changes in the economy.


The aim of East Devon’s Local Plan is to improve average income levels and 
improve local job opportunities. Currently East Devon’s economic structure is 
more represented by lower value sectors, predominantly focused on tourism 
and retail sectors (Non B-Use). The Tyms Study identifies the main challenge 
for East Devon in developing its economy, is attracting businesses to invest, 
which is where appropriate employment sites and premises (B-Use) can be a 
significant contributor. 

Futures Forum: Jobs and services: the hospitality industry

Developers also question the risks of over-relying on tourism, for example at Sidford: 

Fords recognises that Sidmouth has a high reliance on tourism, retail, hospitality and elderly healthcare, and its services support many of these sectors. Despite Fords’ acknowledgement that these other services and employment types are invaluable, to sustain the existing employment economy and create a better and more robust economy, they need improved employment accommodation and the draft Local Plan should assist in offering a deliverable, practical and planned solution to meet this need. 

Futures Forum: Sidford plans in detail

And at Exmouth, finding a 'balance' seems to be the preferred 'solution':

The vision for Exmouth in the Local Plan promotes reducing out commuting 
through indigenous employment growth and tourism related development. The 
calculation based on Strategy 31 promotes the need for 6.8 Ha. The Tyms 
study identifies that Liverton Phase II (approximately 8 Ha) is likely to provide 
sufficient supply in the short to medium term. An additional 3 Ha is promoted at 
Liverton Phase III for the longer term. An additional 3 Ha of B-use land is 
promoted at Goodmores Farm. The amount of employment land is to create 
choice in employment and reduce out commuting. 

Futures Forum: What is the difference between a 'business park'... and a 'retail park'?

The question remains, however: 
What are the alternatives to the tourist industry?
It is interesting to consider the priorities of the influential former East Devon Business Forum
Futures Forum: Lobbying: East Devon Business Forum
chaired by former District Cllr Graham Brown who was also  “Champion for Business and Tourism"... 
Futures Forum: lobbying: follow-up
Futures Forum: Lobbying and transparency, continued...

This is from February this year, shortly before 'Browngate' erupted:

Is tourism important to East Devon District Council?

12 February 2013

No – not if its track record is anything to go by.  EDDC does not have much interest in tourism, except where it impacts on the development (potential housing or industrial land) of  of members of the East Devon Business Forum, even though, according to the Western Morning News, the industry employs 90,000 people in Devon and Cornwall and is worth an estimated £4 billion-a-year.
Who fights for tourism in East Devon?  Well, it isn’t the East Devon Business Forum, although Councillor Graham Brown (really you could not make this up!) is the EDDC “Champion for Business and Tourism [shurely shom mistake: shouldn't that be Champion for Business OR Tourism -ed?].
If you look at EDBF’s attendance list and minutes the main attendee with an interest in tourism at their meetings is the group that owns Crealy Adventure Park – but they mostly bleat on in the EDBF meetings about how many houses they want to build on land they own in the area.  Occasionally, but very infrequently, there is attendance by Pecorama or Seaton Tramway, but they rarely seem to attend two meetings in a row.
Their interest the first Local Development Framework Panel included ensuring that the large caravan park at Ladram Bay could be extended for a member of EDBF and that those EDBF members with tourism interests could also be accommodated in the Local Plan – though often for development of housing or industrial land around or beyond the tourism spots they own.
Yet, look at other parts of Devon.  We heard yesterday via the BBC website that
Torbay is getting more than £1.4m to help revive its struggling economy.  The money is among four handouts from the government’s Coastal Communities Fund for seaside areas.  Other beneficiaries include South Hams District Council, which will receive £450,347. Lynton and Barnstaple Railway Trust will get £150,000, while Plymouth City Council will receive £670,400.  In Torbay, which has the highest unemployment rate in Devon, the money is expected to create 350 jobs.  The Coastal Communities Fund was created in 2012 with money from the Crown Estates marine assets.
Does anyone recall East Devon District Council or the East Devon Business Forum going in to bat for the coastal communities in East Devon for this money?  No, they prefer to get the private sector to fund “improvements” by building hotels or supermarkets or concentrating solely on retail opportunities that bring in a rates income for the council.
Torbay’s share, which followed a bid by Torbay Development Agency, will support the development of start-up businesses, social enterprises and an apprenticeship scheme and a new cycle route around Cockington.  Plymouth also hopes to build more cycle lanes, linking the Barbican, the Hoe and the Royal William Yard.
SMALL businesses, social enterprises, apprenticeships, cycle routes … ah, the good old days.
When you go on to the EDDC website and search on tourism, you get sent to the website of another organisation (Heart of Devon) which covers the whole of Devon and there is also a list of Tourist Information offices in East Devon (many of which are fighting for their lives after support was withdrawn from most of them by the council), as well as a few generic links such as “beaches and coast”.  However,  there are also several links to EDDC revenue-generating assets such as car parks, Thelma Hulbert Gallery and the Manor Pavilion.  There is also a link to the Blackdown Hills AONB (of course!).  It isn’t exactly a riveting site for the would-be-visitor.
Perhaps Councillor Brown should turn his attention to the tourism part of his “Champion” job and to his stewardship of flood-hit Feniton for a while, though probably they will become MUCH more important as elections come due in May 2015.  Though maybe having taken care of Feniton so well, he might want to stand in another area of the district that needs his deft touch for spotting even greater economic and business potential.

