Damning response to Sidford business park plans
PUBLISHED: 06:30 20 June 2016 | UPDATED: 09:07 21 June 2016
Inadequate roads, increased flood risk and the environmental impact were among the damning objections from residents to a 9.3-acre business park between Sidford and Sidbury.
In its application, Fords of Sidmouth said its multi-million-pound vision could create 300 jobs, and any adverse effects could be mitigated.
But the ‘carbuncle’ proposals failed to win over town councillors, who said their role is ‘damage limitation’ as the development looks likely to go ahead.
Meanwhile, the Sid Vale Association (SVA) has threatened legal action against the Environment Agency (EA) if it does not rethink its support for the plans – claiming the figures used are out of date and the flood risk is far worse.
District councillor Marianne Rixson told Wednesday’s town council planning committee meeting: “This site will increase the flood risk, has poor access, is in the wrong place and is unnecessary because we have such low levels of unemployment. A worse place for this development is hard to imagine.”
The Sir John Cave-owned site, east of the A375, is currently undeveloped agricultural land and part of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), but Fords’ application says there were no ‘realistic alternatives’ close to Sidmouth.
It claims the existing roads will cope with the traffic flow and its flood mitigation work will decrease the risk of flooding. The plans say the site will be developed in two phases – but the access road to both will be built in the first stage to save money. It also includes 3.7 acres of woodland to mitigate the impact on the AONB.
The EA raised no objection to the application, saying: “We are satisfied that the proposed development will contribute to a reduction in flood risk overall.”
But Cllr Rixson said the EA’s own new figures meant the flood risk data used was out of date – with river flows four times worse than previously forecast and the figure for surface water doubling.
Writing to the EA, the SVA’s Richard Thurlow said: “With the [new figures] in mind, we shall be glad if you will re-evaluate your decision - but in the event that you do not, we shall be taking further legal advice on the matter.”
The site’s inclusion in the Local Plan, East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) development blueprint up to 2031, has long been controversial. Councillors took an eleventh-hour vote last year to remove the site from the document – only to be overruled by the planning inspector.
This riled Cllr Ian McKenzie-Edwards, who said this week: “To have a bureaucrat from London come down and impose this sort of thing – I question his judgement. I am emphatically and absolutely against [the application].”
Geoff Lory, of Sidford, was among more than 100 residents who attended the meeting. His home has flooded six times in three years and he said it would only become more frequent with the increased volume of water hitting Packhorse Bridge.
Others said Sidbury’s narrow roads and listed buildings could not cope with more lorries, and that the development would destroy habitats in the AONB. Still more feared it would threaten the viability of town centre businesses, and low unemployment would lead to mass in-commuting to fill the jobs.
But Cllr Jeff Turner said the development is being ‘foisted’ on the valley and the town council’s role is ‘damage limitation’.
“If it does come back to us because EDDC decides to go ahead, we have to be constructive and say what’s wrong,” he added.
Planning committee chairman Ian Barlow said: “Unfortunately, it’s in the Local Plan – we’re fighting on the back foot. The louder you are heard, the better chance we’ve got.”
He urged anyone concerned to write to EDDC, the EA and Hugo Swire MP.
Those looking for advice on this can contact Sidmouth Town Council on 01395 512424.