EDDC’s New Local Plan – Potential Local Implications

A Council’s Local Plan is used to help decide on planning applications and other planning related decisions. In effect, as here in East Devon, it is the local guide to what can be built where, shaping infrastructure investments and determining the future pattern of development across the District Council’s area.

As the existing East Devon Local Plan has now become increasingly dated, East Devon District Council (EDDC) is preparing a new Local Plan that is expected to ultimately replace the existing Local Plan, that covered the period 2013 to 2031.

EDDC’s work on a new Local Plan started last year with consultation on an Issues and Options document that, looking forward, summarised some key issues facing East Devon and some options for how it might address these.

At the same time EDDC, as part of a Housing and Employment Land Availability Assessment (HEELA), also undertook a Call for Sites which allowed people to identify land that they consider suitable for development within East Devon.

The development of the new East Devon Local Plan is being undertaken within EDDC’s Strategic Planning Committee which has set out a framework timetable for the development of the Local Plan. The timetable currently is to produce a Draft Plan for public consultation in early summer 2022. Ultimately, the agreed Draft Plan has to be submitted to a Planning Inspector, and this is timetabled to take place in July 2023, with the new Local Plan being adopted by EDDC in February 2024.

The Call for Sites, is important to local communities as the sites that EDDC accepts for future development can have significant implications for residents. A good local example of this is that under a previous Conservative Administration, after much local disquiet, the land east Of Two Bridges Road was included as employment land in what is the current Local Plan. This is now progressing, against residents’ wishes, as the Sidford Business Park. This is a local example why getting the sites included in the Local Plan are so important to get right.

As a result of the Call for Sites many were submitted to EDDC for inclusion in the new Local Plan. These sites have all been evaluated and graded according to a set of criteria set out by the Strategic Planning Committee. These sites were considered at the Strategic Planning Committee on 14 December. In Sidbury two sites were put forward for consideration.

The proposed two Sidbury sites are included in a report considered by December’s Strategic Planning Committee and are on pages 56 and 57 of this report –

Page 56 shows the location of both proposed sites. The first site (Sidm_10) is a sloping agricultural field adjoining the northerly edge of Furzehill and has the A375 as its eastern boundary. The proposal would be for about 38 properties to be built here.

The second site (Sidm_25) is a field which is situated on the right-hand side of Roncombe Lane not far up from its junction with the A375. This site abuts not only Roncombe Lane, but also the A375 and Cotford Close. The proposal would be for about 39 properties to be built here.

Page 57 has the initial assessment of both sites, with only the first site being identified, at this stage, as being one that might be included in the new Local Plan.

The Strategic Planning Committee has invited landowners/developers whose site have been put forward in the Call for Sites to give outline presentations to its Members. So far presentations have taken place on 25 and 26 January, and others may follow.

Sidbury’s first site (Sidm_10) is owned by Sidbury Manor Estate, and its representatives, along with a commercial adviser Land Value Associates, gave an outline presentation on 26 January.

Unfortunately, the Estate’s presentation went beyond the site that had been submitted in the Call for Sites. The Estate’s presentation, rather than covering proposals for the one field identified as Sidm_10, also included proposals for development on two additional adjoining fields, both abutting the A375. This broader proposal would provide for development from the edge of Hillside all the way across to the edge of Furzehill, skirting around the Grade 2 listed Furzehill Farm. The presentation envisaged not the potential 38 properties on Sidm_10, but rather a total of 40 to 50 properties.

At this stage the Estate’s proposal across these three fields cannot be considered as it goes beyond what was set out in the Call for Sites. I am advised by EDDC Officers that only proposals for the original site submitted as Sidm_10 can be considered for inclusion in the new Local Plan.

It seems that the future of Sidm_10, as a site for inclusion in the Local Plan, is up in the air. Certainly, the Estate has lost an opportunity to explain how it would develop that single field by trying to “sell” its bigger vision across three fields. I am taking a great deal of interest in how this matter progresses, assuming that it does.

A number of sites in both Sidford and Sidmouth have also been submitted under the Call for Sites.

The locations of all of these sites are included in a map on page 34 of the report presented to December’s Strategic Planning Committee and the initial assessment of each site is given across pages 35 to 38 of this report –

I would draw attention to site Sidm_06 which is located to the left of Ottery Lane and which abuts the A375, and is virtually opposite the Sidford Business Park site. The landowner believes that about 300 properties could be built here. The initial evaluation of this site indicates that it could be considered for inclusion in the Local Plan, although with only enough of the site that could house about 30 properties, being deemed acceptable. This site isn’t located in my Ward but the Sidford Ward.

