Knowle ‘grab’ - anger boils up in Sidmouth

‘INSENSITIVE’ proposals to turn a quarter of Knowle’s parkland into homes - and to build on its car parks - have been branded “garden grabbing on a civic scale”.

The impassioned message came from town representatives who this week told East Devon District Council (EDDC) bosses: “We understand why you want to move – but leave our public open spaces alone.”

Specific details of what could happen to the prestigious site if EDDC relocates have been revealed – as an outline planning application is submitted today.

Blueprints feature 50 homes and a 60-person care facility. Forty per cent of the dwellings will be ‘affordable’ and 70 per cent of those will be classed for social rent.

The Knowle’s car parks, office buildings and depot and the most southerly part of its gardens would be developed.

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This equates to 24 per cent of the parkland. Around 2.8 hectares of the valued area would remain for public use.

Details were disclosed by EDDC’s deputy chief executive, Richard Cohen, when he addressed Sidmouth Town Council on Monday.

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He revealed EDDC had spent �94,000 on the relocation project to date.

“Appalled” Councillor John Dyson said: “I understand the existing premises at Knowle are inefficient, but going further than that to the car parks and gardens is garden grabbing on a civic scale.

“It’s little wonder we are all getting up in arms here.”

Cllr Dawn Manley labelled the project an “asset stripping exercise” and said: “We feel like we’re being dumped on from a great height.”

Cllr Graham Liverton added: “I’m charging EDDC with insensitivity. The car parks and gardens must be sacrosanct. This is a golden opportunity for… everybody to get it right for Sidmouth.”

Mr Cohen said EDDC had an “ambition” to move to Honiton “on a cost neutral basis” and added: “We haven’t pressed the development button yet.”

He said Knowle was “an asset” that belonged to the whole district.

Town councillors resolved unanimously that, while they understood the district authority had aspirations to relocate, they wished to see the retention of all the existing open space and the formal creation of public rights of way at Knowle.

Members ruled that, if car parks were to be developed, further consideration should be given to the provision of additional facilities elsewhere in Sidmouth.

They also want to see the provision of a ‘one-stop shop’ council service in the town centre as a priority.

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