On January 19, Robert Crick, the leader of the Vision Group for Sidmouth, gave a witty and penetrating talk at the Manor Theatre about the state of the town’s government.
The District Council’s recent proposals to build 16,400 dwellings over the next few years led a substantial body of protesting citizens to converge on the Knowle and the proposals were withdrawn. The County Council had, in the meantime, condemned the proposals for their lack of vision. The related proposal for 250 more homes and an employment park within the Area of Natural Beauty surrounding Sidmouth met a similar fate. However, in Robert Crick’s view, housing is not the only issue on which our Councils are falling short.
He listed the threats to the town’s survival and well-being by enumerating the Vision Group’s failures in its six-year life. To quote him:
“Sidmouth has no town plan
Sidmouth has no community flood plan
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East Devon has no Local Development Framework
East Devon has not adopted the 1999 Sidmouth Conservation Area appraisal nor consulted on the 2009 Conservation review.”
That any self-respecting council has all or most of these things is true, but not really the point. Government and County listen to the District Council, but without formal documents that express a town council view, the District Council is, to a degree, in the dark and has to guess what the relevant electorate wants. The other towns in the District assert their wishes firmly, in the proper form, while Sidmouth seems to sit back and complain that other towns get all the money. As things are, key issues are liable to be settled by people giving undue weight to lobbyists or personal opinions.
Mr Crick went on: “For example, the Shoreline Management Plan has been developed by the Environment Agency over several years with active inputs from local citizens. The Sid Vale Association played a significant role in getting formal recognition in this Plan for the special problems east of the mouth of the Sid at Pennington Point. Two weeks ago, I watched the debate on this Plan at the Knowle. There was no debate. Somebody from Exmouth said she thought the plan might put their cricket field at risk, so our Council decided not to endorse the Plan. We shall, therefore, get no resources to protect our shoreline.”
Our councillors are nice people, well-intentioned to a fault, but many of them do not seem to grasp how government works, or, indeed, to be interested in politics above local level. Why, otherwise, did they fail to foresee this outcome and so allowed one little local interest to over�ride the work of numerous others? Is it not possible for EDDC to revisit the Shoreline Plan?
How many other chances to secure government finance have been let go in recent years because of this kind of inattention? What do concerned citizens like the Sid Vale Association or the Vision Group have to do to make sure that their labours are not in vain?
21 Newlands Close, Sidmouth