Elsewhere in my Sidmouth Rural Ward there are three sites that were submitted for consideration and in the map at page 34 these are referred to as Sidm_12, Sidm_13 and Sidm_14. The initial evaluation of these sites is set out on pages 37 and 38 of the report. These initial assessments are that none of these three sites would be recommended for inclusion in the Local Plan.

The process of considering and evaluating sites continues, as does the development of the Local Plan. As I know more about the sites that have been proposed I will give an update.

Response submitted to revised proposed Sidbury to Sidford multi-use path

EDDC, Sidmouth Rural Ward Councillor & Sidmouth Town Council, Sidbury Ward Councillor – Response to Devon County Council’s limited public consultation

I am responding to the limited public consultation on a revised route for a proposed multi-use path linking Sidbury to Sidford and into Sidmouth. This limited public consultation was set out in a letter from Devon County Council (DCC) to some Sidbury residents, dated 29 September 2021. Included with this letter was a plan showing a proposed revised route for this path.

I have subsequently been advised by a DCC officer that this letter and plan were only sent to “residents in Sidbury in the immediate vicinity of the route, including properties on Hillside and Burnt Oak”. The letter stated “We would invite you to feedback your comments on the attached proposals … The consultation will be open for just over 2 weeks closing 15 October”.I am disappointed that DCC chose to restrict its consultation to only these Sidbury residents, as the path must be intended to link the whole of the village to Sidford and beyond. Therefore, the vast majority of Sidbury residents would have no knowledge of the revised route or the consultation. I cannot see how this limited consultative exercise could be seen to be meaningful, open or transparent.

Whilst DCC has no requirement to consult Sidbury residents, it seems to me that as the whole village needs to be linked up that all residents, and local organisations, groups and businesses, should have a say in any proposed route. DCC equally has no requirement to consult me as the local District and Town Councillor, however I feel that it would have at least have been courteous to have informed me of the consultation and revised proposed route, which it did not. I was alerted to DCC’s letter and route plan by a resident who had directly received them. Indeed, it took DCC seven days to respond to my two emails, one of which was a chase up email, about this consultation.

I was elected as both a District and a Town Councillor in May 2019 and since then I have, through our County Councillor, several times requested to be able to engage with DCC about where a potential path might best be routed. Regretfully, my requests were not acted upon.

The last proposed route for the path, published five years ago, skirted the southern boundary of the A375 entering/exiting Sidbury at Burnt Oak. This would have left those who live in most of the village to have to walk/cycle along the A375 between Burnt Oak and just opposite the Pound on Chapel Street before they could use a short length of footpath.

Residents would then have had to walk/cycle again along the A375 between the end of that footpath, past the Chapel and to join the next piece of footpath just opposite the War Memorial at the start of Fore Street.

As residents and DCC Highways are aware the A375 from Sidford, through Burnt Oak, all the way through to the village, and out beyond Cotford bridge is narrow, windy, in many places has parked vehicles and despite the village being subject to 20-mph and a 30-mph zones, drivers, according to official DCC data (2018) breach the speed limits.

Not only is speed through all parts of the village a concern, the village also has to contend with in excess of 1 million vehicles travelling annually through it (2018 DCC data). These vehicles include HGVs, including the largest ones, vans, caravans, motorhomes, cars, motorbikes, buses and farm vehicles, such as tractors and trailers. The road from Sidford to Cotford bridge is dangerous to walkers and cyclists, which is why there is a need for a path to bypass the road.

With the revised proposed route entering/exiting Sidbury at Burnt Oak only a couple of hundred yards closer to the village than the previous proposed route, this does nothing to connect the village to the path any better than had previously been proposed. Indeed, what this revised route does is to require residents to have to cross the A375 by the phone box at Hillside/Burnt Oak in order to walk against the traffic towards the village. The previous route would not have added this requirement as the entry/exit to the path was on the opposite side of the A375 to this.

In order to effectively connect the village to Sidford any path needs to enter/exit the village in its centre. It also needs to have a spur to an entry/exit at Burnt Oak. This would allow all residents across the village to access the path in a safe manner. Ideally, an entry/exit in the centre of the village would be in Deepway, as it would not be possible to enter/exit via the cricket ground and the Millennium Green off of Bridge Street.

Equally ideally, a route from the centre of village, spurred off at Burnt Oak, would hug the River Sid joining up with the existing path in Sidford at the bottom of the business park site by Laundry Lane. I am confident that locating the path across the business park site at this point would be something that the landowners could be encouraged to agree to.

