Save Our Sidmouth

The time to address Local Plan problems is BEFORE Public Examination, warns SOS.

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Our previous post (31 July 2013 Local Plan problems…) has correspondence  regarding the setbacks to the Local Plan in South Somerset,  where East Devon’s Chief Executive has the same role. 

A further exchange between Chair of Save Our Sidmouth, Richard Thurlow, and EDDC CEO Mark Williams, continued , as follows:

31st July 2013

Dear Mr Williams,

We feel that we had to bring to your attention various problems concerning the draft local Plan as far as it affects Sidmouth, before it is submitted for Public Examination.

Firstly the Strategy for Sidmouth, (Strategy 26).

In the light of the decision taken by the Development Management Committee on the 18th July and then the full EDDC council meeting on the 24th July, to include the Sidford Employment land allocation in the Draft Local Plan, SOS has reviewed the implications and sought professional advice on the “Strategy 26” wording in the revised Local Plan.

  1. The final approved  Strategy 26 wording on “Jobs” now reads;-
    1. “Provision of up to 5 hectares of additional employment land, with a particular onus on B1 use with any retail being ancillary  to the primary use of each unit’
  2. However, paragraph 6.10 of the same revised  Plan, says” We will take a broad view of the types of activity (retail, commercial, industrial, service sector, etc) that can be classed as ’employment’ in making our land allocations; we do, however, see future B1 employment development (office developments), and jobs in this class, as being key”.

The Opinion we have received is that the terms ‘ancillary’ and ‘particular onus’ in Strategy 26 are weak to the point of being meaningless, and will offer no protection from unrestrained commercial development of the proposed Sidford employment site.    The advice confirms that the broad employment objectives of the Plan as a whole, (Para 6.10 above), which seek to encourage employment of any kind, will, in any event, have priority over Sidmouth-specific policies.   The conclusion, we were told, is that ‘major retail development of the Sidford employment allocation cannot be stopped if the Plan is adopted’

Secondly, the recent approval for the new Veterinary Centre in the AONB.

Against EDDC’s Officer’s advice, the application for a Veterinary Practice at Sidmouth Garden Centre, in the AONB, and outside the Built-Up Area boundary, (noticeably vehemently opposed by the “commercial promoters” of the Sidford Employment Site), was approved by DMC, despite not appearing in the draft Local Plan. Moreover, the approval for this development came after the Local Plan agenda was published.

The permission to develop  at the Garden Centre will have to be recognised within the new Local Plan,   because it is outside the Built-Up Area, within the AONB, and is part of an alternative Employment Site that has been put forward.  The DMC has effectively established a second Employment Site for Sidmouth, in addition to that proposed for Sidford.  If the Local Plan is submitted then this newly established employment site will have to be included.

Clearly there is now a great risk that the inconsistencies in the wording will expose Sidmouth to a development which will severely damage the town and ,the later approval for the new Vet centre will prejudice the robustness of the Local Plan.

Thirdly  the absence of a “Green Wedge” between Sidford and Sidbury

Your Policy Planning manager has publicly confirmed that there was no Green Wedge in the Local Plan between Sidford and Sidbury, ’because no-one asked for it’.    Not only is this a poor reason, but this has clearly failed to realise that local people and their elected representatives had no expectation that the Sidford/Sidbury Green Wedge was under threat, and assumed that the AONB designation was protection  enough.   The Plan now has  the curious mix of special Green Wedge designations for land not considered worthy of AONB status, and Industrial Estates in the AONB.    We submit that the Green Wedge between Sidford and Sidbury is very important.   Although the new Industrial Estate would not quite link Sidford with Sidbury, the rump of green space remaining is so small that it cannot be described as a Green Wedge, and we note that the draft Plan does not attempt to do so.

Other Issues.

We will not repeat in detail all the other problems that we, and others, have identified with the Sidmouth Section over the last two years, and which have not been rectified.  These problems range from lack of evidence, absence of need, and arithmetical errors, to the overwhelming weight of public opinion. These errors still stand.     

Conclusion

We believe that these combine with the points noted above, to make the Sidmouth Section of the draft Local Plan completely unviable and undeliverable. We suggest that, as it stands, the Sidmouth Chapter, and therefore the Local Plan document as a whole, has little chance of being approved by the Inspector, and a situation such as has arisen at South Somerset is all but inevitable. This will mean further delays, re-writes and consultations, which nobody wants. It seems clear that at the Inquiry, the opposition to the Sidmouth Section  from some EDDC Councillors, , Sidmouth Town Council, local residents, stakeholders and groups such as Natural England, will be joined by considerable input from many members of the District Council, and Sidmouth representatives. Indeed, in  a publication, EDDC themselves described the Sidford allocation as the part of the Local Plan ’with which they were least happy’.

It is the duty of the District Council to submit a respectable, fair and evidence-based document to the Inquiry.   In its present form, this is manifestly not the case.

We therefore recommend an alternative way forward.

We suggest that in the light of the  above, the Sidmouth Section should be temporarily withdrawn and redrafted.     An Emergency Meeting should be called, including representatives from EDDC, STC and local stakeholders, to agree what that re-draft should include.

 The re-draft must include the  abandonment of the Sidford Employment Site, because of the reasons noted above.  It should further emphasise the adequacy of the Alexandria Road Site. We do not take a view at this stage on how the Garden Centre decision should be reflected in any re-draft.   We are happy to listen to the advice of the Policy Team officers. 

This way forward does not necessarily involve further delay, as we do not believe that the Public Examination stage of the process will take place in November.   It will certainly be after Christmas.

We therefore have sufficient time to organise a speedy re-drafting, and  a consultation for the Sidmouth Section could be held around September/October.    DMC and Full Council approval could be secured before Christmas, if proper urgency is shown.

Bluntly, there will remain a good chance that the Inspector will still reject the re-draft, but at least the chance of that happening will be reduced, and the issues to be argued about between the two ’sides’ will be fewer.  

The alternative of pressing on with what we have at the moment is an inevitable rejection, and humiliation for the authority,  with yet more unwanted delay, cost, and animosity.

I do hope that you will consider this before it is too late.

regards

Richard Thurlow

Chair SOS

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