Save Our Sidmouth

Sidmouth’s need for open spaces: New study challenges crucial part of EDDC’s planning application for Knowle

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Local resident Peter Whitfield’s critique is set out below, with his permission:

‘ “Sidmouth has 52.6% more open space than is required….”

That is according to paragraph 3.32 of the Planning Support Statement compiled by consultants Bell Cornwell for the EDDC’s revised application to itself to build houses and a care Home on part of the Knowle parkland. So we should not be making such a fuss about it all!

Unfortunately for them this statement does not stand scrutiny – and it is feared that members of the Development Management Committee who will determine the council’s own planning application may not be as thorough in their analysis as members of SOS have been. It arises from a meeting of the DMC on 12 June 2012 when they adopted the East Devon Open Space Study as evidence in current planning applications and as policy under the emergent Local Plan. That means that the whole document is to be used, not just the parts that suit the council’s application.

So when we read in the Planning Support Statement that  “The current open space requirement as set out in the EDOSS 2011 sets out the standard of 1ha per thousand of population for Parks and Recreation Grounds in urban areas. Sidmouth currently has 21.26ha (or 1.53ha/1000 of population provision) which equates to an exceedance(sic)of the standard by 7.33ha – a significant amount more that the town actually ‘needs’.” we wondered where this so-called standard came from. It certainly was not from the OSS!

That document suggests a starting point of 1ha/1000 for Parks and Recreation Grounds (one of 14 classifications of public open space which it then carefully defines) but moderated this suggestion in a number of caveats elsewhere which the PSS chooses to ignore. The following are just some of these –

P5.2   The standards that have been proposed are for minimum guidance levels of provision. So, just because geographical areas may enjoy levels of provision exceeding minimum standards does not mean there is a surplus, as all such provision may be well used.

P7.5.1  The starting point of any policy adopted by the Council should be that all open space should be afforded protection unless it can be proved it is not required.

We have not seen any such proof from EDDC.

7.53      Policy R1  …….decisions related to the protection of open space need to be considered at a local level, and in close consultation with the local community and through neighbourhood plans.

The vast majority of expressed local opinion is in favour of maintaining the whole Knowle park as amenity open space and not have the residue spoiled by housing and Care Home development.

            Policy R3   Sites which have nature conservation, historical or cultural value should be afforded protection, even if there is an identified surplus in quality, quantity or access in that local area.

The whole area, including the original main building, is of great interest to the historical development of Sidmouth in its transition from a small fishing port, through the great Regency developments of cottages orne to its development as a tourist resort with the arrival in 1874 of the railway link to the national network.

But do we in fact have such a surplus? When we look at the 21.26ha of Parks and Recreation Grounds which we are said to enjoy we find that the list of sites in Appendix C of the OSS is:-

Connaught Gardens (1.34ha)

Blackmore Coronation Gardens (0.91ha)

The Knowle (3.63ha)

The Byes (13.81ha)

Sidbury Park (0.89ha)

Eastern Town Recreation Ground (0.26ha)

And Furzehill Playing Field (0.41ha)

The OSS gives careful definitions for the 14 types of open space they identify, and two of them are:-

Parks and recreation grounds refer to defined areas of green open space that have been formally laid out for public enjoyment. Typically they will include lawns, flower beds, paths, and occasionally facilities such as toilets or a food stand. This includes public parks and gardens such as Connaught Gardens or The Knowle in Sidmouth, as well as privately owned formal gardens that are open to the public such as Killerton Gardens in Broadclyst.

(This has a proposed standard of 1ha/1000 subject to the caveats above)

Natural & semi-natural open space. This essentially covers any area of open space that has not been formally laid out and is therefore natural or semi-natural in appearance. This includes common land, woodlands, moorlands, heathlands, grasslands, as well as beaches and cliffs amongst others, and might be considered nature reserves. These areas may or may not be managed, and include open spaces such as Woodbury Common, Budleigh Beach, and Ashclyst Forest.

(This has a further standard of 1ha/1000 also subject to the caveats above)

For those of us who know and use The Byes they do not fit this definition of Parks & Recreation Grounds but are an exact fit for Natural and semi-natural open space. So we should take 13.81ha from our 21.26, leaving just 7.45ha – a gross under-provision against our “need” of 13.93ha!!! Furthermore we doubt whether many people would regard Sidbury Park as part of the Sidmouth urban area! So lose another 0.89ha?

But, even if we accept the 21.26ha figure the fact remains that the OSS does not dictate a “one-size-fits-all” policy which reduces provision to a simplistic arithmetical calculation based on population statistics and makes no reference to the very different economic characteristics of east Devon’s seven urban areas. Such an approach is not what the document actually suggests.  Honiton and Axminster for example are largely industrial and commercial economies; there are hardly any hotels, guest houses, B&Bs or camping sites in their areas. Virtually no coaches arrive there with short or long stay visitors. Their needs for open space are mainly to meet the requirements of the local population. Sidmouth’s economy is essentially based on tourism and therefore needs to be perceived as different, welcoming, attractive, with lots of green space in which visitors can walk and relax. There are many hotels, guest houses, B&Bs, camp sites and very many coach parties arrive both as day trippers and holiday makers. To diminish or spoil the areas of open space by unwanted development would endanger this vital trade and ignores the caveats in the OSS.

The Sidmouth Town Council has reviewed the amended application and can now only “support development of Zone C within the footprint of the existing office buildings and subject to sympathetic and appropriate design in keeping with the character of the area and adjacent properties.”

This might be bad news for potential developers but is good news for Sidmouth.’

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3 thoughts on “Sidmouth’s need for open spaces: New study challenges crucial part of EDDC’s planning application for Knowle

  1. Interesting points made here but I do have one query. Where is Sidbury Park? I am a Sidbury resident and although there is a Millennium field I can’t think of a park.
    This is my second try as I was told my email address was invalid the first time – so fingers crossed!

  2. It is great that Sidmouth Town Council supports only one part of the Knowle planning application. However, people must be aware that STC has no greater or lesser role than any other consultee on the application – EDDC can (and mostly does) ignore the comments of town and parish councils when they do not accord with what EDDC wants. EDDC says that it takes note of council comments as “local knowledge” but this is simply a sop.

    People need to ensure that they have sound planning reasons for objecting to the application – these reasons have been detailed on this website. It is by cogently showing that the application does not accord with a Local Plan’s policies that forms the gives ouncillors the ability to refuse the application.

    It might have been helpful if the town council could have invested in the one-off services of a top-notch planning lawyer to refute EDDC’s reasons for granting itself its own planning application and to point out which are the stronger policies they can cite.

    Although the officers could still come up with advice to refuse because they are supposed not to have discussed the matter with the planning department but to have a “Chinese Wall” between them – and there is that pig, flying over the Knowle again …..

  3. My view is that faulty representation of data in an official document commissioned in support of a planning application does constitute a “sound planning reason” for objecting to the application.

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