Felixstowe project defended
DAVID Smith knows he will not convince everyone that this is the project to regenerate Felixstowe's south seafront.With the politician's easy charm, he listens patiently to the vociferous, the angry, and the inquisitive.
By Richard Cornwell
DAVID Smith knows he will not convince everyone that this is the project to regenerate Felixstowe's south seafront.
With the politician's easy charm, he listens patiently to the vociferous, the angry, and the inquisitive.
His answers may not be what they want to hear but he doesn't shirk the task of trying to persuade them of the huge benefits the Bloor Homes-Suffolk Coastal council scheme will bring to the resort and their neighbourhood.
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"We have listened and we have reacted and made changes to the plans based on what people have said so far," said Mr Smith.
"It can still all move again. This is consultation. This is not the final scheme and we are still listening to what people are telling us. Really."
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He doesn't sound exasperated, though he would have every right to be. Not every community would revolt at being offered a multi-million pound scheme to smarten up their area and remove a derelict 17-acre site amid their homes.
But this is Felixstowe's south seafront and the rows over what should happen on this land have been raging since development was first mooted in 1985.
At the weekend the council unveiled the latest proposals for the site – which stretches from the doomed Herman de Stern to the Manor Club – and Mr Smith, the cabinet member responsible for the project, wasn't hiding, he was there to meet the public face to face.
The new plans are not a lot different from the previous ones. There are no exciting new elements, more a refining of what was proposed.
Beach huts which were to be evicted will now be allowed to stay – the council having a change of heart after a campaign by hut owners spearheaded by the Evening Star.
Car parking has been increased by 50 spaces to 230, the Herman de Stern will now make way for a low key restaurant-bar – likened to The Alex in the town – and will not open late at night, and housing in front of Manor Terrace has been redesigned and moved to avoid blocking sea views.
The ampitheatre remains. So too do the gardens, wooden galleon, children's play areas, beach café, cycle route, and sculptures.
There will be 189 homes – 45 of them houses and 20 for social needs – instead of 175. They will range from one-bed apartments to four-bed houses.
The plans are unlikely to convince the hard-line opposition, who are against many elements and worried over many issues, such as flooding, traffic and lack of facilities for residents. They already employing solicitors to fight their case.
"I know we will not convince everyone that this development is right for this site, but we, the council, are convinced," said Mr Smith.
"It has been a complicated and controversial project so far, as we always suspected it would be. There are strong views on all sides.
"But at all stages we have listened and taken on board the views of the residents most affected by the development.
"The alterations to the homes in Manor Terrace were a direct result of this, as is the inclusion of beach huts, concerns over parking, and the changes to the restaurant after residents nearby sent in a petition.
"Some people seem to doubt our intentions, but as far as I am concerned all we are trying to do is improve a part of Felixstowe that offers little to the town that we all love.
"I accept that not everyone is going to agree with every element of the final scheme, but I remain confident that the great majority of the residents of Felixstowe support us in our efforts to regenerate the resort."
CRITICS of the scheme doubt whether it will regenerate the resort and bring in extra visitors.
But David Smith is convinced that people will come back again and again to enjoy it.
"I think one of the problems has been that this is so new – the ideas here are very different to what we have in Felixstowe now. There is a freshness here, unusual and different features," he said.
"I think people will come back again and again. Families will want to walk through here, to sit and have picnics or use the beach, the café, or visit the ampitheatre and see what is happening and who is performing.
"The children will want to come back and play on the galleon again, run through the water jets, play on the equipment. It will be fun and it will be different. It is ambitious, but it wouldn't be worth doing if it wasn't ambitious or if it was more of what we already have.
"It will extend the seafront. Thousands of people visit Felixstowe every Sunday for the market and then what do they do? Go home again. This will give them something else to see and enjoy, a reason to stay longer."
Another of the much-criticised elements is the ampitheatre, lauded for its uniqueness but sowing doubts over its usefulness. Surely it's just a playground-for-skateboarders waiting to happen, somewhere which will stand unused for eight months of the year and be blighted by the English summer.
"I don't believe that at all. I think it will work. People will turn up and perform, play music, do street theatre – that sort of thing. The council will put on events, too, and take the risk," said Mr Smith.
There are others who say Bloor Homes will get more out of the houses – especially with spiralling prices – than the taxpayer gets for the land.
"In my view there is nothing wrong with the developer making some profit from this scheme. They are the entrepreneurs, these are their ideas, so why shouldn't they?" he said.
"The council could not afford to do this in any other way. The taxpayer will not lose out. We get a flagship scheme at no extra cost and a derelict part of the resort is regenerated."