East Devon District Council (EDDC) is responding to calls from some Sidmouth residents who want to retain the dilapidated Drill Hall on the seafront and refurbish it for community use.
The Council has already been in discussions with campaigners who wanted to halt the proposed demolition of the ageing building.
The Council’s Chief Executive exchanged emails and later met with Matt Booth, one of the lead campaigners, in December last year to discuss the group’s ideas. Mark Williams gave him advice about the procedures a community-led group would need to follow in order to make a bid for the building and the financial realities involved in pursuing such a move.
Following recent reports that Mr Booth has published some conceptual drawings and wants to form a community group to raise funds to acquire the hall, the Council will be taking back its planning application to demolish the building, which would have enabled the site to be used as a temporary boat park.
A Council spokesman said: “In light of the ongoing interest being shown, we have decided to withdraw the application. This will give Mr Booth and his associates a chance to properly investigate the financial viability of their idea without the threat of immediate demolition hanging over the building.
“We have made Mr Booth aware of the rigours of the process to be followed in order for a successful bid to be made. During the summer, the group will be able to investigate obtaining the funds to acquire the site. We will review the situation in the autumn and decide whether to put the site on the open market, thus allowing the group to bid”.
In order to make it possible for the ageing building to be vacated, EDDC negotiated with Wessex Reserve Forces and Cadet Association and invested over £600,000 in providing alternative premises for the Army Cadet Force on a site at Chambers Close in Sidmouth. This building is now in full use.
In the short term, the intention had been to demolish the hall and allow boat parking on the levelled site.
In preparation for the intended demolition and to make the building safer, asbestos specialists moved into the Drill Hall in December and cleared the material from the building in an operation costing around £11,000.
EDDC’s Property Services team had by then submitted a planning application to demolish the hall and level the site. That application has now been withdrawn, pending the outcome of the community bid proposal.
The spokesman added: “We are aware of a variety of competing views regarding the future for the Port Royal area.
“The Drill Hall site is an important part of that area. If a financially viable and workable proposal needs time to be prepared, then the demolition proposal can be suspended. If, come the autumn, the community group indicates that it has access to appropriate funds we will consider them within the wider interest in Port Royal’s future design and development as a whole”.