Save Our Sidmouth

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Clone Town Britain – Sidmouth Survey

View the Clone Town Britain, Sidmouth survey, May 2012, by Marianne Rixson

with postscript below:

Marianne writes:

“It’s almost six months since this nef (New Economics Forum) survey, Clone Town Britain, was done for Sidmouth. Some shops have changed in the interim. Has Sidmouth grown ever closer to clone town status? Yet  I know some of the people I have worked with come from Exeter and Exmouth to shop because of our individual shops.

Exeter, of course, is a prime example of a shopping centre which has nothing but chain stores. In the main shopping street, can you name any shop which does not fall into this category (see reference to Exeter p.11, clone town report by nef)?”

‘Exeter, South West: The high street in Exeter, Devon, prides itself as ‘the heart of one of the West Country’s biggest and liveliest shopping centres…packed with many famous national names including Marks & Spencer, Laura Ashley, H & M, Dingles (House of Fraser), Next, Cargo Home Store, Boots, Country Casuals and Ann Harvey. Not surprisingly Exeter also takes the bottom score of the surveys received – a mere 6.9 out of 60. Amongst the shops counted on the high street, there was only one independent shop – the rest were chains. A broader range of independent shops can be found on side streets, however, but it was noted that few visitors or even locals find their way there.’

Marianne continues:

“Not only have most of the independent shops been driven off the high street, but Exeter is also bottom in terms of diversity of shop type, with only 10 out of 25 categories represented. Overall, there is little more than clothing retailers, a few electronics shops and some stationery or bookstores on the high street. Unsurprisingly, the rents on the high street are also extremely high. Information from the Exeter & District Consumer Group reveals that they rise upwards from around £30,000 a year, with the business rate adding at least another £120,000.

Nuff said, really!”

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Critique of the Heritage Statement for the revised plans for the Knowle.

The analysis below was done by Jeremy Woodward, Secretary of Futures Forum, Vision Group for Sidmouth. It may prove helpful to SOS supporters for their written objections.




In their report on the heritage at Knowle, Kensington Taylor have chosen to interpret ‘heritage asset’ in the narrowest of terms, as simply those buildings listed by English Heritage within the setting of the Conservation Areas of Sidmouth.

KT devote most of their statement of 12 pages to an analysis of how the OPA will affect one fragment of the heritage on the site, namely the listed Summerhouse, which KT considers the only ‘heritage asset’ of any ‘significance’. As such, they have diminished the larger historical, architectural and artistic context, whilst diminishing all other heritage assets on the site.

The report claims that the buildings and grounds are ‘much altered’ and that ‘the setting of the listed Summerhouse is already much compromised and divorced from the original integrity of the extended grounds.’ This understanding of the setting is in much dispute, as has been made clear by the submissions from established bodies including the Devon Gardens Trust and SAVE Britain’s Heritage.

Firstly, it is clear that the arboreal heritage immediately surrounding the Summerhouse is of significance, with most of the specimen trees over fifty years of age; the substantial parkland and gardens in fact enjoy much of their ‘original integrity’, offering a setting both for the listed Summerhouse and the other heritage assets. And secondly, the façade of the original Knowle Hotel offers an imposing backdrop to the listed Summerhouse, whilst the palatial scale and volume of the Victorian structure cannot fail to impress when approaching from the views to the south.

It is very clear, however, that the only concern KH consider valid is the ‘immediate setting’ to the listed Summerhouse. The ‘formal terraced gardens’ will be ‘protected’ only in so far as they impinge upon this specific heritage asset and will, therefore, spared from the proposed ‘built development’. However, nowhere else in the report is concern or interest shown for the integrity of the ‘gardens’, whether the formal terracing which dominates the upper section or the current soft boundary planting in the lower parts.

Extraordinarily, KT actually propose that new ‘soft boundary planting’ would mean that ‘impact on views to the Summerhouse from the south will be minimized’, not considering that the raising of most of the formal terraced gardens and the wider setting will mean that the impact on views from any direction will be noticeably maximized.

The other ‘constraints’ which are ‘highlighted as significant’ are, again, simply those heritage assets which ‘need to be addressed’, and no more, in which case, KT refer only briefly to the ‘Lodge’ – although there are in fact two listed lodges to the Victorian Knowle Hotel – and the Grotto – which the report actually refers to as having been listed in 1951, the date when the Hotel itself was originally listed, the circumstances of which are currently being investigated.

The report closes with a cursory consideration of the adjacent Conservation Area. Because the trees ‘running alongside the eastern side of Station Road’ are not to be felled, it is considered that ‘views into and out of the Conservation Area will not therefore be affected’. And yet it is clear that the construction of the proposed care home on the current weekend tourist grasscrete car park, immediately adjacent to the Lodge and the exit to Station Road, would have considerable impact on ‘views into and out of the Conservation Area’.

This Heritage Statement is disappointing in its scope, in that KT refuse to stray beyond a myopic consideration of the history, architecture and artistry of the site. Its distorted perspective precludes a full appreciation of the heritage value and its limited parameters render it not only inadequate but call into question any conclusions reached, in which case this report cannot be accepted in its current form.

October 2012

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SOS official response to the revised planning application for the Knowle

Readers may like to extract information from the document below, to use in their own objections to the latest Knowle plans.




Comments on further documents submitted by EDDC.


  1. 1.    Derogation Tests, Protected Species and Trees and Bats Survey.

