LYME Regis Tourist Information Centre (TIC) is under threat of closure, with the town and Dorset councils clashing this week over who is to blame.
The TIC is operated by Dorset Council but housed in Guildhall Cottage in Bridge Street, which is owned by Lyme Regis Town Council.
Dorset Council this week 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, which has since been extended to July 2020.
However, the town council has argued that its decision to terminate the lease is not the reason behind the potential closure of the TIC.
Break down in negotiations
Town clerk John Wright explained that the town council had been in discussion with the now defunct West Dorset District Council for over four years with a view to taking on responsibility for the TIC. But when the new unitary Dorset Council took over district councils in April 2019, it decided not to pursue these negotiations further.
Mr Wright said it was only after these discussions broke down that the town council agreed not to renew the lease, adding that representatives from Dorset Council had since failed to attend any scheduled meetings to re-open discussions on the service’s future.
In its consultation document launched on Monday, Dorset Council said: “Whilst the TIC does generate some income, it is costing the council approximately £87,000 in funding this year to support the service and this cost is increasing each year. Dorset Council must prioritise where it spends its money.”
It added that it had already considered and dismissed the option of retaining the service as it is, saying this was “not a viable option” because the town council planned to re-occupy the space.
Dorset Council has also dismissed the possibility of moving the service to a different site in Lyme Regis because “no suitable alternative locations have been identified”.
It said the town council was open to creating an integrated information service within its redesigned offices, but Dorset Council was “not in a position to commit funding on a long-term or permanent basis to the town council for this function”.
Instead, Dorset Council is now seeking the views of the public on three possible 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.
‘Demand is changing’
Cllr Tony Alford, portfolio holder for Customer, Community and Regulatory Services, said: “We want to hear from local residents, businesses, organisations and visitors to Lyme Regis about how any changes to the current TIC service would affect them.
“Evidence tells us the nature of visitor information demand is changing and therefore the overall demand for the services the TIC provides is falling. Dorset Council currently spends approximately £90,000 a year to subsidise the TIC.
“We’ll continue to support Dorset’s tourism sector with the Visit Dorset website to reflect the changing nature of how people access visitor information. I would encourage everyone who has a view to have their say by completing the survey.”
In response to Dorset Council launching its public consultation, town clerk John Wright said: “There is a clear implication from Dorset Council that the potential closure of the tourist information centre has been caused by the town council serving notice on Dorset Council to vacate the premises; this is not the case.
“For over four years, the town council had been talking to Dorset Council’s predecessor West Dorset District Council about how to secure the future of the TIC, alongside discussions about other public services in Lyme Regis.
“Unfortunately, Dorset Council chose not to pursue these discussions. Historically, West Dorset District Council had indicated its intention to no longer run the service in Lyme Regis; this is consistent with its decisions about TICs in other West Dorset towns.
Need for additional space
“It was only after the breakdown of discussions that the town council took the decision to serve notice on Dorset Council to vacate the premises. This decision was informed by the town council’s need for additional space and to provide ground floor access.
“Since the decision to serve notice, Dorset Council has approached the town council to re-open discussions about the TIC. However, Dorset Council representatives have failed to attend any of the agreed meetings.
“Dorset Council then wrote to the town council to say it was ‘minded to’ close the TIC and would be starting a consultation process. Dorset Council also requested an extension of the TIC lease until July 2020 while the consultation takes place.
“The town council not only agreed to the extension, but also offered a further extension until 31 August 2020 to allow Dorset Council additional time; this offer has not yet been acknowledged.
“The town council is prepared to work with Dorset Council to find an alternative location for the TIC.”
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.