Need for inquiry

Would the very real prospect of a public inquiry be sufficient to persuade East Devon District Council to properly engage with the Sid Valley community?

I have attended the three recent public meetings where the EDDC’s controversial draft Local Plan was the main subject on the agenda and I have been encouraged by the numbers attending and the level of passion to safeguard the future of the Sid Valley.

If EDDC genuinely wished to create a vision for our future, surely it would make sense to fully engage with the public, businesses, interested organisations and the town council to create a real local plan that is both wanted and more importantly needed.

EDDC’s present draft Local Plan shows a complete lack of understanding of the needs of the Sid Valley but, if it is allowed to progress, it will have a significant and irreversible impact on the Sid Valley.

In a statement produced by the EDDC it was mentioned that this development plan was necessary for regeneration.

Is the Sid Valley in need of regeneration?

Fortunately, until now, EDDC has had relatively little impact on our community (with the exception of the Fortfield Hotel debacle where they approved the change of use of a high-density employment site to yet more executive housing) as their attentions have been focused on Exmouth, Seaton and the new development at Cranbrook. A development plan for the future of the Sid Valley should be focused on our real needs, which should include improvements to community services (which are already stretched to breaking point), traffic/parking issues and developing the area’s main industry, which is tourism.

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It is hoped that EDDC will respond to the overwhelming public opposition to the current draft Local Plan, however, EDDC has not got a good record in taking notice of both public opinion and the advice of the town council.

Unfortunately EDDC will be the authority to decide on the proposals as they are both the architect and approver.

The only course of action left for the Sid Valley community would then be for a public inquiry.

A public inquiry is a formal appeal procedure ordered by the Government to investigate matters of public concern, such as planning applications of major significance.

I feel a proposal for an industrial site of five hectares (more than 12 acres) on land which is already designated an Area of Outstanding Beauty and the change of use of the Knowle from public ownership and employment land to housing, would be significant enough to warrant a full public inquiry.

At this stage, of course, it is merely a draft Local Plan and, in theory, there will be a short consultation period for the public and interested groups to make representation.

However, all actions at present indicate that EDDC is determined to proceed with the plans unaltered.

I therefore strongly feel that the Sid Valley community should have a contingency plan, and gathering support and evidence for a public inquiry should be considered.

This action might persuade EDDC to properly engage and consult before redrafting a local development plan that reflects the wants and needs of the Sid Valley community.

Barry Curwen

Sidmouth resident and small business owner

Knowle Drive, Sidmouth