Calls for council to make visitor centre priority case

Mayor Ken Beer is looking forward to the reopening of Seaton Jurassic.

Mayor Ken Beer is looking forward to the reopening of Seaton Jurassic. - Credit: Archant

East Devon District Council has been urged to prioritise finding a new vision for the Seaton Jurassic site following the Devon Wildlife Trust’s decision to cease operation at the site.
Seaton Jurassic, which consists of exhibition galleries, education areas, gardens and a café, is owned by East Devon District Council and was opened in 2016.
Since then, 250,000 visitors have come to explore its unique interpretation of the story of life and its evolution from the Jurassic to the present day.
But the Devon Wildlife Trust wrote to East Devon in March to confirm they wished to step away from the centre as the risk of committing further funds to upgrading the displays was too great when considering the losses they had made in recent years.
It means the centre will fall back under the direct responsibility of the council in September 2021, leaving them having to look after the costs of rates, insurance and other liabilities and the reputational issue of such a facility not being in use, with the implications of this, and what the current position is, being discussed by East Devon District Council’s cabinet when they met last Wednesday.
Cllr Marcus Hartnell, who represents the Seaton ward, said: “It is sad and disappointing that DWT have decided to stop operating Seaton Jurassic, but we are in a strong position to look forward with this and for a renewed vision for the visitor centre, and we may not need to look too far for find that vision.
“But we do need to prioritise this as it is vitally important for the tourist economy in Seaton, and that the centre operates in an interim phase and that we find a more long term solution as well. We need to put as much resources as possible to this, as this is vital for the local tourist economy and bouncing back post-Covid.”
Cllr Jack Rowland, portfolio holder for finance, added: “It is important for the local economy and quite encouraging that as part of the next steps there has been credible interest shown in the future operation of the building.”
Cllr Paul Hayward, portfolio holder for economy and assets, added: “This is very important to Seaton and I will be looking for officers to give it the oomph that it needs. We will make sure that the building is given all the attention it needs.”
Simon Davey, strategic lead for finance, in his report to the meeting, told councillors that aside from the decision of DWT to vacate, there are also significant building defects identified over the past few months that will need remedying before the building can be used further.
He said: “The issues known to date relate to the plant within the building as opposed to the construction itself but requires further exploration and addressing to ensure that the building can be operational.
“Before the council can make a decision on how this building is to be used after September there are a number of steps that need to be considered.”
Mr Davey said these issues included further due diligence in respect of the obligations and arrangements for DWT to vacate including service and acceptance of a valid break notice as permitted within the trading agreement, the building condition and implications on future use, and obligations through funding agreements over future uses.
He also said there has already been credible interest shown in the future operation of the building and the council is likely to wish to tie in future use with its own tourism priorities and the promotion of the Wetlands, so future discussions will need to take place around if East Devon should operate the building or whether to market it for a third party operator.
And Mr Davey said that the council would need to appraise and plan for them to be responsible for the holding costs, which rates alone costing £17,465 a year, until such time as a new operator is occupying and trading.
The cabinet unanimously agreed to note the current position and the recommended steps the council will need to take over the next few months.

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