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Down but not out: North Devon is ready to welcome the tourists

By NDJSophie  |  Posted: February 27, 2014

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STORM damage and major road closures are not standing in the way of business owners in Westward Ho! who are determined to have the most successful season yet.

Extreme weather has battered the North Devon coast over the past two months and Westward Ho! has been hit particularly hard, with the pebble ridge being breached and a landfill site being exposed.

And with the extended closure of Nelson Road for sewage works, and the added closure of Atlantic Way due to fears of a wall collapsing, business owners are under more pressure than ever in the run up to the Easter period.

But despite this, the village is optimistic that tourism will still be booming, and some people are even going above and beyond to ensure a great season.

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Rob Braddick, who owns a number of attractions, is using storm damage to one of his businesses to kickstart a huge refurbishment.

A window at Mrs B’s Amusements was smashed by powerful waves in January and Rob said the arcade would now undergo a £100,000 makeover before reopening for the Easter holidays.

He said: “We are stepping away from the arcade style and will be re-opening as a family games centre called Ho!Barts, after my great-grandfather.”

Rob added he hoped the new centre would attract more tourists and tidy up that corner of Westward Ho!.

One of the village‘s’ biggest tourist attractions, Pebble Ridge Adventure Golf and Go-Karts, suffered significant damage in the storms, but owner Dean Martin is determined to get back on track in time for Easter.

He said: “We’ve been badly flooded and had pebbles everywhere. There are more high tides predicted this weekend, but after that the clean up will begin.

“We’ve never had a year like this and of course there has been a cost, but we will have the flags flying ready for visitors.”

Leslie Woodhouse, site manager at Golden Bay holiday park, said despite storms, they had seen one of their busiest booking periods ever.

“It seems tourists certainly haven’t been put off, we have been absolutely chock-a-block.

“People understand that these things happen, and I’m sure most of them will have seen the news reports prior to booking, but we are still up 20%.”

THE owner of Braunton Burrows is preparing for an influx of seasonal visitors to the dunes despite last month’s storms drastically reshaping the landscape.

However, concerns have been raised over the future flood protection provided by the burrows after large sections of the dunes crumbled during the poor weather.

Raymond Coldwell, managing director of Christie Estates which owns the burrows, said although the recent storms had altered the shape of the landscape, visitors should not be concerned about visiting.

He said: “At Crow Point you could get cut off from tides far more rapidly now. You could become stranded. However, if you are aware of the tides, as you should always be, then there shouldn’t be any problem. We would say to people that if you see the tide coming in, take no risks.”

A Natural England spokesman said the group would be assessing the damage caused to the dunes and would work with the Environmental Agency to help prevent future damage.

Mr Coldwell said action must be taken to protect both the burrows and nearby areas from future high tides. He said: “It’s fundamental for the people in Braunton and Braunton Burrows that this breach is dealt with.”

North Devon Council economic development manager Ellen Vernon said the region was bouncing back from recent storm damage.

The council launched the Northern Devon Economic Strategy, with Torridge District Council, yesterday, which details the key areas for growth being pursued and the council is keen to promote North Devon as being “open for business”.

Mrs Vernon said the area was home to some large manufacturing businesses which employed a large number of people and supported a local supply chain, which was why the council was lobbying hard for Assisted Area Statuses which would generate higher levels of grant funding.

She said: “As well as land-based investment opportunities, North Devon Council is also exploring opportunities from tidal energy generation off the North Devon coast. Tourism remains a key sector for North Devon. Visitor numbers to the Northdevon.com visitor website operated by North Devon+ continue to increase. The storms and floods enhanced visitors’ interest in the coast, and with the rail link from Exeter fully functioning, the tourism industry in the area had a positive spring half term.”

CROYDE beach owners Parkdean have vowed to make drastic improvements to the management of the site ahead of the Easter tourist season.

It comes after concerns were raised by a number of nearby residents over the condition of the beach following storms earlier this year.

High tides and powerful currents have seen parts of the beach and dunes left badly eroded and covered in waste which had been washed ashore.

Although a community beach clean drew in more than 200 members of the public last month, in recent weeks rubbish has once again been strewn across the beach.

Parkdean chief executive John Waterworth said the company had started inquiries into how to protect the dunes and were seeking to employ a beach warden to oversee the site.

In a statement on the group’s Facebook page, Parkdean said: “We are in discussions with the various agencies that we need consent from to do work to protect the Burrows – we are limited in what we can do without consent.

“This year’s storms have been somewhat unprecedented. Unfortunately we can’t do work without appropriate consent given the AONB status.

“In relation to clean up, we have a team on the park daily after high tide and have increased resources in this area.”

Torridge District Council leader Philip Collins said the council had been doing all it could to repair damage to the pebble ridge, promenade and slipway car park.

He said: “Torridge District Council staff have been busy on a big clean-up and repair job in Westward Ho! after the recent storms and we will do all we can to make sure the village is looking its best in time for the holiday season.”

LFRACOMBE Centre manager Steve Seatherton said storm damage would have little effect on tourism in the town.

The car park behind the Landmark Theatre, which was currently closed due to storm damage, would be repaired before summer.

He said: “Everyone will be gearing up for the season between now and Easter. Everyone will be ready to go.”

He said he expected the upcoming tourist season to be a particularly good one for Ilfracombe.

“We’ve got the Dotto train and Wetherspoons and a lot of new shops opening,” he said. “The future’s looking bright for Ilfracombe.”

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  • DonHenson  |  February 27 2014, 12:02PM

    Good to see that the area is optimistic. Can't wait to get back down to North Devon!