The day SVA became pro-active in a Vision for Sidmouth

Sid Vale Association’s outgoing chairman speaks of protests over protecting Sidmouth’s AONB

IN 2005 Handel Bennett, chairman of Sid Vale Association, addressed the annual town meeting, calling for a new Vision for Sidmouth.

He said: “The association felt the district council seemed to be neglecting Sidmouth in terms of public investment into the local community.

“The derelict drill hall was an eyesore on the Jurassic Coast and there was an opportunity to develop Port Royal for Sidmouth residents and visitors.”

From that meeting the Vision for Sidmouth group was formed, chaired by SVA secretary Alan Darrant, one of a number of SVA members to join.

After in-depth assessment of Sidmouth’s needs, a report was published - A Vision for Sidmouth 2006 – which was presented to East Devon District Council.

“This was a turning point for the SVA, which for some years previously had tended to be somewhat reflective in its comments on what was happening locally in the Sid Valley.

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“Now it became pro-active, seeking to pass on the views of its members, and to participate in local debate.”

In fact, says Handel, he never thought he would end up joining his first public demonstration last year and early this, carrying a placard to Knowle over EDDC’s Local Development Framework plan and the approval of developers using AONB land for housing.

“I said on the second occasion I no longer felt the AONB was safe in the hands of the present council.”

SVA certainly is pro-active over planning applications and Handel appeared before the gaming licence committee at Knowle in 2008 to set out objections to a proposed gaming centre in Dove Lane.

“Not unexpectedly, in my view, the Dove gaming centre closed due to lack of interest,” he said.

SVA also objected strongly to EDDC’s decision to allow the building of a housing estate in Woolbrook Road and in March 2010 Handel presented its reasons for objecting. However, “the planners were deaf to all our arguments, and the bulldozers moved in.”

Handel has now written to candidates asking for their commitment, once elected, to uphold the protection of the AONB and will publish the names of those who agree.