Anger over ‘hokey-cokey’ employment land saga

EDDC's Knowle HQ. Ref shs 7705-15-12SH Picture: Simon Horn

EDDC's Knowle HQ. Ref shs 7705-15-12SH Picture: Simon Horn - Credit: Archant

The inclusion of a 12-acre Sid Valley business park in East Devon’s Local Plan was branded ‘undemocratic’, ‘shambolic’ and ‘deeply flawed’ by residents and representatives at a meeting last week.

Proposals, which earmark a two-field plot on the edge of Sidford for future use as an employment site, looked to have been voted out of the blueprint last year - only for a government inspector to reinstate the allocation.

At a specially-convened meeting of East Devon District Council (EDDC) last Thursday, members voted to agree to the inspector’s list of modifications, which he said were needed to make it legally sound. One of the main modifications was the inclusion of the Sidford employment site.

The meeting heard from residents who said they felt the document was ‘deeply flawed’.

Speaking on behalf of Save Our Sidmouth (SOS), Richard Eley said: “The proposal for the Sidford site has bewildered and angered everyone in Sidmouth. It is an absolute nonsense.”

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Tony Green read a statement on behalf of Paul Arnott, the chairman of the East Devon Alliance.

Mr Green said: “Many will feel that the half-decade debacle leading to this evening is a classic study in how not to present evidence.”

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Sid Valley representatives raised concerns that further evidence to support the removal of the site had not been submitted by EDDC to the inspector.

Councillor Marianne Rixson, a ward member for Sidmouth/Sidford, said: “I would like to describe the whole shambolic process of the inclusion of the Sidford employment land as the hokey-cokey. First it was in, then it was out, then it was in because it was never really out at all.”

Mark Williams, chief executive of EDDC, said: “The inspector had already heard all the arguments for and against the inclusion or deletion of Sidford. My advice was it wasn’t actually legally permissible to take the site out at that time.”

Cllr David Barratt, Sidmouth Rural ward member, abstained from the vote - saying the plan was neither ‘democratic nor sound’.

He added: “This council should be devastated that the Sidford employment land remains in the Local Plan, despite the clear, overwhelming opposition shown at all levels of local democracy. Clear results of community engagement have been ignored and vast reputational damage will result from the adoption of this plan.”

The Local Plan will serve as planning policy for the district until 2031 and beyond. EDDC says the document will ‘fill a planning policy void’ and protect communities in East Devon from ‘inappropriate development’.

The document will pave the way for 17,100 new homes across East Devon - the equivalent of 950 new homes each year.

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