West Devon Council leaders have run into a revolt over their plan to do a deal with a hotel chain to build 80 rooms on five levels on the Abbey Rise Car Park – off Pixon Lane, connected by footpath to Bedford Bridge.
Council leader Philip Sanders, of Yelverton, and his supporters, say the council can make a profit by borrowing to invest in the building, then leasing it to the hoteliers, who have been looking for a Tavistock site for years.
A decision to go ahead was made by the council’s central hub committee, chaired by Cllr Sanders, and will be presented to the full council for endorsement on Tuesday (Feb 12). Normally, hub decisions are rubber-stamped. But there is a furious last-minute effort going on to force a pause for full debate on the whole idea.
Through social media posts picked up by newspapers and tv, Andrew Coulson, a retiring army officer in the course of moving to civvy street and settling his young family in Tavistock, has become a spokesman for an opposition movement representing local traders, existing accommodation providers, carpark regulars, business experts who think they have better ideas and the side of Tavistock which saw off McDonalds a few years ago.
Over a frantic few days, he has got halfway to collecting 2,500 signatures for a petition which could force the council to listen to a five-minute list of objections if finished and delivered by Friday evening. If it fails to hit the target, he believes some councillors are likely to speak for them or ask for them to be heard.
Mr Coulson said yesterday: “Even some Tavistock councillors are complaining that this has been pushed through behind the scenes without proper consultation. I got involved because I went to a meeting of business people with concerns (Monday) and the arrogance that has got this enormous project this far without a proper debate really got my goat. There has been no real investigation into consequences apart from swallowing the hotel chain’s PR. Council officers said the loss of parking spaces could be made up for elsewhere, but nobody can say where. Nobody knows what it will mean for visitor numbers, or existing bed and breakfast business, when you take into account the change of character to the town, putting off people who like Tavistock because is not dominated by chain businesses.
“It is a risky project, involving a loan of £10.6 million, I am told, and two years of repayments to be made upfront while the thing is being built. Local councils are in a very difficult position with funding but this is a historic site, in a conservation area, and once it is sold it is sold. The whole idea needs to be pressure-tested with all the questions from all directions.”
Find his petition HERE
Councillor Sanders says the council has already made investments in Bristol, Okehampton and Exeter, and it is time to try to help development in West Devon, but there are not many opportunities. The Abbey Rise project would eventually deliver about £46,000 a year towards meeting the council’s budget shortfall.
He says the hub committee has operated perfectly properly and the full council has approved the idea in general terms already. Technically, the vote on Tuesday is simply about proceeding as planned, by setting up a fund-raising procedure. But some councillors apparently see it as their last opportunity to put the brakes on.
Mr Sanders said yesterday: “The town is well provided for in terms of quality hotel accommodation in the upper price range and similarly with excellent B & B provision. However the nearest chain hotel accommodation is either Plymouth or Sourton Cross.
“The scheme was worked up and brought together according to a very rigorous procedure laid down and approved by the full council. Absolutely nothing was done in secret and regular briefings were given. The full council will receive and debate the recommendations from the HUB on the funding mechanism and deal with it as it sees fit. The debate will not be about whether the project should proceed as this decision has been taken by the council.”
Premier Inns, thought to be the interested party, said: “We are looking for opportunities around Dartmoor, including in Tavistock and Okehampton, to respond to customer demand. We have had conversations with landowners but have not committed to any particular sites at this stage.”
Premier Inns often has rooms at £50 or £60 a night and hotels on Plymouth Road in Tavistock are likely to charge more like £100.
* Tuesday’s council meeting, at Kilworthy Park from 4 pm, is also last chance for any ideas for saving or re-using the toilets at Mapgie Bridge. So far, nobody has offered to adopt them and they are scheduled for closure at end of March.
* In response to the outcry over the hotel project, the council has organised a public question-and-answer session at Kilworthy from 6.45 pm on Monday Feb. 18.
MONEY GROWING ON TREES
It’s not likely to solve council funding problems but the soaring value of oak has given a lot of authorities and individuals an asset worth considering, according to a forestry and timber trade body called Grown In Britain.
Its latest guide to prices shows all kinds of wood, from firewood to fine floorboarding and house frames, is appreciating much faster than inflation – especially oak, which Devon has always had plenty of.
The Times reported last weekend: “It is now fetching record prices in auctions, with the cost per cubic foot of high-quality oak doubling to £10 in less than four years. The largest trees are worth more than £2,000 and woodland owners are being encouraged to cash in to reduce Britain’s reliance on imports for 95 percent of its hardwood.”
Dougal Driver, chief executive of Grown In Britain, says it takes about 120 years to grow a big oak but after that, it makes good sense to cut it to make way for more trees, rather than paying a big environmental cost in shipping.
A big oak trunk could fetch £100 a cubic metre for costs starting at 25 percent, depending on location and volume of cutting.
He told the Horrabridge Times: “A lot of local authorities have under-managed woodland and I would certainly encourage them all to look at the possibilities. We have already helped Torbay develop a woodland plan so they can sell with our certification.”
LEE SPENCER GOING WELL
Over the next week, The Rowing Marine, Lee Spencer of Horrabridge, will be closing on the halfway mark of his voyage across the Atlantic, still in with a chance of breaking the all-comers record for a row from Europe to South America.
His wife, Claire, has been keeping up the postings for him HERE
As both sides of the north Atlantic came round from a blast of deep winter, Lee was burning his back between the Canaries and his destination – Cayenne in Guiana.
Claire Spencer’s Wednesday report said: “The last few days, whilst rowing, he has been listening to John le Carre’s The Pigeon Tunnel ,which he’s really enjoyed. That and seeing patches of luminescence like green clouds in the water. Those were better than the ‘angry bastard waves’ which came in the night before last – they were multi directional and he didn’t mind saying how they really scared him.
“The big, ‘confused’ waves – as he called them – made for a night of hard rowing which made him tired and achy but his motivation for beating the able-bodied world record trumps any aches: ‘If I don’t row, I don’t get anywhere, it’s that simple’.
“Times like this emphasise the importance of Lee’s rest periods. 90% of his effort in the non-rowing time is about maintaining his body so he can row. He has to stay on his tummy for a chunk of time to give his bottom a rest and then he has to lie on his back to stretch it out, to counter the position he’s been in all day.”
MAGPIE OBJECTIONS LOST IN SPACE
All the objections to a certificate of legality for Magpie Caravan Park, opening the way for its development into a chalet estate, are likely to be ruled irrelevant, it seems. There will be no opportunity for elected members of the Dartmoor National Park Authority to express their opinions or support anyone else’s. It is so far entirely a legal argument and will be decided by discussion between the applicants’ lawyers and the authority’s, with the assistance of the courts if necessary. So why is the public consultation taking place? Because the rules say it must and that’s it.