The revised route will enter/exit Hillside from Sidford. Hillside only has a footpath for about half of it, from its junction with Burnt Oak up until the three-way junction at the top of Hillside. From there to the entry/exit point into the field below Ebdon Farm there is no footpath and it is narrow with residents’ parked vehicles.

The route then traverses the three fields between the entry/exit in Hillside until it meets Otter Lane. The route across these fields is at an incline. At Ottery Lane the path then crosses it just above where it joins the A375. Any crossing at this point would be fairly blind particularly to drivers entering Ottery Lane from the Sidford direction.

Having crossed Ottery Lane, the route passes through four fields and has to skirt the Wales and West Utilities site. The route then enters/exits onto Two Bridges Road/A375 opposite the proposed entrance to the business park. Two Bridges Road is a fast road despite its 30-mph speed limit, particularly at this point as it is a straight piece of road. The road is wide enough to facilitate vehicles travelling in both directions.

As this part of the A375 directly ends up going through Sidbury the same comments about traffic are appropriate, in that over 1 million vehicles travelling along it (2018 DCC Sidbury data). These vehicles include HGVs, including the largest ones, vans, caravans, motorhomes, cars, motorbikes, buses and farm vehicles, such as tractors and trailers. This is a dangerous road to have to cross.

Whilst the business park is being built this part of the A375 will have more and often bigger vehicles using it. Once the business park is built there will be hundreds of additional vehicle movements each day from those delivering to/from it and those working there. This will all add to the difficulties facing those needing to cross the A375 to access/exit the path. This really is not an appropriate access/entry point to the path.

Having crossed the A375 those using the path will then need to be mindful of all the vehicles entering/exiting the business park.

In order to make the path effective in its intention of linking Sidbury to Sidford and beyond it has to be useable and safe for all of its users. Not only would this include able bodied adults and youth, walking and/or cycling, but also children of all ages walking and possibly on scooters and bikes, babies and toddlers being pushed in prams, the partially sighted walking, those with mobility difficulties either on foot or using a wheelchair or a mobility scooter. A path that takes users into/out of the centre of the village could allow children who attend Sidbury Primary School, and their parents/carers, to walk/cycle directly to/from Sidford without having to drive or rely upon school transport.

A path has to increase the access to and from Sidbury for not only its residents but to also open it up to visitors and those walking in the area, such as those using the East Devon Way. This would assist the local economy as visitors could make greater use of visiting St Giles Church, Drews the village shop, JA Nice’s shop, the Village Hall and Parish Rooms, the Red Lion pub, as well as the Millennium Green and Sidbury Cricket Club’s ground.

From the basic information provided about the revised route I am not convinced that it is safe for users, that it will link the whole village to Sidford and beyond, or that it will be used to any great extent. This would probably lead to this path sadly becoming a white elephant, a waste of public money and a lost opportunity for linking an isolated village and its residents to Sidford and beyond.

It is five years since the previous proposed route was withdrawn by DCC. Since then, I am unaware of any discussion that DCC has had with Sidbury residents or local groups or organisations. This appears to have been a wasted five years during which, as I have asked over the past couple of years, broad local engagement could have taken place in order to develop a route that would truly link the whole of the village to Sidford and beyond, and be supported and used by the residents of Sidbury.

Sidbury to Sidford Multi-Use Path “Consultation”

I am grateful to a Burnt Oak resident who sent me the reproduced letter below that they received the other day from Devon County Council. This letter informed them that after five years of silence from the County Council, a revised route for a multi-use path, previously known as a cycle path, linking Sidbury with Sidford and on into Sidmouth, had now been designed.

The County Council attached an outline map which showed this revised route. I have also included this below.

As the local District and Town Councillor the County Council has no requirement to have discussed this matter with me as they designed this revised route. This is the responsibility of our County Councillor, Stuart Hughes. Neither did the County Council have the requirement to discuss the matter with any local groups or residents.

The County Council has not spoken to me, nor to my knowledge has it spoken to any local groups or residents over the past five years. I find this most disappointing as between us we would have good local knowledge and understanding of what this village’s residents and businesses would want the multi-use path’s route to follow.

The County Council’s letter and the revised map of the route don’t appear to have gone to all village residents, nor have they been sent to me. The letter says that the County Council is conducting a two-week “consultation”, which closes on 15 October.

