Anger over ‘gagging’ public debate on planning changes

SOS protest in the Knowle on Tuesday. Photo by Terry Ife ref shs 7603-06-13TI To order your copy of

SOS protest in the Knowle on Tuesday. Photo by Terry Ife ref shs 7603-06-13TI To order your copy of this photograph go to and click on myphotos24 - Credit: Archant

Furious residents heckled the district council after they were barred from speaking at a controversial meeting where planning regulations were weakened.

Councillors agreed to adopt a new policy on Tuesday to secure a five-year land supply, which effectively means accepting thousands more new homes will be built in East Devon.

Scores of residents turned out for a debate on the issue, some mounting a demonstration against extra development outside Knowle, but they were told they would be unable to comment.

Planning chairman Mark Williamson said the report delivered to the committee was for councillors only, to a chorus of heckles from members of the public, who said they were being ‘gagged’.

Councillor Steve Wragg asked if the council’s rules could be changed to allow for the public to speak on the matter, but he was told he committee did not have the authority to suspend standing orders in this way.

East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) planning officer Matt Dickins then outlined the reason for the policy change, citing two recent decisions by the planning inspector to overturn its decisions on appeal for large-scale housing developments.

In both cases, one in Feniton and the other at Butts Road in Ottery, the reason given was a lack of a five-year land supply, a list of sites available for new homes.

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EDDC believed figures in its draft Local Plan highlighted a housing need of 15,000 homes up to 2026, and showed enough supply of sites coming forward.

But the Planning Inspector did not agree, and said a figure of 17,100 homes, from a previous planning document, the Regional Spatial Strategy, was more appropriate.

So Mr Dickins was recommending ‘for the time being’ the higher figure should be used, until the Local Plan was enshrined in law.

“If we had a plan that replicated the Butts Road situation to come in tomorrow we would not be confident in refusing it that we would be able to defend ourselves at an appeal,” he said.

“Any applicant would just use the five-year land supply argument.”

The motion was then supported unanimously to alter policy and secure a five-year land supply.