Campaign group wants an independent review
THE campaign group trying to save an Exmouth seafront hall from being taken over by a hotel chain are calling for a review into the bidding process.
As previously reported by the Echo, East Devon District Council selected Premier Inn as the preferred bidder to buy the site of Elizabeth Hall.
The committee of the Friends of Elizabeth Hall group, who were responsible for organising a petition bearing 12,000 names against the sell-off of the site and also submitted a bid, want a district auditor to look into the whole process as they feel they were at a disadvantage.
Group member Nikki King said: "We feel we were strung along in the process.
Lilibets offer unique gift ideas for that perfect baby shower or the new arrival/s.
Our clothes range from premature 3-5lbs to 24 mths. Some items are handmade by us.
*This offer excludes: Handmade cards, Natural Nursery Products and Exeter Babies products. (real nappies, slings etc)
Only one voucher per transaction.
Cannot be exchanged for cash.
Contact: 01392 346706
Valid until: Saturday, August 31 2013
"We have been told that because we had no intention of demolishing the building we never stood a chance in the process as we didn't conform to the planning brief, it would have saved a lot of time and resources if we knew this.
"We've been given advice that we can't go to judicial review because we'd be liable for costs if this caused a delay to the building of the Premier Inn.
"We don't believe we were given a genuine opportunity.
"It's not that we are accusing the council of anything, but we think an auditor should be aware of how we found the process and should look into it, as we feel as a community bid we should have been given more help."
Amid criticism that a budget hotel is inappropriate for the site, a survey conducted by the town's chamber of commerce has revealed that the "vast majority" of its members which responded were in favour of the Premier Inn.
Following a committee meeting, the Friends of Elizabeth Hall group has resolved to try to form a consortium with other groups in the town to further their cause.
The call for a closer look at the bidding process comes amid concerns that estate agents Jones Lang LaSalle, which the council selected to manage the sale of the site, was too closely linked with the hotel chain.
But a spokesman for the district council has given more details about the process.
He said it is "common practice for a commercial property agent" to act for a buyer and seller at the same time and to protect the interests of both parties.
The spokesman confirmed that there were four informal tenders following 12 expressions of interest and, had cabinet members not been impressed by any of the bids, they could have decided not to sell.
JLL was selected by the council at the end of March following a "competitive process" which involved five other local agents. Premier Inn expressed a formal interest in the site in May during the first weeks of marketing.
The council spokesman said although there is no real way to avoid "a conflict of interest" when a large national company is linked closely with one of the bidders, there are robust regulations in place governing the procurement process.
"On May 23, JLL wrote informing us of the potential conflict of interest as set out by the Royal Institute of Surveyors' code of conduct," he said.
"It set out how it would deal with its instructions to us in a confidential manner and that it has a compliance officer within JLL who would ensure appropriate safeguards were put in place and that its professional obligations to us would be satisfied."
The spokesman confirmed that JLL contacted Premier Inn as part of the marketing process.
"JLL marketed the site for us and therefore it would have passed the details to its hotel department to see if any clients were interested," he added.
"One of the reasons we chose JLL was due to its large leisure section, which gave more scope for marketing, as well as its competitive tender."