Is tourism important to East Devon District Council? | Sidmouth Independent News

Welcome to East Devon
The Heart of Devon covers the areas of Exeter, Mid Devon, East Devon and parts of South Devon and Dartmoor. For tourist information, places to stay, things to do and what’s on, please visit www.heartofdevon.com
For tourism information in Devon, please visit Visit Devon.
You can view South West tourism statistics on the South West Tourism website.
For a list of Tourist Information Centres please see below...

And here is a more recent posting from the Sidmouth Independent News site:

Tourism in East Devon: Graham Brown’s LDF Panel and the Caravan Parks.

26 November

An interesting vignette from the minutes of the Local Development Framework Panel, chaired by Graham Brown, held on the morning of 1st October 2009 to discuss tourism.
EDDC’s Countryside Manager, Charlie Plowden explained that the District:
had an exceptionally high-quality environment which acted as the major stimulus for the local economy by providing employment, and income for business’.
For example, thousands of visitors were attracted year-round by the South West Coast Path, generating approximately £18m per annum and supporting 7,500 jobs.
The Council should, he said, capitalise on the area’s natural assets and environment and exploit the District’s ‘brands’, such as AONBs and World Heritage Site  for marketing tourism in the area.
Malcolm Bell, Director South West Tourism continued the clarion call for quality green tourism. 90% of people visited Devon for the environmentfor the beaches, history and heritage, and the wildlife. The changing priorities for tourism in the South West, he said,  were:
  • Value not volume;
  • Quality of employment not quantity;
  • Respect for the environmental golden goose
Fascinating stuff but suddenly it was noticed that the Economic Development Officer, Nigel Harrison, was AWOL, no sign of him. Members were obviously miffed that he wasn’t present to hear this praise of a vital economic activity. The Corporate Director, Karime Hassan, was sent off to find him.
Fast forward two weeks to the meeting of the LDF Panel (15 October 2009). Same chairman; Item 1 –the minutes of the previous meeting- and an extraordinary rubbishing of the speakers who had put the case for quality tourism:
“ There was some concern raised as to the authenticity of the data given in both the presentation by the Countryside Manager and Malcolm Bell. Members were advised that the information came from surveys undertaken in the area, however it had been noted at the meeting that the data was out of date.” (LDF Panel Minutes 15/10/2009)
Inexplicable? Not necessarily.
Maybe Mr Harrison was absent on the morning of the previous meeting because he was busy arranging a trip for that afternoon for the members of the LDF panel to …………Devon Cliffs and Ladram Bay Caravan Parks.
It turned out to be a very smoochy occasion with members purring that such caravan parks “provided an important contribution to the local economy and “a quality family offer”.
This may have been quite true, but what is certain is that the massive expansion of both sites which was imminent – and was encouraged by the Panel- would have been difficult to square with the green tourism message heard on the morning of the 1st October 2009.

Tourism in East Devon: Graham Brown’s LDF Panel and the Caravan Parks. | Sidmouth Independent News 
The old EDBF’s vision of tourism | Sidmouth Independent News
Sunday stroll past East Devon AONB at Ladram Bay | Sidmouth Independent News

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