Over the past week I have twice emailed the County Council officer whose email address is contained in the letter asking a number of questions about the revised route and this public “consultation”. I have not had any acknowledgement of my emails nor have I had any response.

I believe that there are a number of shortcomings with this revised route which I will send to the County Council in response to their consultation. Once I have submitted my comments, I will publicise them.

Residents might want to respond to this public consultation and may also want to let their County Councillor know of their opinions.

Letter and revised multi-use path route sent to some Sidbury residents, from Devon County Council, dated 29 September 2021

29 September 2021

Dear Resident,

Re: Sidbury to Sidford Multi-Use Path

Devon County Council are developing proposals to enhance the existing multi-use path through the Byes at Sidmouth, by extending it from Sidford through to Sidbury. A public consultation was held looking at route options in 2014.

The proposal is to provide a multi-use active travel link between Sidbury and Sidford which will improve connectivity between the settlements. Not only will this provide a safe path for active travel, providing health and wellbeing benefits, it will also provide a place where cyclists of all ages can gain confidence and skills.

The route will be designed to be suitable for a range of users, allowing easy access for those with disabilities, mobility problems or parents with prams and buggies.

I am writing to inform you that we are planning to proceed with developing proposals for the westem option for the trail, as can be seen on the attached plan. We have considered a number of options and believe the attached plan provides the best trail for the safety and convenience of users, as well as the feasibility of construction and improving access to Sidbury.

We would invite you to feedback your comments on the attached proposals which can be sent by email to transportplanninq@devon.qov.uk. The consultation will be open for just over 2 weeks; closing 15m October.

Subject to the feedback received, we are aiming to present the proposals to East Devon Highways and Traffic Orders Committee, seeking approval to proceed towards the development of a planning application for the through detailed design stages whilst appropriate funding will be sought for the scheme delivery.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Yours faithfully

Hannah Clark

Transport Planning Team Leader Planning, Transportation & Environment

01392 383000

hannah.clark@devon.gov.uk

Sidford Business Park Update

Land East of Two Bridges Road, Sidford

Planning Application: 21/1723/MRES subsequent to 18/1094/MOUT

Following the appeal hearing in front of a planning inspector in July 2019, the planning application 18/1094/MOUT to build a business park on the land east of Two Bridges Road at Sidford was upheld. This provided the applicants with outline planning permission to progress with building there. The inspector’s decision left only the scale of the site’s infrastructure and its appearance to be determined at a later date by the District Council.

The scale of the buildings is now covered by this latest planning application, 21/1723/MRES. I understand that the appearance of the buildings, their architecture, will still remain to be decided upon at a later date, probably in early 2022.

The applicants have over recent months, as will be evident from looking at the site, been undertaking some significant preliminary landscaping and flood alleviation work, not least straightening the course of the brook that flows through the site.

As the District Councillor for Sidmouth Rural Ward within which this site is located, I attended a site meeting on 1 October with fellow Sidford Ward District Councillor, Marianne Rixson, to meet with the applicants’ agent, Joseph Marchant. We wanted to look at what works have been undertaken so far and to understand where the proposed buildings would be located.

The site has clearly had significant works undertaken so far and to my mind the works look as if the applicants are doing what has been required of them. Indeed, we were told that in the southern third of the site where the flood improvement works have taken place there will soon be about 2,200 native trees planted there. I understand that across the remainder of the site considerably more trees and planting will eventually take place. We were assured that as a result of all of the planting the site will become more ecologically rich than when it was a field.

I believe that the applicants’ intentions are that building work would not commence for probably another 24 months allowing the initial planting to mature.

I understand that the flood improvement work will make the site less liable to future flooding allowing a greater flow of water through the site, reducing potential flooding in local lower lying areas.

I noted that all the current ground levels of the flood improvement area would be its future ground levels. The plans submitted with the latest application show the cut and fill across the site to create the base levels.  

When trying to understand where the buildings would be located and their scale, we were able to use the “Proposed Block Plan” site plan that is part of the latest application’s document submissions to the District Council.

The key information about the buildings that I took from our discussions was –

  1. The site layout, as set out in the Block Plan, is the same as included in the previous 2018 application, and there will be fewer buildings than originally proposed when the site was reviewed as part of the 2012 Local Plan process.
  2. Many of the buildings will now be a storey lower than had been proposed in 2012 and are as proposed in the 2018 application. The planning inspector included this detail in Condition 4 of his decision.
  3. The ridge heights of the buildings will be roughly no higher than those of the bungalows facing the site on Two Bridges Road, with the exception of the two larger buildings at the front of the site (coloured red and light blue on the Block Plan) that would be about the same height as the former police house facing them on Two Bridges Road;
  4. All the buildings, with the exception of two larger ones (coloured red and light blue on the Block Plan) closest to the Two Bridges Road, will be single storey at heights of about 5 metres to their eaves and 6 to 6.5 metres at their ridges.
  5. The two larger buildings will be two storey office buildings at a height of about 6 metres to their eves and about 7.5 metres to their ridges.
  6. The buildings’ height detail was covered at the planning inspector’s hearing.

