MP speaks out on EDDC move and hold-up to the Local Plan

Hugo Swire stock picture

Hugo Swire stock picture - Credit: Archant

East Devon’s MP has spoken out on the ‘divisive’ district council relocation debate, frustration over Local Plan delays and a need for community hospitals.

Hugo Swire was re-elected with an increased majority in May’s General Election and has now revisited some of the Sid Valley’s more contentious issues.

The Conservative MP previously called for East Devon District Council (EDDC) to put on hold its controversial plans to relocate from Knowle, but he says now it is a ‘done deal’, the authority needs to ‘get on with it’.

Speaking last December, Mr Swire said it would be prudent for EDDC to wait before committing to a costly move from Sidmouth to Exmouth and Honiton - which would take jobs outside of his constituency.

Last week, he told the Herald: “It has been generally divisive.

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“My hope is that the jobs that are lost from the town will be replaced by those in the new development.

“I was not convinced by the case for moving it. The council has made a deal with Pegasus Life and thinks it will save money in the long-run. Although the grounds of the Knowle are walked in, the building itself is not [currently used by the community]. I hope the people in the town will be able to use the facilities more.”

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Mr Swire admitted the Government’s commitment to building more houses created a problem in Sidmouth, where much of the land is within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

This, he says, is why there needs to be an established Local Plan, which would provide a blueprint to determine areas earmarked for future development for the next 15 years and beyond.

Speaking about the delays in drafting a plan, Mr Swire said: “It has been a nightmare.

“I have said this is an absolute priority and it has been extremely frustrating that we have not got here sooner.

“If you live in a place, you do not want the field next door to be covered in houses, but if everybody said ‘not here’, there would be no more new houses.

“We are determined to get more people on the housing ladder. If we build houses in the right area, then people will not complain.

“I would favour putting more at Cranbrook, but then what is the knock-on effect on our services?

“The sooner we come up with the Local Plan, the sooner we can have a more rational discussion about it.”

Mr Swire reiterated his opposition to community hospital bed losses that have affected East Devon towns, including Ottery St Mary

“That is a huge issue,” he said.

“I have seen [health secretary] Jeremy Hunt about it and we are very fortunate here in having so many community hospitals and I feel they are the place to keep people out of the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital. I want to have continued use of them.

“Cost does come into it, but it does seem if the communities are expanding so is the need for medical services.”

Mr Swire also said he had been upset to hear that long-serving Sidmouth town councillor Ann Liverton had been denied the honour of being a freeman after independent representatives voiced concerns it could be seen as a political act.

He said he had written to the town council to express his regret.

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