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Rockfish submit ‘finalised design plans’ for Drill Hall: concerns

  • by JW

… involving documents, the Charities Commission and The Trustees.


Last month, Rockfish announced that they had put in their ‘finalised design plans’ for a fish restaurant in the former Drill Hall on the Sidmouth Esplanade.

The planning application is now receiving comments at the council’s planning pages:

23/1657/FUL | Conversion of hall to restaurant and bar (Use class E and sui generis, previously A3/A4), demolition of rear elevation and public toilet block and replacement with restaurant/ bar extension and a new public toilet block, external terrace to form seating area and addition of new flue. | Sidmouth Drill Hall The Esplanade Sidmouth EX10 8BE

There are lots of further comments online, which focus primarily on the desirability or otherwise of the plans.

However, there are other considerations which will have to be taken into consideration – involving documents, the Charities Commission and The Trustees.

Proposed Rockfish extension concerns

Whether you think it is a good thing for Rockfish to extend into the area where the toilets and shelter is, or believe that the loss of those facilities is going to ruin the area is all a matter of opinion. The problem is that matters of fact are being overlooked in the discussions.

The land next to the Drill Hall is part of the Ham land given to the use of ‘inhabitants of, and visitors to Sidmouth’ by JGG Radford, solicitor, in 1896. You can see a both a copy of the Conveyance and a copy of the map on the Drill Hall Research Site.

The land transferred in this conveyance was registered as a charity in 1896, and re-registered in 1962 in response to the Charities Act 1960. The Trustees are Sidmouth Town Council, which includes all Councillors.

The land was given to the Council of the day in 1896 which was Sidmouth Urban District Council. When the Councils were reorganised the Ham land ended up being shared between Devon District Council who were responsible for roads, East Devon District Council who became responsible for things like public toilets, and the greatest part which went to STC to be managed for the benefit of residents and visitors.

However, all land was still held under the terms of the original Conveyance and Charity; the Land Registry document showing EDDC ownership of their part says so in part C, Charges Register.

By now many of you may be saying ‘So what?’. The ‘What’ is that this land and any building on it are what is known as ‘designated land’; that is, its range of possible usage has been specified in the document which sets up the charity.

In this case the land’s function can only be ‘to the use and intent that the same may be for ever used and enjoyed by the inhabitants of and the visitors to Sidmouth aforesaid as a place of recreation freely and voluntarily subject only to reasonable restrictions and regulations in accordance with the law for the time being affecting the use of Public Parks and Pleasure Grounds’. Any other use is not allowed, such as partitioning it off for the use of a private business, without the specific permission in writing of the Charity Commissioners and a consultation with the beneficiaries of the charity; the beneficiaries are the inhabitants of, and visitors to Sidmouth.

Furthermore, the rules about disposing of designated land state that any money raised by such a disposal have to be used for the purposes of the charity. EDDC cannot use it for the District, or even a range of things in Sidmouth which are not to do with supporting the particular charity.

This is a worrying situation seeing that EDDC have publicly stated that they expect the Council to receive a capital sum from selling a lease to Rockfish.

It is even more worrying for STC Councillors who, it would seem, are responsible as Trustees for making sure EDDC do not dispose of designated land belonging to the charity ( Ham Playing Field No 300967 )