In the run up to the site meeting Mr Marchant provided me with an informal letter in which he set out the applicants’ intentions and approach to the final phases of developing the site. Mr Marchant’s intention was to try to ease any remaining local resident concerns about what is, and will, be happening at the site, and he has allowed me to reproduce the content of his letter. His letter is below –

“As you know, in late 2019, we sought to vary the Conditions on the Appeal Decision in order to allow the landscape works to be brought forward early. The original Inspector’s Conditions meant that no implementation could occur until all designs for the buildings and other built elements were in place. The adjustment to the wording meant that we were able to bring forward the archaeological dig and the earthworks to secure the flood benefits, along with the landscape provision for new trees, hedges, new Devon banks and the meadow as early as possible, such that the landscape has a chance to mature as soon as it can. The applicants and I could see the benefit of landscaping maturing as soon as possible.

As I explained to you, having worked in this industry for over 25 years, I do know that in most cases where development is proposed, local residents are naturally concerned with impact. Where planting or the level of landscape to be provided is a significant element, this is not always fully appreciated or understood by local people, and, in some cases, averting this misunderstanding can reduce concern. I am conscious that understanding plans of the site remains a difficulty for some. With the benefit of the earthworks related to the landscape area, the new Devon banks, the flood basin and the enclosure to the tree zones of the site, it is now possible to depict where the planting will occur and therefore to more easily interpret the plans. I am pleased that you have agreed to view these works with me.

It may be that the turfing and tree and hedge planting will have started when we visit the site. The seeding has already occurred. This is the meadow rich seed mix for the main flood improvement area. Turfing is due to start at the end of this week and into next. In respect of the Devon banks along Laundry Lane, until recently, it has not been possible to lay this turf due to the dry weather, such that it would survive. With recent heavy rain, we can now proceed with this. The tree planting will also start in coming days. My understanding is that over 2200 trees and hedge whips have been ordered and will be planted across the site as planned. The ambition is that by the early spring of next year, these planted elements will be well established and will have a full growing season ahead of them next year. Some of the trees that will go onto the site will be quite significant in size and hopefully within a year or two, will have a significant impact.

I would hope that on the site visit, we can look at this element of the investment, such that you can advise any local people that may come to you with queries. I think it will also be of significant interest to see just how much open space is allotted to the development, which I think will be of comfort to many local people. Again, this is an element that I think may have been under appreciated from the technical documents. A site visit should bring this to life.

The second issue which I think has been of concern to many local people, has been the worry that the development may be overbearing in its height. As you know, the recent appeal scheme detailed the layout, which is fully approved. The height of the ridges and eaves was supplied as an indicative figure. This indicative figure enabled the modelling of the Landscape Impact Assessment. As you are aware, the greater majority of the development is single storey. A few buildings are two storeys.

The concern of many local people was that the scale of the buildings may expand to more closely represent the scheme that was supported by the Inspector in the 2012 Local Plan Inquiry. This was a much denser scheme. To put to bed that concern, I can confirm that the scale, as now submitted, will be as detailed in the LVIA of the appeal scheme, to exactly the heights that were identified at that stage.

The current Reserved Matter application will hopefully avoid a worry from local residents that somehow the Reserved Matter would be submitted showing two and three storey buildings across the site. The scale that is shown in the Reserved Matters application which is currently submitted is as low as possible, particularly given that the greater majority of buildings are single storey.

My hope is that a combination of a large part of the landscape being in the ground, and a confirmed position from the applicant on the scale of buildings, will mean that those most affected by the development will hopefully obtain some peace of mind, knowing that the single storey scale of the majority of buildings, to match exactly with L002 Rev A and SK001, and the positioning and extent of landscape works will mean that the development is much less impacting than they had anticipated, giving regard to residents’ outlook and relationship with the development site.

I look forward to being able to explore these things with you so that when you are approached by local people, you are able to put them at ease”.

