Save Our Sidmouth

PegasusLife plans for Knowle: Key reports based on thorough research, or perhaps “a stroke of luck”?

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Here’s Edward Dolphin’s speech, with accompanying list of references, given yesterday  to the Appeal Inquiry:

‘I wish to challenge the supposed public benefits including those accepted inexplicably by EDDC but, first I am challenging the factual content of the heritage evidence from Simon Roper-Pressdee from PegasusLife.
One reason for refusing the planned development of the Knowle concerns the setting for the listed Summerhouse. Mr Roper-Pressdee’s evidence tries to break the link between the Summerhouse and the lawned terraces, his key point is that he thinks the Summerhouse predates the terraces and so loss of the terraces and the intrusion of Block E does no harm to the setting. Apart from the obvious nonsense that building a four-storey block of flats a few metres behind and on land above the level of the Summerhouse would not affect its setting, Mr Roper-Pressdee is wrong about the chronology of the garden’s development.
Referring to paragraphs 5.15-16 of his evidence, we maintain that Mr Roper-Pressdee has not done his research very thoroughly or he has chosen to ignore known definitive sources, the terraces and summerhouse are part of the integral garden.
Mr Roper-Pressdee relies on the 1840 tithe map which shows no terraces but a small round structure in an area punctuated with trees which he takes to be the Summerhouse set in a woodland walk. However, the tithe map is not a reliable indicator of plantation type and this structure is not in the correct location in relation to the house, the Summerhouse would be much closer to the large conservatory which was the projection from the SW corner of the house.
A more reliable source is the Illustrated Guide To Knowle Cottage published by Wallis in 1823. We believe the marked structure is a fountain, perhaps the one mentioned in the 1823 guide and again in the 1844 guide that ‘throws water to a height of forty feet: this viewed through the foliage from the drawing room has a very fine appearance.’
The 1823 Guide includes a description of the garden in front of the southern verandah, ‘the terrace walk under the veranda, from whence you proceed down a sloping bank to what is termed the lower lawn, a spot that has been laid out with infinite taste, by the present Proprietor (Mr Fish), it consists of very fine turf…’ The guide includes a view from the drawing room which shows the upper lawn clearly. There is no sight nor mention of the Summerhouse but the Grotto which, looking at their original form, was probably erected at the same time as Thomas Fish extended and improved his gardens, is featured in the guide.
According to the 1834 guide by Williams, the Summerhouse was in place by then, but the illustration from inside the summerhouse shows a clear view of the parish church which means it could not have been set in a woodland.
A new Wallis guide was published in 1844 and contains the following sections, ‘The Upper Lawn… the distance (sic) view of the ocean the church tower…’ ‘The Lower Lawn. Which is separated from the upper, by two very handsome brass gates. Entering, on the right hand is a summer house, with pinnacles formed of shells in the gothic style…’ ‘This lawn is of fine turf…’
I am surprised Mr Roper-Pressdee did not notice this because he obtained his pictorial evidence from these guides, or perhaps he chose to ignore these facts.
He is therefore wrong himself when he asserts in paragraph 2.1 of his summary evidence that the Council has made an erroneous claim ‘that a strong degree of significance should be placed on the terraces and space that existed and continues to exist around the building.’ He is also wrong to say in paragraph 5.16 of his full evidence ‘It is clear that Thornton was responsible for substantial remodelling of the house, reforming it from the cottage orné to a sprawling Gothic house, and illustrations and historic mapping all indicate that elements such as the terracing date from this phase,’
With reference to Richard Thornton, he did indeed remodel the house and gardens when he purchased Knowle in 1867. He swept away the concept of the rustic cottage orné and established the house in a gothic design. However, he kept the Summerhouse, and this actually reinforces its importance to the integrity of the terraced garden, if anything, the house and garden were actually remodelled to bring them in line with gothic summerhouse.
