Green outcry

SIR - It was heartening to see the report on the front page of the Sidmouth Herald dated April 13, 2012, referring to the setting up of a campaign group to express concerns regarding East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) draft Local Plan. This letter concerns EDDC’s proposal to designate five hectares of land immediately to the north of Sidford as employment land.

We would expect that a planning authority would wish to preserve the green gap between communities, in the interests of preserving their individual identities and character - this is important, not just from a historical perspective but also in terms, for example, of enhancing community spirit.

So why then is EDDC apparently so intent on significantly degrading the essential green gap between Sidford and Sidbury by designating five hectares of land north of Sidford as employment land? I think this is a question to which we need an answer from EDDC.

This is particularly so, given that the notes to the Sidmouth Inset Map (which broadly shows proposed development sites and policy boundaries) state that, with regard to the relevant land north of Sidford, “...As part of the consultation responses to the draft local plan this land was put forward for development on behalf of Fords of Sidmouth.”

So, if development of this land has been proposed by an individual company, rather than by the deliberations of EDDC planners, why is EDDC apparently so intent on pressing ahead with designation of this land for employment use, to the detriment of the green gap?

At the meeting of the EDDC Local Plan Panel on March 20, it seems that EDDC brushed aside the points made by Sidmouth Town Council in opposition to the proposed designation of the land north of Sidford as employment land.

The town council had apparently pointed to the potential for adverse traffic impacts, particularly at Sidford Cross, and extra pressure on Sidford, in addition to the inadvisability of eroding the gap that separates Sidford from Sidbury.

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In view of these concerns, the town council had suggested an alternative site for additional employment land in the Sidmouth area. But the only concession from the EDDC Local Plan Panel regarding the proposed designation of the land north of Sidford was apparently to suggest a phasing of the designation, with designation of two hectares being deferred for five years - but, with respect, this does not appear to alter the eventual aim, but only to affect the timing.

So, despite Sidmouth Town Council’s comments, and the clear degradation of the green gap between Sidford and Sidbury, EDDC appears to be unmoved with regard to the proposed designation of the land.

This seems all the more surprising given that, as noted above, the land was apparently suggested for development on behalf of an individual company. So it would be helpful to have answers from EDDC on why it is so intent on pursuing this, in contravention, I believe, of the wishes of many.

I think it would also be helpful if a representative of Fords could confirm whether it is indeed that company alone that has suggested the land for development as employment land - I am not doubting the accuracy of the EDDC notes, but sometimes we, as lay people reading such notes, may not have the full picture.

Earlier comments to EDDC by Sidmouth Chamber of Commerce, as part of the Local Development Framework consultation, apparently suggested that the five hectare employment land allocation should be abandoned due to suspect methodology, and warned that an unused employment land allocation will lead to pressure for out-of-town retail development.

Thus, may we eventually have the prospect of a supermarket located between Sidford and Sidbury, with further pressure on traders in Sidmouth town centre? Apart from the effect on the embattled traders, what would that do for tourism?

I should say that I am just an ordinary resident with no particular knowledge in this area - the points which I have made above are simply based on information obtained from the EDDC website, and I think that EDDC’s making information available in this way is very helpful.

However, if I have misunderstood any points, and if there are any inaccuracies in what I say, please accept my apologies.

Apart from the significant impact on the green gap referred to above, it seems that the designation of the land as employment land will potentially change the character of Sidford from a rural village on the edge of the countryside to a village with a large industrial estate.

Conversely, perhaps what we need is for EDDC to endeavour to enhance the appeal of Sidford, in the interests of tourism - to ensure that it is an attractive place for holiday-makers, for example, as a location for them to stay in B&B accommodation, or as a walking / cycling destination at the north end of the Byes.

And let us not forget the potential impact on Sidbury - it seems that the outskirts of Sidbury will not be that far from the northern end of the proposed employment site.

I understand that EDDC will be arranging a further period of consultation in May, and I would urge residents of the Sidmouth area to make representations as part of this consultation process, if they do not agree with the proposals - please make your voice heard, and do not assume that you can leave it to others to do this.

And will EDDC be responsive to points made during the consultation?

Another question to consider, but we must hope and expect that they will. Let us support the campaign group Save our Sidmouth and make sure that EDDC understand our views.

John Labrum

12 Ballard Grove, Sidford