At a crowded meeting at Sidford Social Hall last Wednesday evening ( 15 June) , Sidmouth Town Councillors and the public were of the same mind..that the planning application (ref 16/0669/MOUT) should be rejected. The STC will now add their comment to those already submitted to EDDC, to be considered along with all the others. THE FINAL DECISION RESTS WITH THE DISTRICT COUNCIL’S DEVELOPMENT MANAGEMENT COMMITTEE (DMC) , at a meeting yet to be scheduled, but likely to be in high summer. Keep checking EDDC website for the DMC date and time, which will also be posted on this SOS website as soon as it is made known.
Here’s a summary of what was said at last Wednesday’s Town Council meeting:
Thirty members of the public registered to speak, but some courteously stepped aside to avoid repetition. Strong arguments from the Sid Vale Association (SVA) , and Vision Group for Sidmouth (VgS), laid the foundations for individual comments from residents from Sidford, Sidbury and Sidmouth, all of which areas would be affected by the planning application. Richard Thurlow (SVA) announced that a formal letter of complaint had been sent to the Environment Agency, requesting them to reconsider their comment that they had no objection to the planning application. The SVA were considering legal action if necessary. Mr Thurlow insisted, “Fords’ flooding arrangements will not work”.
Jeremy Woodward (VgS) reinforced this view, indicating that the applicant’s submission came well after the Environment Agency’s new figures (February 2016) which predict an enormous increase in flood risk (with the river flow estimates quadrupled; and surface water doubled by 1980). Yet the applicant’s documents still used the old, outdated, data. He stressed that the location is a particularly vulnerable one. And a variety of contributions by local residents clearly confirmed his view.
Some spoke of the “Wow factor” of the site, which is in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), which would be lost to the warehouses (B8) and general industry(B1) use applied for. Damage to the sensitive landscape was a major objection, along with the inevitable harm to the flora and fauna, which includes dormice, otters and slowworms. The Environmental Statement accompanying the application remarkably records 17 types of bat; and the fragility of the water quality, presently good, of the adjacent River Sid, was also a concern.
Evidence was given that existing road safety problems such as congestion, delays to public and emergency transport, air pollution, and vibration-damage to buildings skirting the narrow access roads, would be worsened by the increase in traffic. The cycle route proposed would add to these hazards, it was argued, as cyclists would have four roads to cross.
The town councillors had strong objections,too. Cllr Kelvin Dent termed it “the wrong development in the wrong place”,noting the “disjointed way” that the site had got into the Local Plan. Cllr Dawn Manley said it was “a great pity” that Fords were not there to answer questions, as “this is such an important issue for the whole of the Sid Valley”. Cllr Marc Kilsbie echoed the passion of the public for the “wow factor” of the stunning AONB landscape, saying we should not permit a plan to “destroy and rip it out for someone else’s bank account”. Mother Nature created floodplains for a purpose, he added.
Cllr Ian Mckenzie-Edwards regarded the planning application as “yet more degradation of the village of Sidford”. “Employment land is just a euphemism for industrial site,” he went on, adding that the quality of air was already affected by the “long column of traffic” on the A3052. As a former farmer, he was concerned about the threat to future food security if Grade 2 farmland such as on this Sidford site, was lost to development.
Realistically perhaps, Cllr Jeff Turner, cautioned that as the site is in the Local Plan, having been “foisted upon us”, it was now a matter of a “damage limitation exercise” for the council.
Further scathing criticisms were nevertheless voiced by three more of his councillor colleagues.Cllr Gareth Jones recounted his own experience of existing lengthy traffic delays, disrupting the bus service. Cllr Michael Earthy likened the planned business park to ” a carbuncle”. And Cllr Ian Barlow reiterated what others had mentioned, that the low unemployment figures for Sidmouth (currently only about 60 unemployed) meant that the applicant had not proven the local need for “up to 300 jobs”. To a round of applause, he warned of the consequent damage to “our biggest industry, tourism”.
Much praise was given at the meeting, to District Cllr Marianne Rixson, EDDC Ward Member for Sidmouth-Sidford, for her report submitted to EDDC as a consultee comment. Many would agree with Cllr Kelvin Dent who described it as “One of the most comprehensive documents I have ever read in my life”.
The Town Council’s vote against Fords’ Outline Planning Application, was unhesitatingly unanimous.