‘Hyperbole and exaggeration’ - row over Sidford Business Park ‘advice’

Landscape Framework Plan of the application

Landscape Framework Plan of the application - Credit: Archant

The district council has denied that its chief executive advised developers to appeal a rejected multimillion pound business park.

East Devon District Council (EDDC) said comments made by Mark Williams at a meeting about a proposal for land, east of Two Bridges, in Sidford, have been misinterpreted.

A planning inspector held a three-day planning inquiry between July 16 and 18 into the Sidford Business Park scheme, which had been rejected by the council.

In written and verbal evidence, the appellant's representative, Joseph Marchant, said he and others met with Councillor Stuart Hughes and Mr Williams following the rejection of its 2016 application.

The inquiry was told Mr Williams advised the way to progress the application was to appeal.

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A EDDC spokesman said this week Mr Williams had arranged a meeting with the appellant and Cllr Hughes.

The spokesman said: "The CEO did not advise the appellant of anything but expressed the view that there were therefore three potential options open to the applicants: resubmit with changes to the proposed scheme; appeal the decision; or walk away from the site.

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"The applicant appears to have chosen to interpret this as encouraging an appeal and we would note that the comments from their QC were in the context of also making an application for costs against the council - a situation where a degree of hyperbole and exaggeration is not unusual."

The council said it did not challenge the evidence as Mr Marchant's and QC comments were not considered 'material' enough.

The spokesman said: "The simple point is that the circumstances described have no bearing or relevance to the local planning authority's decision and nor therefore to the focussing of all of their efforts in seeking to persuade the Inspector that the proposed development was unacceptable."

Following the inquiry resident Keith Hudson and Councillor John Loudoun, district councillor for Sidmouth Rural, questioned Mr Williams's actions. The councillor has now called for EDDC's leader Ben Ingham to launch an independent investigation.

He said the alleged actions could undermine a legitimate decision taken by members on the advice of planning officers.

Cllr Loudoun said the council's comments were 'disingenuous' and did not allow Mr Marchant to defend himself.

He said: "The statements made verbally and in writing by Mr Marchant for the appellants are, according to the district council statement, misinterpretations of the events and comments at the meeting involving the chief executive.

"It would appear that the council is now saying that Mr Marchant spoke untruths and that these were untruths was in turn repeated by the applicants' QC.

"I am now even more convinced of the need for what I originally asked for, a genuinely independent inquiry in these issues."

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