Sadly passive neglect of the last few decades means the summerhouse, like the garden, is a pale shadow of its former self, a 1961 aerial photograph shows it still had its canopied roof but by 1973 when it was listed it is described as ruined. Nevertheless, allowing this massive and inappropriate development will be a further nail in the coffin of what was once one of the finest Victorian gardens in East Devon.
Public Benefits
PegasusLife cite the following public benefits to mitigate the harm they admit the development will cause and to excuse the flouting of so many planning policies. I do not accept that this is justifiable for the following reasons:
• Provision of extra care housing to meet the need for extra care accommodation within East Devon.
The scale of this need, I am interested to see it reduced from the compelling need in Mr Shillito’s evidence, is derived from the Care Housing Need Report prepared for PegasusLife by Nigel Appleton. I will not cover all the flaws in this report but refer the Inspector to the written submission for a full analysis.
The principal problem is that the conclusions of the report are supposed to be based on local demographic data, yet Mr Appleton has produced several reports for developments in other areas of the country which have very different demographic data but, perhaps by a stroke of luck, he arrives at identical conclusions in each report.
The Sidmouth report notes that the age of its population is well above the national average while the Woking report notes that the age of its population is well below the national average and Guildford is slightly below. The Bath, Tetbury, Cheltenham, Guildford, Bristol, Falmouth, Chigwell, and Harpenden reports all have different numbers again, yet all six reports threaten the same future without the PegasusLife development – In the absence of appropriate, contemporary accommodation options pressures will increase on higher-end services, such as Registered Care Homes providing Personal Care and Registered Care Homes providing Nursing Care.
When discussing current provision for potential customers, the reports have to admit that the current supply is substantial in Sidmouth, Cheltenham and Falmouth, relatively generous in Bath and Woking, relatively strong in Guildford, higher than average in Harpenden and very significantly above the national average in Tetbury and yet all the reports still conclude with the same paragraph that claims that their particular development is needed to meet a pressing need.
In his updated evidence, Mr Appleton claims there are only seven extra care properties currently for sale in East Devon, but he must have restricted his search criteria in such a way as to present a worst-case scenario. A search on Rightmove with a filter for designated retirement homes on 21st November came up with 64 different properties. This does not include Churchill’s Green Close development of 36 apartments just a mile away in Sidmouth which is likely to be started as soon as they can agree a contribution to affordable housing, and the Millbrook retirement village in Exeter, just 12 miles from Sidmouth, which currently has 33 properties available and a further 42 to come on stream as sales pick up.
Of course, there is a pressing need in East Devon but it is for affordable housing not luxury apartments and PegasusLife’s spurious attempts to claim C2 status or to hide behind a viability report will deprive EDDC of significant funds to meet that need, instead I presume the profits will filter back to Oaktree Capital Management, PegasusLife’s American parent company.
I have compared ten editions of Mr Appleton’s report but there are others, presumably with the same conclusions. I can provide links to nine non-Sidmouth reports if the Inspector would like to read them and make his own analysis of their worth.
Next we have:
•(Not agreed) Provision of a high quality, contemporary, landscaped and managed development which makes effective use of a brownfield site and positively contributes to the local townscape.
Well, plenty of other objectors have said what they think of this design and how it ruins the local street scene and townscape. As for the brownfield site, this implies some derelict factory not a functioning employment site and the lawned terraces are definitely not brownfield. We have Professor Tavernor’s report extolling the virtues of the design but one man’s ‘skilfully composed and architecturally coherent development’ is another man’s ‘carbuncle on the face of an old friend’ and five pavilion buildings in keeping with the scale of surrounding detached houses’ might be labelled ‘four-storey blocks of flats that tower over surrounding houses’.

