LYME Regis residents and business owners turned out in force last week to support the town’s Tourist Information Centre (TIC), currently under threat of closure.
The public gallery at Lyme Regis Town Council’s first meeting of the year was packed with those opposing Dorset Council’s proposal to close the facility.
The TIC is operated by Dorset Council but housed in Guildhall Cottage in Bridge Street, which is owned by Lyme Regis Town Council.
Just before Christmas, Dorset Council launched a public consultation to consider options for the service’s future, including its “preferred option” to close the facility, implying that this was due to the town council’s decision not to renew the lease for the TIC.
The town council agreed last year not to renew the lease for the TIC and instead take over the ground floor space at Guildhall Cottage to expand its own offices, as part of a major refurbishment project.
Notice was served in September with the initial intention that the TIC would vacate the premises by March 31 2020, although the town council has since offered to extend this to July 2020.
The town council has argued that its decision to terminate the lease is not the full reason behind the potential closure of the TIC, which is costing Dorset Council £87,000 a year to run.
Town clerk John Wright said that the council had been in discussion with the former West Dorset District Council regarding the future of the TIC for more than four years, but these discussions broke down when Dorset Council came into force, replacing the district council, last year.
Dorset Council has already dismissed the possibility of retaining the service as it is, or moving it to another site in Lyme Regis.
Instead, it is currently running a public consultation with the following three options:
- Option 1 – Close the TIC and no longer provide a face-to-face service. The council will continue to invest in supporting tourism through its Visit Dorset website service. This is the council’s preferred option.
- Option 2 – Close the TIC and provide a self-service capability e.g. touch screen terminal.
- Option 3 – Consider the provision through another delivery model e.g. voluntary sector.
Lyme Regis resident John Dover spoke on the issue at this week’s town council meeting, saying he was representing many of the residents and business owners attending.
He said they were concerned about the potential loss of a face-to-face service and requested that, while Dorset Council ran its consultation, a “parallel dialogue” with Lyme Regis Town Council was opened to explore all options, reduce misunderstanding and achieve a “win win” result for everyone.
David Lawrence, owner of the Lewesdon B&B in Lyme Regis, said many of his guests, particularly foreign visitors, relied on the TIC.
He backed Mr Dover’s comments, suggesting that the town council set up a consultation group including councillors and volunteers to gain a full understanding of the services offered and “commercially analyse” the costs and benefits of an information service.
“If such a balanced review is not undertaken then I fear that the TIC issue will become a political football with many unfounded emotional views being bandied around as fact,” he added.
The Mayor of Lyme Regis, Councillor Brian Larcombe MBE, said there was an “unfortunate degree of misinformation” surrounding this issue.
He said that “progress was painful” when the town council was in discussions over the future of the TIC and he hoped for more clarity after Dorset Council’s public consultation, but the town council “could not compromise this process”.
The public consultation will run until Monday, February 10 and can be found online at www.dorsetcouncil.gov.uk/lymeregistic. Printed copies are also available by calling 01305 225000 or you can collect one in person at the TIC or Lyme Regis Library.
Two drop-in sessions have been scheduled at the Woodmead Halls in Lyme Regis, where Cllr Alford will be available to answer any questions, along with officers from Dorset Council.
A drop-in session for businesses will be held on Tuesday, January 14 from 2pm to 4pm, and for members of the public on Wednesday, January 22 from 10am to 12noon.