There were four representations from the public. Leader, Paul Diviani, answered them very briefly, lumping them all together, in a response lasting approximately two minutes.
Richard Thurlow, Chair, spoke on behalf of SOS, as follows:
I want to raise two issues with questions.
Firstly the Knowle.
We welcome the reduction in development land take now required to finance your ambition to move elsewhere, noting though that one of the three zones remaining has been increased in size; it does show that the Council is forced occasionally to listen to the public.
But we still believe that the move is based more on emotion than practicality and economic viability.
You have not assessed, to a level which would certainly be the case in the commercial world, the viability of improving the modern office block.
There are many other flaws in your support documents, but it seems the public will not be allowed to discuss this with you.
You have spent over £350,000 of taxpayer’s money, excluding the huge time costs of Technical Employees on the first futile exercise, and have committed another £100,000). .In this time of financial stringency it is an appalling waste, money that could have been better used elsewhere.
We still object to the move. We remain convinced that there is a compromise of remaining at the Knowle and preserving all the benefits, whilst improving the standards of your offices, and developing housing. You have never allowed us to have any meaningful discussion with you about this
At the Cabinet meeting last week, Cllr Halse tried to make you aware of the risks in moving; I have spent many years in the construction business, and I fully echo these sentiments. You will be committing huge sums of money, to a project which is risky and not warranted at this time. In the probable event of over runs, it will not be the Developer who loses money, it will be EDDC.
Are you really prepared to take this huge risk?
Secondly the Local Plan.
We note that this still includes an allocation for Employment land at Sidford.
This perhaps the most contentious and poorly reasoned proposal in the Plan.
It is not needed; your calculation of its need and therefore size, are plain wrong. where are the 1300 new employees working there to come from? Sidmouth?.. if not you destroy your own rationale for the site.
There are already vacant office and light industrial sites further west on the A3052… where is the need for another site?
You have not assessed in any way, the extreme flooding which regularly takes place there. You have not assessed the traffic, which will be generated on an already overloaded road system. Surely before putting a site forward you should have made sure that it was viable?
By your own admission you have included the site because it was put forward by a developer who wants to build there; some of your own Councillors have said that they do not know why it is included.
The existing employment site, with an improved access will be sufficient for many years; we have done the necessary work to prove this.
Our proposal would be to leave out this site from the LP and review its need and viability, as has been suggested. Will you do this?
If not how will you proceed if the Developer submits plans for Planning Permission in advance of the Inspector’s report?
Further reports on the Full Council meeting will be posted shortly.