Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Stick to original shelters plan

THERE are a few people around Lyme Regis, particularly from the indigenous population, who are muttering “I told you so” after hearing that the new Marine Parade shelters are losing the town council £26,000 a year.

There was a small but vociferous group of locals who thought the £1.4 million development of the shelters was over ambitious and were of the opinion that the inclusion of the two community rooms was a step too far which would prove to be a financial burden in years to come.

One of them, town councillor Owen Lovell, pointed out that Lyme was already overstocked with halls and meeting places available for hire and the last thing the town needed was two more.

It is difficult to argue that Owen and a few others who shared his views were wrong. But I’m going to try…

My view is that the two glass fronted Lister and Langmoor Community Rooms, with fabulous views over Lyme Bay, offered a brilliant marketing opportunity but have been badly managed by the town council who have failed to cash in on their potential.

I was the first person to recognise that potential and have used the facilities of the Lister Room on three occasions to raise over £1,000 for Cancer Research UK, my favourite charity.

I first booked the Lister Room on Red Arrows Day in 2011, making sure that the Lifeboat Week committee did not intend to use the facility and giving them £50 for the privilege of doing so during their big week.

This was soon after the shelters had opened and the council had not agreed a proper structure for charging fees. In the end I insisted on paying £30 for an afternoon’s use. The council was kind enough to offer it for free as we were a charity but if I book the Woodmead Halls or Uplyme Village Hall I pay the going rate.

I fully accept that charities should be offered free facilities in the two covered areas at parade level as this has always been the case and local groups over the years have raised many thousands of pounds with book and beach stalls, etc.

I also accept that there should be two fee levels for the community rooms, a lower rate for charities and a higher fee for commercial activities.  But facilities of this calibre should not be given away for free. 

I booked the Lister Room again for a curry evening during last year’s Bonfire Night, again making profit, for which we were charged, and again for this year’s Red Arrows when the facilities were given free because the council finally agreed the charges.

Had I been responsible for the marketing of the community rooms I would have emailed all local organisations in and around Lyme Regis drawing attention to the quality of the facilities and location. I would have also produced a corporate leaflet distributed to firms and potential hirers within a 15 mile radius of Lyme extolling the virtues of using this prime location for company events and presentations. And I would also have promoted the shelters at various business exhibitions which take place. In sort, adopting a proactive approach to selling the facilities. 

The Jubilee Pavilion is also grossly underused. Chris Boothroyd and his team of willing volunteers, who man the information desk in the shelters, have done a brilliant job. But after two summers of having someone on site at peak times, the most asked question is still: “Where’s the toilets?”

Visitors to Lyme think the shelters are a wonderful improvement but there’s just not enough going on inside the pavilion to amuse them. Of course, that was never the intention. The concept was for people to come in and ask what was going on, then go out and do it.  

But not everyone who comes to Lyme wants to go fossil hunting or cliff walking. In the face of rising losses, the new deputy town clerk John Wright, who seems to me to be the sort of chap who gets things done, has now been instructed to investigate the possibility of leasing out one of the community rooms and one of the two parade-level store rooms on a commercial basis.

In this day and age, the council has to maximise its revenue opportunities but I wish more consideration had been given to the economics of running the shelters and its commercial potential before the construction work started.

Their time would be better spent on such matters rather than devoting so much debating time trading insults, as happened yet again at last week’s special meeting over the granting of permission for the Jurassic Airlines to use the Jubilee Pavilion.

The town deserves better than having to witness this continual petty squabbling. They don’t have to like each other but they should respect each other’s views.

The original plan for the shelters was to have two quality commercial units (Boyloys and the National Trust), both of which are a credit to the seafront, to finance the £500,000 loan from West Dorset District Council.

But two more shop or cafe outlets will increase deliveries and Lyme’s prized traffic-free seafront will be commercialised even further and will create additional nuisance through deliveries, etc.

With a more pro-active approach to the marketing of the shelters, I think a big dent could be made in that £26,000 loss.

The budget for running the shelters will include the allocation of staff costs. Does this mean that if the shelters were not occupied there would be a reduction in council workers?  If not, then that cost should be taken out of the equation as the personnel would be used elsewhere on council matters. It is not a genuine additional cost. 

It is true that Lyme has many competing meeting rooms - but none with the marketing potential of the Lister and Langmoor Rooms.

During all the discussions that took place prior to their construction, I heard very little about them having to make a profit.

The council are to be praised for turning the un-loved former shelters into a great amenity. Now they need to maximise its use - but not by abandoning their original intentions.

IN last week’s column on the unkempt state of the Cobb I referred to the Cobb mason being Frank Stone. As many of your have pointed out to me it was, in fact, Jim Stone, who took great pride in his work. Frank Stone, known as Flint, was one of the great characters of the town, and was a plumber, not a mason.

1 comment:

  1. If the council want to make up on the loss why don't they allow the Lister and the Langmoor community rooms be rented for Weddings? Originally this was possible and yet for months now no decision has been made and an enormous amount of revenue has been lost, revenue that could have made an enormous dent in the deficit. The rooms offer an opportunity for the the council, and local bars, restaurants, B&B's, florists, photographers and hotels to make extra revenue too. The only place currently available to be married is the Guild Hall - without being tied to a venue for the reception. At the current rates for 2013-14 with only one wedding on a Saturday for 40 weeks the council could raise £9,240 - I'm quite sure during peak times this could increase. With three weddings the council could cover the entire costs with money over. If a marketing plan were to be put in place to offer Lyme Regis as a wedding destination for outside the region these rooms could generate an enormous profit for both the council and local business.