Packed meeting hears concerns over 'monstrous' Sidford business park

PUBLISHED: 17:16 15 September 2016 | UPDATED: 17:27 15 September 2016

Opponents have approximated the area covered by proposed Sidford business park

Opponents have approximated the area covered by proposed Sidford business park

Archant

Opponents of 'monstrous' plans for a 9.3-acre business park have voiced fears it could 'destroy' Sidmouth's century-old observatory, force out protected bats and put lives at risk on congested streets.

At a packed public meeting on Monday, residents were urged to speak out against Fords of Sidmouth’s application before the consultation deadline closes tomorrow (Friday) and when East Devon District Council (EDDC) considers the application.

An online petition to ‘say no’ to the development has attracted hundreds of signatures and the talks heard calls for a boycott of the business.

Meeting chairman Cathy Debenham said: “The arguments against the plans have been well rehearsed – this meeting is about what we can do to stop this monstrosity.”

District councillor Marianne Rixson said she ‘totally disagreed’ with the Sidmouth Town Council planning committee’s assertion that the development is inevitable.

“It is not,” she said. “I have been speaking to a local planning solicitor, who feels there are sound planning reasons for rejection.”

Cllr Rixson said she needed help to pay the lawyer to check her 39-page report on the plans is ‘watertight’ to give weight to her objections. Salty Monk owner Andy Witheridge offered the first £750 - saying ‘someone had to’.

Alan Green, one of the Norman Lockyer Observatory directors, said: “We bring in thousands of visitors every year, and they want to look through telescopes. The amount of light pollution would destroy us. It could destroy the observatory after 104 years observing the night sky. This development should not go ahead at any cost.”

Frys Lane residents said their narrow street is used as a ‘rat run’ to dodge the traffic lights at Sidford Cross and the situation is already ‘intolerable’ – with a Sidmouth Lifeboat crew member reportedly blocked-in during a call-out.

The owner of a thatched property in School Street said EDDC had prevented him from erecting scaffolding over the summer – but it will witness the disruption the business park could cause when it goes up in the coming weeks.

Ecologist Colin Bonfield questioned the validity of the 2014 data on bats and said it was out of date. A separate study revealed the presence of numerous species of bat, some of them endangered and protected by European legislation.

Mr Bonfield said, with lights on into the early hours, the removal of important hedges and buildings in their flight paths, the bats will move elsewhere.

Representing the Sid Vale Association, Richard Thurlow said: “Fords aren’t proposing to build this because of altruism – they want to relocate from Alexandria Road to develop it for a supermarket or perhaps housing. The employment land is in the Local Plan. We can do nothing about that now.”

But he said restrictions can be imposed on the heights of buildings and their uses – EDDC’s Local Plan allocated the land for offices or light business use, but Fords is also proposing space for storage and distribution, in buildings up to 15 metres high, he said.

Councillor Stuart Hughes said Devon County Council’s highways report had been revised to acknowledge concerns about the narrowness of School Street, vehicles driving on pavements and ‘rat-running’.

He said the authority may require mitigating proposals to remedy the issues – potentially including creating a ‘priority system northwards’, widening the footway, or even ‘a path that goes right round Sidbury’.

Dr Stephen Wozniak claimed Fords would not be concerned about roads or environmental impact assessments, adding: “What they are concerned about is your money. Don’t threaten them with a short-term boycott. Threaten them with a long-term one, and put it all over the internet.”

Fords was approached by the Herald about the views aired in the meeting, but did not wish to comment.

Responses to the application can be submitted to planningcentral@eastdevon.gov.uk or via the EDDC website.

The deadline is midnight tomorrow, although correspondence will be considered until the decision is made.

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