Hollow petition?

SIR - Question: When do 3,850 people count for nothing? Answer - When they sign a petition that is delivered to East Devon District Council (EDDC).

Despite the very large number of objections to the proposed employment land north of Sidford, including the petition signatures, this proposed site remains in the draft Local Plan.

Here is a quote from the EDDC comments on the representations made under the recent consultation - “In contrast to those opposing the site there were roughly similar numbers (not counting the petition signatures) in support of the Sidmouth site.” One can only wonder whether this (ie, looking at the numbers without the petition) is considered to justify continued inclusion of the proposal in the draft Plan?

Of course, in retaining the proposal in the draft Plan, EDDC has also failed to adequately take account of the views of Sidmouth Town Council.

The agenda for the meeting of the development management committee on July 17 includes an item dealing with the petition, and an item allowing Town Clerks to make a presentation, so let us hope that EDDC will take more notice of the views of residents and their representatives from now on.

We are not yet at the end of the Local Plan process, and the Save our Sidmouth campaign group have already indicated that they will continue to fight the proposal to designate land north of Sidford as employment land. After the recent July 17 meeting, I understand that the subsequent stages in the Local Plan process may be broadly as follows:

July / August 2012 - consideration by the full council;

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Summer / Autumn 2012 - final consultation before submission to the Secretary of State;

Late 2012 - submission to the Secretary of State ;

Early 2013 - examination by the Planning Inspectorate.

Paragraph 155 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) talks about a wide section of the local community being proactively engaged in the Plan process “so that Local Plans, as far as possible, reflect a collective vision and a set of agreed priorities...”

Clearly, there appears to be one Sidmouth business which wishes to develop the land at Sidford, but EDDC should engage with the whole community and take account of objections to that proposed development. All of the residents of Sidmouth, and to some extent those who visit Sidmouth, have a legitimate interest in what happens in Sidmouth.

EDDC also appears to be in conflict with the NPPF with regard to the protection offered by the NPPF to Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

For one thing, there is no need for such a large area of employment land in Sidmouth, because the five hectares calculated by EDDC is considered to be a significant over-estimate. In the papers accompanying the latest version of the Local Plan, there is (Appendix 5) a revised calculation, resulting in a requirement of 2.4 hectares for Sidmouth - and a lower calculation of 1.67 hectares, on a different basis, referred to in the notes to this.

In my view, even these lower figures are still over-estimates (they assume, for example, that one new job will be needed for each new home built), but EDDC appear to be unwilling to move from the 5 hectares figure, as evidenced by the retention in the draft Local Plan of the 5 hectares site.

Also in Appendix 5, what appears to be a new idea is floated by EDDC - that, where appropriate, businesses in central Sidmouth might like to re-locate to the industrial estate north of Sidford. Now what would this do for support of Sidmouth’s town centre economy? Could this be EDDC starting to clutch at straws?

John Labrum

12 Ballard Grove, Sidford