£46k to give 'silent majority a voice'

PUBLISHED: 11:40 14 December 2015

Archant

Civic leaders have given the go-ahead to a £46,000 project aimed at providing all Sid Valley residents with a voice on the future of their communities.

The Neighbourhood Plan will compile people’s views on where future development should be located, what it should include, and how it should look.

The finished document, which is likely to take up to two years to complete, will carry legal weight, which planners will be required to take into account when considering applications.

The bulk of the five-figure outlay will be covered by Sidmouth Town Council.

However, concerns were voiced this week over the cost of the scheme, how interested the community would actually be and what benefit it would bring – if any – to the bulk of residents.

At a town council meeting on Monday, Councillor Louise Cole delivered a report to members which concluded that not having a plan was ‘no longer an option’.

She said the exercise would be an excellent opportunity for the council to ‘build relationships’ with residents and groups like the Sid Vale Association and the chamber of commerce.

Cllr Cole said: “If we don’t do it, it would be a degradation of duty in a democracy.”

Cllr Paul Wright agreed, adding: “There is the silent majority who don’t have a voice at the moment and this will give them that opportunity.”

The Neighbourhood Plan will also allow the town to claim a bigger share of charges levied on developers for building new homes in the area.

It is estimated that Sidmouth will be able to access an extra £90,000 of this Community Infrastructure Levy cash over the next 15 years, which could be spent on projects like road improvements, sports facilities and flood defences.

However, Cllr Frances Newth urged colleagues to ‘hold fire’ on a decision until East Devon District Council’s wider-ranging Local Plan has been signed-off.

“Public money is very scarce these days and we cannot spend money that we haven’t got,” she said.

Cllr John Hollick agreed and advised members to ‘look before they leap’. He was worried a Neighbourhood Plan would provide ‘little gain, if any, to the majority’, adding: “The Local Plan is an iced cake that we are being asked to put another layer on – at a cost.”

Members voted 13 to four in favour of getting started with the Neighbourhood Plan.

Sidmouth Town Council has committed to cover up to £40,000 of the cost, with the remainder coming from grants.

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