Many thanks to all contributors to the Save our Sidmouth/ Sidbury / Sidford campaign ! Strong teamwork, backed by generous contributions from the public and from the Sid Vale Association, have enabled a vigorous opposition to EDDC’s damaging plans.
Chair of Save Our Sidmouth, Richard Thurlow, has today issued this comprehensive report:
Residents and visitors can be reassured that we are still active and continuing our campaign against the depredations proposed by East Devon District Council in the Sid Vale, in connection with the Knowle and the Local Plan.
SOS has benefited from widespread public support for the campaign, in response to our posters, writing of letters, attending public meetings, demonstrations, and District Council meetings. Following the March on the Knowle in November 2012, (in which over 4,000 people took part), the public contributed over £13,000 towards a fighting fund. This sum was matched by the Sid Vale Association (SVA). As the cost of employing professional support and publicity has increased, the SVA has spent an additional £5,000, bringing the total cost to over £32,000. The income and expenditure have been independently audited (as published in the SVA’s Spring newsletter).
SOS has paid for a professional planning advocate who prepared rebuttals of EDDC’s case, both on the Knowle and the Local Plan. These were summarised on our website http://www.saveoursidmouth.com and helped to inform the several thousand comments submitted by the public. Our consultant attended the Public Examination of the Local Plan and forcefully argued our case.
Below is a summary of the activities of the SOS coalition since 2012 and the current situation.
1. EDDC HQ at the Knowle, Sidmouth
EDDC are proposing to sell their HQ at the Knowle and relocate to a new building elsewhere. They say this is because
• the existing building is not ”fit for purpose”, (without defining what this is),
• it costs too much to run
• it is too large for their needs
• they want to be more accessible to the public (but they are proposing a site at the extreme west of the District)
• they want to take advantage of “modern methods of working”
this will lead to financial savings for taxpayers of £4.8m over the next 20 years
They now say that they want to move to Skypark in the extreme west of the district, rather than Honiton, which was earlier put forward as being the most central location for the public and staff.
EDDC have refused to give any estimate for the costs of the new building, either to the public or to EDDC councillors outside the Cabinet of close associates of the Leader of the Council, but they say that there will be no cost to taxpayers . They state that they will raise the sums necessary by;-
• selling an existing EDDC business site in Honiton to a supermarket
• selling the Knowle to a developer to build houses
• selling the Manstone Depot (in Sidmouth) for housing
They have just allocated a further £205,000, bringing the total to £705,000 of tax payers’ money, for further studies, plus £1m for costs of the land.
• that the whole exercise is a vanity project promoted by a select group of councillors, and totally unjustified in these difficult times
• that the modern part of the existing building is nearly sufficient for their declared needs, (based on EDDC’s own stated requirements)
• that they could refurbish and slightly enlarge the existing modern office at a far less cost than transferring completely to a more remote location
• that the “old” part of their HQ could be refurbished as apartments, raising sufficient money to enable them to update the existing building
EDDC have refused to consider our proposals in detail or to allow an independent inspection of the buildings. They ignore the facts that any move will
• force over 100 Sidmouth based EDDC employees to travel much further to work
• mean the majority of the remaining 200 staff will be very badly affected
• mean that because of the intended re-location to the extreme west of the District, East Devon residents employed at EDDC will gradually be replaced by people from outside the District
• lead to the loss of well over £1m per annum income to Sidmouth
• contravene their own planning rules relating to the reduction of employment in urban areas
Initially EDDC proposed new housing on the site and in the surrounding gardens and parkland, destroying a very attractive feature in the town centre. We objected strongly to this on economic costs and landscape grounds. Despite this, EDDC spent several hundred thousand pounds of taxpayers’ money preparing and promoting their Planning Application. We found many faults with the supporting documents, which necessitated further revised applications to correct these factual errors. We objected strongly to the final application.
The EDDC Planning Committee, to their credit, rejected the proposals.
However EDDC are still pursuing their relocation proposals, slightly reducing their land take of the gardens, and proposing that a developer take over the preparation of the Planning Application.
It would be difficult to identify a more flagrant waste of public money in these difficult times, with cutbacks in all services. We expect further activities in the coming few months, all of which we will oppose strongly.
2. Local Plan. Government Planning regulations stipulate that Councils responsible for planning matters must have a local plan in place. This Plan has to allow for development over several decades. A succession of drafts of the EDDC Local Plan have been put forward over the last few years, each one with numerous errors and omissions.
EDDC’s ‘final’ draft, incorporating numerous changes which they described as ‘minor’, was submitted to the Government’s Planning Inspectorate last year. These changes were rejected by the appointed Inspector, because he found them to be ‘major’ and this required further public consultation (and expenditure)
The revised Plan was subsequently submitted, and a Public Examination into the Plan started in February this year. Because of the degree of objection to the proposals for Sidmouth, the Inspector allocated it a whole day – no other town had more than half a day
We were represented by Charlie Hopkins, a well known local planning advocate.
Just before the end of March 2014, in what was a major indictment of EDDC after all the time and money they had invested, the Inspector informed EDDC that many aspects of the Local Plan were unsound, particularly Housing predictions, on which Employment figures are based. He said that EDDC had to re-examine their data and prepare yet another revision of the Plan, incurring further expenditure.
SOS have always maintained that:
–the 5 hectare Employment Site (planned between Sidford and Sidbury) is unnecessary as demand has not been proved, and it should not be in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
EDDC have in any case not carried out all the necessary statutory tests
The land is subject to flooding and the roads nearby cannot accommodate the generated traffic
Any expansion could be accommodated on the existing Alexandria Road Industrial Estate
–the EDDC relocation from the Knowle is unwarranted
–EDDC’s public ‘consultations’ on each draft of the Plan were illusory as EDDC never made any significant changes to the Plan in response to logical and well-reasoned comments and objections
We are expecting a draft of the revised Local Plan later this year, when we will again oppose any developments in the AONB and the housing at the Knowle.
EDDC has wasted huge amounts of public money in their plans for relocation of their HQ and in the preparation of the Local Plan, , SOS maintain that inefficiencies and incompetence in EDDC has cost local taxpayers hundreds of thousands of pounds.
We have achieved a great deal in the two years that we have been in existence; We have:
Demonstrated EDDC incompetence in preparation of Planning issues
Shown that arrogance and a failure to listen drive the EDDC agenda
Forced a revision and reduction in their Knowle proposals
Argued strongly that both their Knowle proposals and Local Plan proposals are flawed. This has been demonstrated by their changes to the former, and the Inspector’s rejection of the latter.
We are determined to fight on.
Richard Thurlow Chair of SOS
(Sid Vale Association, Sidmouth Chamber of Commerce, Knowle Resident’s Association, Futures Forum, Sidmouth Hospitality