Bypass is key to redeveloping Axminster eyesore

Websters’ site owners say planners must give the go ahead for a north-south relief road to revitalise centre

OWNERS of one of Axminster’s biggest town centre eyesores – the former Websters Garage – say a combination of more homes and a north-south bypass hold the key to its redevelopment.

In an exclusive interview with the Midweek Herald, Graham Barton, agent for Hallmark Estates (Devon), explains why progress in revitalising the derelict site has been held up.

He said: “The timing of the regeneration of Websters doesn’t lie in the hands of the owners. Its future is completely influenced, if not governed, by that part of East Devon District Council that is currently putting together the development plan for Axminster, which, in real terms, will dictate how the town will evolve over the next 20 years or so.

“Whatever shape the eventual Websters’ scheme will take, one thing is certain - it will be on various levels, probably combining commercial use, most likely in the form of shops, with apartments, parking and public amenity space.

“And therein lies the timing problem. Fairly obviously, the upper floors can only be constructed once the ground floor has been built and this means getting retailers, whose occupation will attract investors, to sign-up to the ground floor space in the first instance.

“The ‘bluer-chip’ retailers simply count chimney pots when it comes to the question of where to open next and it’ll come as no surprise that Axminster and its surrounds has a population that is just too small for many.

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“You would be forgiven for thinking that all is not lost as regards the redevelopment of Websters’ because the town’s headcount will definitely grow. There are various residential sites that have planning consents, not yet built-out, and if the Cloakham scheme eventually gets going, there’s a whole lot more to add to the total.

“The problem lies in the fact that, even if the population grows by these numbers, it would still be considered modest in scale by the multi-million pound investment/development world.

“In its simplest terms, the tipping in the balance would be if that part of EDDC controlling the town’s evolution would allow the much discussed relief road to be built during the life of the development plan, currently on the drawing board at Sidmouth.

“The number of dwellings required to finance the new road would put Axminster firmly on the radar of commercial investors who have a soft spot for the town but who are nervous in investing, today, the many millions required for a major regeneration scheme. The primary fears expressed by these investors are the prospect of two decades of only token population growth and an increasingly degraded town centre environment where the roads and pavements aren’t conducive to a pleasant shopping experience at the moment, never mind with any, even modest, growth in the population.

“With someone prepared to build the relief road out of their own pocket and someone else prepared to put millions into the town centre, the owners of Websters’ can only wait like everyone else to see whether the evolution of Axminster permitted by the ‘powers that be’ is a restricted one, risking commercial stagnation for 20 years or so, or whether, instead, the town is allowed to blossom towards its full and much-desired potential, sooner rather than later.”