Sidmouth campaigners hail ‘people power’

Hundreds attend SOS meeting

CAMPAIGNERS lauded “people power” when hundreds of residents backed their vow to fight a controversial blueprint for the future of the Sid Valley.

A landmark meeting staged by Save Our Sidmouth (SOS) members last Thursday saw around 300 residents pack the Manor Pavilion to capacity – and a further 150 unable to get in.

The Sid Vale Association (SVA) and Sidmouth’s chamber of commerce, hospitality association and vision group joined forces to stage the event.

All of the organisation share concerns over East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) Local Plan – especially proposals for a 12-acre employment site north of Sidford.

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“People power works,” said Ed Harrison, SOS organiser and the SVA’s planning committee chairman.

He said campaigners were “embarking on a journey”, that a petition would be launched and urged residents to protest at the Knowle when EDDC’s development management committee discusses the Local Plan on Tuesday.

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Mr Harrison added: “We can all make a difference. We will show EDDC that public opinion is against their plans to ruin the valley. We demand to help shape the future of our beautiful town and valley – the jewel in the crown (of East Devon)”.

“Sidmouth is now facing a serious challenge and immediate threat, requiring action by the people,” said Robert Crick, of the Vision Group for Sidmouth.

He praised a “stunningly encouraging turnout of citizens” and urged them to “recruit” others for “a long-term continuing programme of public engagement with local authorities”.

“The people united will never be defeated,” said Mr Crick – in Spanish and English.

“Or as we say in mild-mannered Sidmouth, people power works,” he added.

“If we all end up speaking with one voice then someone has got to listen,” said SVA chairman Alan Darrant.

The meeting concluded with a unanimous show of support for SOS from those who attended.

Business leaders and hoteliers expressed their concern over “the biggest changes to Sidmouth and East Devon in a generation”.

Steven Kendall-Torry, chairman of Sidmouth Chamber of Commerce, said he feared for the town’s vibrant high street and healthy tourism industry.

He urged that questions be asked on issues like employment land, loss of the Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), Pennington Point, the Drill Hall and move of the Knowle, and said: “Once it has all been done, it’s forever.”

Mr Kendall-Torry added: “The proposed changes EDDC intends making will be the biggest to Sidmouth and East Devon in a generation. These changes will affect every sector.

“The chamber of commerce is not saying no to any proposals, but, like all good businesses, they need to make sense…they need to stack up. If the facts and statistics do stack up, I’m sure they (EDDC) will have everyone’s support. The problem is, if they get things wrong we pay, it is not their money…unfortunately we are left to live with the results.”

He said the chamber feared that, once the employment site is established, its use might change and big-name retailers might move in.

James Sharp, president of Sidmouth and District Hospitality Association, was concerned by developments on the town’s outskirts and said: “If we don’t encourage moderation and consideration the whole image of the Sid Valley will be marred forever. Together we can make a difference.”

SOS organiser, Ed Harrison, said he saw “no evidence for a huge land allocation that is a third larger than the Alexandria Industrial Estate”.

He added: “The biggest threat is that it will not all be taken up and a national supermarket chain, with pockets full of cash, will move in and EDDC will be powerless to stop it.”

EDDC says it is aiming to create better paid, higher skilled and more secure jobs with its blueprint for the future of the region.

A council spokesman said, when compiling a Local Plan, an authority must ensure it is managing a “fine balance” between jobs, homes and environment – and has to be seen by government as doing this effectively.

He said if the proposed Local Plan is perceived as “not sound” EDDC could find its proposals for homes and employment land provision amended upwards by the Planning Inspectorate.

The spokesman said the council’s need for employment land is a “product of aspiration and vision”, backed up by numeric assessment.

He added: “We have set an aspiration for one new job for each new home built. We have also set an aspiration for providing jobs so that, if they choose and jobs are secured, the level of residents commuting outside their home town can be halved.”

Fords of Sidmouth’s owner says the creation of a new employment site is “key to the town’s future prosperity”.

Mike Ford said: “At a time when so many businesses are struggling to survive, and so many people are without work, Fords is seeking to make a substantial investment in Sidmouth by developing proposals for a new site which has the potential to provide modern, sustainable employment space for the town.

“Our attempts over the past 10 years to develop and improve the Alexandria Industrial Estate for new business have been unsuccessful. Rather than relocate outside the area, we are very pleased to have secured an interest in a local site that has the potential to deliver this important employment space, which is key to Sidmouth’s future prosperity.”

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