The Derogation Tests document submitted by Bell Cornwall, dated October 2012, sets out the 3 tests, the requirements of which EDDC should take due regard of prior to any grant of planning permission. Bell Cornwall refer to the requirement as set out in Regulation 3(4) 1994 Habitats Regulations. These Regulations have now been superceded by the Conservation of Habitats Regulations 2012. The legal obligation to have due regard to the requirements of the Habitats Directive is set out in Regulation 9(5). The purpose of the 2012 Regulations is “so as to secure compliance with the Habitats Directive” (Reg.9(1)). The tests however remain the same.

Test 1 requires that the proposed development preserves public health or public safety or other imperative reasons of overriding public interest including those of a social or economic nature and beneficial consequences of primary importance for the environment.

Bell Cornwell simply assert that the proposed development will contribute to housing needs and the provision of a care home. No further evidence is provided in respect of this test.

The proposed development clearly makes no contribution to the preservation of either public health or public safety. The question for EDDC is therefore whether the proposed development can be regarded as satisfying an imperative reason of overriding public interest, which has beneficial consequences of primary importance for the environment.

Is the desire of EDDC to relocate an imperative reason, which overrides the public interest? The term imperative suggests that the project should be indispensable. That is clearly not the case here.

The term overriding suggests that the balance of the public interest must clearly outweigh the conservation interests of the European Protected Species present on the site. Conservation interests are long-term, whereas the interests of EDDC in relocating would appear to be medium term at best. In addition, the proposed development has yet to prove that it will have beneficial consequences of primary importance for the environment. For example, the mitigation and enhancement measures proposed by the Applicant have yet to be approved by the statutory body responsible for biodiversity interests, Natural England.

Test 2 requires that there be no satisfactory alternative to the proposed development. This matter has been addressed previously, and, at the present time, it is clear that the issue of alternatives to the proposed development has by no means been exhausted.

Test 3 is addressed by Devon Wildlife Consultants (DWC), and requires that the action authorised (i.e. the proposed development) will not be detrimental to the maintenance of the population of the species concerned at a favourable conservation status in their natural range.

DWC have produced 3 further updated reports regarding bats and roosts. Report 12/1882 confirms the presence of one pipistrelle roost and 3 lesser horseshoe bat roosts, one a maternity roost in Building B. Report 12/1906a, Tree Assessment for Roosting Bat Species notes that 7 trees due for removal have a high potential for roosting bats.

As a consequence DWC recommend that a number of further surveys be undertaken. These include;

  • A survey to ascertain important flight lines and foraging routes across the site, to be undertaken between May and September (presumably 2013).
  • A further internal inspection of Buildings A and B to be undertaken over winter.
  • A survey to ascertain the main flight paths to and from the lesser horseshoe roost in Building B, to be undertaken between May and September.
  • Further surveys of trees on the site for the presence of roosts to be undertaken between May and September.

Given this acknowledged lack of data concerning the presence of bats and their roosts, their flight paths and foraging routes, and the likely effects of demolition and construction works, all of which have relevance for the likely impact of the proposed development on this European Protected Species it is difficult in the extreme to reasonably conclude, at this stage, as do DWC and Bell Cornwall, that the Derogation Tests can be satisfied.

This lack of relevant information lends additional weight to our previous submission where we questioned the conclusion of the Screening Opinion dated September 2012. Without this information it is not possible to conclude, as did the Screening Opinion, that the proposed development would be unlikely to have any significant effects on the environment.

  1. 2.    Planning Support Statement, Bell Cornwall, amended October 2012.

The greater part of the amended report simply reiterates Bell Cornwall’s views on the merits of the proposed development with reference to planning policy. These matters have been addressed in our previous objection, and it is not proposed to repeat such here.

Paragraph 2.14 of the Amended Report acknowledges that as the emerging LDF is still at an early stage it will not carry any significant weight in the determination of this application. Nevertheless, Bell Cornwell refer to emerging Policy ED02 in support of this application (see paras. 2.45 and 2.49).

The sections of the Report from para. 2.23 et seq on housing acknowledge that 40% affordable housing has been factored in to the illustrative layout. However, Policy H4 of the adopted Local Plan requires 40% affordable housing subject to the viability of such provision. To date no viability assessment has been undertaken, and failing such, the viability of the proposed development has not been established, and consequently the provisions of Policy H4 remain unmet.

Criterion 3 of LP Policy E3 requires that it be established that there is a surplus of employment land in the vicinity (Bell Cornwall para 2.27), where a proposal involves the loss of employment land. No evidence has been produced by the Applicant to prove that there is such a surplus of employment land. Options for retaining the site have not been fully explored, and the requirements of Policy E3 are not met.

In addition, Bell Cornwall at para. 2.27, assert that the proposal does not envisage any loss of employment in terms of Council staff. Para. 3.10 of the same Report acknowledges the potential loss of 55 jobs in the Sidmouth area, with a net loss of 33 jobs being likely.

Para.2.30 of the Report recognises that a “critical part of the proposal” is to ensure that interests of nature conservation importance have been identified and adequately addressed through protection and enhancement. As set out above, it is clear that these interests have not been fully identified, that likely impacts remain uncertain, and measures to ensure protection and enhancement are still far from being secured.

Para 3.12 makes reference to efficiency gains, costs savings and/or a reduction in the local tax burden. There has been no evidence of any such gains, savings or reductions submitted to accompany this application, and consequently, unless such evidence is forthcoming, no weight at all can be given to such vague, unsupported, wishful thinking.

Para 3.27 et seq of the Report addresses concerns relating to the loss of recreational land, seeking to downplay the loss of 0.89ha, describing such as a “small” area (para.3.32). LP Policy RE1 envisages no loss of recreational land, however “small”, save where the criteria of Policy RE1 are met. As previously discussed, these criteria which could permit the loss of recreational land have not been met.