The Planning Inspectorate has indicated to EDDC that the decision will be issued on or before 31 January 2018.
Many people who couldn’t attend the Inquiry themselves due to work or other commitments, have asked for more information about it. So thank you to the correspondent who sent in this summary of his own experience of the process, and some reflections which we believe are widely shared, on where we are now:
‘The inquiry into the appeal by PegasusLife for their development of the Knowle site, which is supposed to pay for EDDC’s move to Honiton, has concluded with a site visit by the Inspector. The decision will not be known until early in the new year, but it is a good time to reflect on the process.
The overwhelming feeling has been that the Council’s barrister, still a junior in barrister terms, has had to fight against the developer’s QC, clearly one of the most experienced in the field, with one hand tied behind his back. At times it was akin to watching David take on Goliath.
The first obstacle was that the EDDC planning officers went back on their original decision and recommended that the scheme should be approved. Despite the strength of the arguments of local protesters which convinced planning committee rebels to vote against the leadership’s pet project, the developer’s QC kept using the officers’ opinions to chip away the defence.
Although two conservative rebels voted with concerned locals, the leadership of the planning committee managed to restrict the reasons for refusing the plans and this limited the problems the developers had to answer. Arguments about the town needing affordable homes and pressure on local services through even more pensioners moving in did not have to be countered.
Then we had the Council’s own defence which, to be kind, many interested parties regarded as poorly prepared. More than once the developer’s QC was able to exploit wrong information or the wrong document provided to the EDDC barrister.
The developer’s QC was backed by a team of expert witnesses who were well rehearsed and difficult to trip up. The Council’s barrister had a planning officer brought in from Cornwall, the EDDC officers were disqualified because they had recommended approval, and a heritage officer. The planning officer didn’t know the area and was playing catch up on the details of a very large and complex development, he didn’t stand much chance against the developers who had devised the scheme. The heritage officer was torn to pieces by the forensic questions of the QC, possibly because she had not had sufficient training in how to present evidence against a barrage of aggressive questioning.
Once again, local people and organisations marshalled arguments to have this gross over-development thrown out. We will have to wait for the outcome. If we have lost, the developer could walk off with massive profits and yet avoid any responsibility to pay an estimated sum of three and a half million pounds towards those affordable homes which East Devon needs so desperately.’
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January 9, 2018 at 11:08 am
I think we have to accept the fact that the battle to save the Knowle is now over. The incompetence of the Council’s legal team shows, with unbelievable clarity, how uninterested Diviani and his minions were in defending their decision; it would, perhaps, be worthwhile sending off an FOI request to find out just how much public money was wasted in producing this farce.
When I think back to the days of the Great Mass march from the Esplanade to the Knowle, the slogans and banners come back to remind me of the aspirations we all had of changing the minds of those in the District Council who were hostile to Sidmouth. “Democracy And Fair Play”; Don’t Let EDDC Destroy Sidmouth’s Beauty”; “One Rule For Developers And One Rule For Me”; “Save Our Sidmouth”; the voices of those who cared about Sidmouth rang out in those days. But the truth is we never had a hope in hell of changing those minds.
How is it that we have come to the sorry situation of not being able to have any say in, or control of, what happens in our town? Where is the real “local democracy” being practised and observed? This is happening not just in a small coastal town in England but all over the UK, and there is nothing we can do about it, short of a revolution to change how local government works.
January 9, 2018 at 12:45 pm
As one of the EDA district councillors who is fighting for increased transparency, accountability and democracy in Sidmouth (and the whole of East Devon), I can report that the fight goes on! But winning is another matter, we need more people to stand for election to change the balance of power at EDDC and other councils. Democracy is failing us at all levels but we had to fight to get it and now fight to retain it. Complacency allows the ones in power to win, I and my fellow EDA members are trying to push back, but more support is always needed.