Town centre is part of LDF plans insist EDDC

The council was quick to defend its local plan from criticism by Sidmouth Chamber of Commerce that it has not taken town centres into account.

This week’s meeting of East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) Local Development Framework (LDF) panel focussed on retail areas, hoping to prove it was not just looking at numbers of new homes to be built.

But the chamber of commerce hit out at the LDF’s draft document, saying it had received very little input from businesses.

A letter submitted to the panel by Richard Eley, the head of the chamber, said: “The Core Strategy document therefore unsurprisingly showed little interest in our town centres generally, and their retail components in particular.”

He said the chamber was pleased the panel has opted for a rethink to include more retail focus, but said East Devon’s towns face a tough time with competition from the internet, Exeter’s city centre shops, and a surge in ‘rural retailing’, which, it claims, is mostly unplanned or illegal.

At Tuesday’s meeting at the Knowle, members heard how the Government’s draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) places a high emphasis on town centres as a key factor in both planning policy and local and regional economies.

Consultants EVA Grimley gave a report on each of East Devon’s town centres, and said Sidmouth has a popular and healthy shopping centre, with a good range of retail outlets.

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But Mr Eley pointed to a fall of 5 per cent in trade in the town this year and it has been ‘neglected’ by EDDC as other towns and rural areas have been the focus, and in his evidence to the panel said: “Continued decline in trading performance of this scale is completely unsustainable, and will lead to major deterioration in the quality and appearance of our town centre in quite a short period of time.”

He added: “There is a danger that our towns are increasingly seen as unattractive places to live, with down-at-heel shopping, declining services and social activity, and, in particular late night crime issues.”

Speaking after the meeting, panel chairman, Mike Allen, said they face multiple challenges in creating the Local Plan, but added: “Getting the planning policy for East Devon right is a very complex task, but a picture is beginning to emerge.”