Another benefit is given as the
• Creation of a number of full time equivalent jobs on-site to staff the development, in addition to the creation of off-site jobs in the care sector.
A typical PegasusLife distortion because, if the number of FTE jobs is the 14 quoted by PegasusLife, the development will actually see a net loss of more than 200 jobs on-site, many of them highly skilled and well paid.
An increase in demand for care services is not a public benefit but a public disbenefit. As reported in the Sidmouth Herald’s #Could You Care Campaign, there is already a shortage of care workers in East Devon. With Brexit looming, this situation is predicted to become even worse. The last thing Sidmouth needs is an influx of more than a hundred people who might need to call in care services, hence Strategy 4 of the Local Plan which seeks to achieve more age-balanced communities.

Then we have
• Retention and enhancement of Building B, which was part of the ensemble of earlier buildings on the site, ensuring its viable reuse within the development.
Again, a claim of benefit that is concealing a disbenefit. The developers are actually demolishing a much larger section of the original ensemble of flint buildings including the iconic lookout on the roof installed by Richard Thornton 150 years ago. The only reason Building B is being retained is because it houses a bat colony. If that colony was not there, it would be demolished along with the rest, the developers really do not care about heritage unless it is a selling point for their properties.

We are told that the
• Provision of facilities (café/restaurant, wellness suite) available to the local community will be a benefit but there is a paradox in this so-called benefit.
If the facilities are available to the public, then they cannot be counted as contributing to the status of the development as a care home. If the development is a care home, the facilities are hardly going to be attractive to the public of Sidmouth. I make the call… “Darling, I’ve booked us a table at the old people’s home for your birthday!” Can you imagine the reaction?
Sidmouth already has a swimming pool which has just had a major upgrade announced by the Council as well as a good fitness centre. The plunge pool and a few exercise machines in the so-called wellness suite are not going to add much benefit to the town.

• Provision of a publicly-accessible Orangery, creating a sheltered space from which to enjoy views of the summerhouse, the Knowle public parkland and sea.
When I think about an orangery I certainly do not visualise something like the proposed structure which looks more like a municipal bus shelter. This is hardly an inviting structure, the basement to a huge block standing on ground raised above the current level of the lawned terrace that it is replacing, and I cannot imagine many members of the public walking up the steps to sit in it.
Even if they did go in, they would certainly not have a view of the summerhouse because of the large yew tree that blocks the view from that angle. They would get a much better view of the summerhouse and parkland from the existing lawned terrace that is being destroyed by the development.

• Retention and improvement of public access across the site through the creation of permissive paths, regraded to accommodate disabled access.
Since when is retaining the existing permissive paths through the site a benefit that excuses the development’s faults? The work to accommodate disabled access is something EDDC could and should be doing anyway.

•(Not agreed) Relocation and retention of a Gingko tree which is valued by the local community.
Another smoke screen hiding a disbenefit, the Ginkgo might be saved, although the chances of its survival are probably less than evens, but other mature trees are being felled and their replacements will not benefit many current Sidmothians because they will be long dead before the trees mature. I refer you to the submission from Sidmouth Arboretum.

• Reduction in existing traffic movements to and from the site, particularly at peak times (104 fewer two-way trips in the AM peak hour and 65 fewer two-way trips in the PM peak hour).
Another disbenefit masquerading as a benefit. Currently, there is a concentration of movements in the morning and evening on workdays, but the majority of these movements are comparatively short and only affect Balfour Lodge and five properties in Broadway.
The siting of the car parking in the development will mean traffic movements at any time in the day or evening seven days a week. Many of these movements will pass right around the north and west perimeter of the site causing nuisance to up to seventeen properties.
Of course, if the majority of the principal residents are having carers visiting there will be a peak time rush in the morning and in the evening. There is the related issue, the inadequacy of the parking. If many residents will be calling in care services, the parking will be swamped and spill over into the public park and walk facility and Broadway and Knowle Drive. Sidmouth’s tourist industry cannot afford to lose visitor parking and local residents already suffer nuisance from inconsiderate on-street parking in Knowle Drive and Broadway, more is unfair.

• (Agreed condition but details not agreed in SoCG) The closure of the existing access to the site from Knowle Drive, save for emergency and service vehicle access is another misdirection. Currently there is no nuisance associated with this entrance, it is used by no more than six small vehicles on a working day, often fewer, to access the car park behind Indemnity House, it is closed at weekends and evenings. The proposed development will see regular use by large refuse trucks emptying the industrial size bins to be located by the garden fence of Heathers and there will be dozens of car movements at all times of the day seven days a week coming down the new access road to the car park.

• Provision of a heritage interpretation board to enable a better appreciation of the listed summerhouse.
That will be the summerhouse whose setting is being destroyed by building three and four storey blocks of white rendered apartments towering on the terraces just behind. Sidmouth Arboretum already has plans to provide such a board without the need to develop the site.

As well as these so-called public benefits, several of which are an exercise in smoke and mirrors with no substance, this development carries substantial disbenefits to neighbours, the town and East Devon. One disbenefit is the loss of this suite of rooms as a venue, once this was a prime location for weddings and other celebrations and a church group used it for Sunday worship but, possibly because EDDC no longer market it actively, it does not attract the use it once did. I will leave it to other objectors to talk about the other disbenefits.

None of the claimed benefits stands up to scrutiny and they certainly do not mitigate the harm the Appellant admits will be caused by the development and to excuse the flouting of so many planning policies, I ask the Inspector to dismiss the appeal.

Nigel Appleton Reports for other developments


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