Otter Mill in focus

SIR - Whilst I would welcome the regeneration of the Otter Mill, I must refute Mr Herbert’s assertion in the recent issue of the Herald (Good and the bad) that Councillor Giles ‘revealed’ East Devon District Council have been engaged in clandestine negotiations to secure office accommodation (or as Councillor Wright put it he ‘...spotted an innocuous looking report in the confidential section of EDDC’s cabinet agenda papers’) and that Ottery St Mary Town Council and residents have not had an opportunity to submit ideas or discuss the redevelopment of the site.

Although it is correct to say that EDDC had approached the owner of the mill several months ago to ascertain whether, in principle, he would consider leasing the ground floor, no negotiations have taken place; the cabinet agenda papers referred to above were prepared for councillors so they could debate WHETHER the council should become involved and, if so, on what terms. What is not mentioned in the paperwork is that a potential tenant had been identified and had expressed strong interest in leasing the majority of the available space. Clearly, it would not have been appropriate to discuss commercially sensitive information in public; the same rule would apply if EDDC was considering the renewal of lease terms for one of its commercial tenants.

That said, on August 14, Councillor Giles and I attended a Members Advisory Panel meeting together with the chairman of EDDC’s development management committee and a senior planning officer to consider a presentation by Mr Conway, the owner of the mill. The meeting centred on the redevelopment proposals for the factory and adjacent sites; during the discussion Mr Conway made it very clear that the ground floor of the mill would be developed either as the ground floor for maisonettes OR offices for EDDC should the council decide to take matters forward. A similar presentation was given to Ottery St Mary town councillors on September 4 and the plans were unveiled to the public on October 5 as part of the consultation process. On each occasion the possibility of creating new offices for EDDC was highlighted as well as being headlined in the Herald without hitherto generating any adverse criticism from district and town councillors or members of the public.

Far from ignoring councillors and ratepayers, there has been ample opportunity to express a view; only Councillor Giles has attempted to frustrate the process at the eleventh hour - why? However, I understand Mr Conway will be submitting a planning application within the next week or so which will give residents a further period during which to comment.

On an entirely separate note, it was pleasing to read Mr Cook’s letter (NIMBY protest?); his comments about the ‘Save Our Sidmouth’ brigade are a breath of fresh air and, as he quite rightly says, there is an urgent need for affordable housing and commercial development to provide homes and jobs for the younger generation.

David Cox

EDDC Member

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Ottery St. Mary Town Ward