LDF: Big question

SIR - Your reports headed “Garden vet bid in balance” (p.11) and “District Vision: protest beckons” (p.15) both refer to the thorny question of how much weight is given by planners to Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB’s).

Thereby hangs the future of the Local Development Framework (LDF) and the “flexibility” of built-up boundaries adjoining AONB’s in Sidmouth, Exmouth and many smaller settlements.

Handel Bennett said “Those standing for election should be made aware of the strength of feeling on local environmental issues. Our encircling AONB is an asset to our resort which we cannot afford to lose.” This point was emphasized by Devon County Council and Natural England in their critical comments on the draft LDF.

In recommending refusal for the vet practice within the Sidmouth Garden Centre, the officers rightly stress the land “is recognized as both open countryside and AONB, and which is afforded the highest level of landscape protection, represents sprawling and unjustified development which would harm the natural beauty of the area.

In failing to conserve or enhance the AONB, the proposed development is considered contrary to …..” (followed by policy details).

Cllr Drew favoured approval and reminded the Committee “there are 300 houses being built in this ward”. Most of these are also sited in the AONB (which upset the Sid Vale Association) and only a fraction of them are classified as “affordable”.

Last December, following the CBD protest march (see Herald, p.15), Cllr Randall Johnson promised a complete re-think of the draft LDF. What happens next?

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I fear this much-criticised draft may survive largely unscathed. Why? EDDC’s planners seem set, on March 15, to farm out the revision by inviting tenders from commercial consultancies to complete this mammoth task

The available funds are modest and time is short. First-class consultancies may not respond. Anybody can run a planning consultancy, including EDDC’s former planning officers. Such consultancies are not accountable to residents, who have no say in selecting them (“He who pays the piper……”).

In theory, elected councillors can vote against a consultancy’s recommendation – but how many would have both the technical knowledge and the courage to do so?

(Dr) Anita Jennings

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