SIR - I grow increasingly alarmed by talk of developments in and around Sidmouth. Amanda Newsome (in ‘More homes could leave town ignored’ – Sidmouth Herald, September 16) is right to warn that the town could become dominated by housing. But I foresee much worse.
For several weeks now, the Herald has had articles which talk of town land being released for development by building north of Sidmouth, beyond the A3052, within the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). If that happens, just once and for one site, the flood gates will open. Any new building will set a precedent for more general development on the AONB. Eventually, commercial and housing estates will sprawl across the ‘outstandingly beautiful’ landscape.
It won’t make houses more ‘affordable’ for local, first-time, buyers while lenders demand huge deposits for a mortgage. It will just mean more and more people coming to live here, putting an ever greater strain on the inadequate infrastructure and resources.
Once a precedent is set, ‘North Sidmouth’ will grow quickly and the development of old Sidmouth will follow in its wake. New industrial areas will absorb the Alexandria Estate and other trade yards across Sidmouth, freeing more land for housing in town. A new college on the AONB – remote from the houses where the pupils live - will free up housing land on a huge scale. But then there will be demands for houses in North Sidmouth. With a growing population, the pressures for a North Sidmouth superstore will then become irresistible. Perhaps the developments will include some more general out-of town shopping facilities and a few fast-food outlets. If people think that vision is far-fetched, they should simply look elsewhere. The new Greater Sidmouth will no longer be John Betjeman’s ‘town caught still in a timeless charm’.
The pressures on Sidmouth’s infrastructure will increase. We already need a new health centre, college, hospital, and a park and ride. What next? We’ll forever be playing catch-up, as public funds struggle to meet the ever-growing demands of a rapidly expanding community. As populations grow in and around Sidmouth, the number of Exeter and long-distance commuters will increase; add then the school run to North Sidmouth and the A3052 will become a traffic jam in rush-hour and a daytime crawl, especially through Sidford, the new Greater Sidmouth and Newton Poppleford. Then the arguments will start for a Sidmouth northern bypass, to re-route the A3052 trunk road which will, by then, divide Greater Sidmouth into the new town and the old. Of course, the bypass won’t happen, because we never get the infrastructure with the building developments – just some paltry ‘sweeteners’. Then we revert to the usual hand-wringing about the shortage of public funds to shore up the infrastructure, collapsing in the face of a growing demand.
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I don’t believe the people of Sidmouth really want any of this. But it seems the planners and developers are already trying to soften us up to the idea. If local people don’t want Sidmouth to leave the natural confines of the Sid Vale, they need to make that very clear, now. Without loud objections to match the vociferous promotion of such a scheme, it will happen. The developers and land owners stand to make so much money out of it, they won’t stop pushing. So we must push back, even harder, and at every opportunity.
Our local councillors seem hell-bent on fostering the large scale development of East Devon and are regularly stating the need to build within the AONB. If you don’t want Sidmouth to leap-frog the A3052, protest loudly, frequently, widely, and before it’s too late.
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