Knowle planning inquiry opens with claims retirement flats will knock Sidmouth out of balance

PUBLISHED: 17:24 28 November 2017 | UPDATED: 17:24 28 November 2017

The EDDC offices at Knowle in Sidmouth.

The EDDC offices at Knowle in Sidmouth.

Archant

Both sides have set out their opening gambits in a planning inquiry to decide the fate of plans for a 113-home retirement community at Knowle.

Members of the public also got to have their say – with claims the homes will attract over-60s from outside Sidmouth and knock the town’s demographics further out of balance.

Developer PegasusLife and East Devon District Council (EDDC) – which is vacating the site to relocate to Exmouth and Honiton – agreed that only three homes would be directly affected by the development, but the owners of other neighbouring properties said the flats would have direct views into their bedrooms and bathrooms.

The Knowle Residents Association maintained that the current proposals are too massive, too high, out of keeping with their surroundings and are anti-social.

The inquiry is scheduled for five days but the inspector, Michael Boniface, said it may not need that long. After it closes, he will make a site visit, and he has been invited into several homes to assess the potential impact of the development.

Barry Curwen, who was vocal in the development of East Devon’s Local Plan, was among a dozen members of the public to speak this morning.

He told the inquiry: “What you are proposing is to concentrate the provision in one location. Sidmouth already exceeds the figures for elderly communities. We are already experiencing difficulties. We’re at bursting point in the hospitals.

“We don’t want to be a retirement home. Budleigh Salterton has already gone down that road, and it’s a ghost town in the winter; retailers really struggle.

“This community is worth fighting for. I really do believe this application needs to be rejected.”

Ian Barlow, who chairs Sidmouth Town Council’s planning committee, added: “Carers could come from Axminster or Honiton but there’s plenty of need for carers in those areas. They get paid minimum wage – if they can’t afford to live here, why bother travelling in?

“We need affordable housing for nurses etc to live in. If you don’t provide affordable housing, you can’t expect people to be looked after.”

EDDC’s representative, Ned Westaway, questioned the authority’s witnesses this afternoon, before they were cross-examined by PegasusLife’s lawyer Simon Bird QC.

The inquiry will next hear from PegasusLife’s witnesses.

PegasusLife will claim that the development will not have a direct impact on Knowle’s listed summerhouse and that the scheme’s benefits outweigh any potential harm to the structure.

There was also a dispute with EDDC about whether the scheme should be classed as C2, care accommodation, or C3, housing, and PegasusLife will maintain that it should be the former. If the planning inspector agrees, the developer will not need to provide any ‘affordable’ housing or community funding for the town.

PegasusLife will argue that there is a ‘compelling need’ for extra care accommodation in East Devon. It says the development will be tailored to meet the needs of occupants as they age, with integrated on-site communal facilities.

EDDC, which is currently based at Knowle but is relocating to Exmouth and a purpose-built HQ in Honiton, will argue the development will have a harmful impact on the listed summerhouse. It will also raise concerns about the impact on neighbouring properties, together with the issue of whether the development is C2 or C3 use.

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