I have been asked by some residents about what they might usefully say as part of the consultation on the latest application, for which the closing date is 14 October. The application and its supporting documents are accessible at –

Given that the latest application is in effect about scale, I hope that the information that I have obtained will assist residents as they consider whether they are reassured by the scale of the buildings. Whatever residents’ opinions on the latest application, these can be made directly to the District Council as part of its current consultation process.

Further, I hope that Mr Marchant’s letter is helpful to residents and that the wider information I have set out here is also useful.

Since this note was drafted the Sidmouth Town Council’s Planning Committee has met and considered this application. It was unable to support the application giving its reasons as –

UNABLE TO SUPPORT
The Council continues to oppose the establishment of employment land in this location but subsequent to the approval on appeal by the Planning Inspectorate, viewed the application regarding scale without prejudice.

Members were unable to support the application regarding scale as they felt that the location of larger and taller buildings (Blocks N & K) closer and more prominently next to the road was detrimental to the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. They suggested that those buildings could be relocated further back into the site so that the height and size of buildings increased as the distance increased from the main roadway.

As a member of this Committee, I participated in the discussions and I and share its concerns about the scale of the two higher buildings at the front of the site and would welcome anything that could be done to reduce their scale.

District Council elects new Chair & Vice Chair marking real change

On 8 June the District Council held a virtual Full Council meeting to elect a new Chair and Vice Chair of Council. This date had previously been agreed upon at an earlier virtual Full Council meeting that was held on 28 May.

Despite this date to elect a Chair and Vice Chair had been well publicised much in advance to Councillors, sadly only 43 attended from the comfort of their own homes via the handy facility that the internet provides which allows the Council to hold virtual meetings.

With the incumbent Chair, Stuart Hughes (Conservative), having resigned in the lead up to the meeting, the post of Chair looked as if it was wide open for nominations.

In the event there was only one nomination for the post of Chair of Council, that of Cathy Gardner (Democratic Alliance). Despite there only being one nomination each of us Councillors had to vote whether or not we accepted Cathy to fulfil this role.

It was interesting that the 5 Conservative Councillors who were in attendance at this meeting all appeared to be following a party line and each one abstained from voting, whilst the remaining 38 Councillors representing the Democratic Alliance, Independent Progressives, The Independents, Cranbrook Voice and an Independent all voted in her favour. Cathy was duly elected with 38 votes in favour, none against and 5 abstentions.

A similar pattern of voting followed when the incumbent Vice Chair of Council, Val Ranger (Democratic Alliance), was the only nomination received for that post. In this vote a Conservative Councillor broke ranks with the rest of his Group and voted in favour of Val allowing her to be elected with 39 votes in favour, none against and 4 abstentions.

It really does make me wonder whether the Conservative Group on the Council, which consists of 20 Councillors now that the previous Leader of the Council who was elected as an Independent has joined their ranks, took a decision to boycott the meeting or perhaps all 15 of them were unavoidably detained elsewhere. It just seems a bit odd that so many of them weren’t able to participate in the internal democratic processes of the Council.

It is really pleasing that the Council is now represented in its 4 most senior elected Member level by 3 women in the roles of Deputy Leader, Chair and Vice Chair of Council. This is a first for East Devon and signifies a real change, and most pleasing is the fact that this wasn’t tokenism, it was electing the right and best Councillors to do the jobs.

Further Covid related grants available from the District Council

East Devon District Council has already distributed over £40m of government mandatory Covid related grants to some 3,500 local businesses. This has been to give some element of financial support to assist businesses in these difficult trading times.

A number of businesses were not covered by this initial grant and the government has now provided the District Council with a further £2.4m discretionary grant. Whilst this might sound like a lot of money, when you consider the number of predominantly smaller business locally that are losing income due to the Covid crisis, this will be a bit like spreading jam thinly over bread.

There is a short application period for businesses which meet this discretionary grant’s criteria to submit an application.

The main businesses that will benefit from this fund, must have been trading on 11 March, and include –

  • Small businesses in shared offices or other flexible workspaces;
  • Regular market traders;
  • Bed & breakfasts that pay Council Tax;
  • Charity properties in receipt of charitable relief;
  • Businesses within the retail, hospitality & leisure sector or who predominately supply this sector;
  • Language schools.

If you think your business might meet the criteria to receive a discretionary grant check out the District Council website as soon as possible as applications have to be received by no later than 24 June –

https://eastdevon.gov.uk/coronavirus-covid-19/businesses-employers-and-employees/discretionary-business-grant-support/

New District Council administration formed

Whilst a new administration has now been voted in to run East Devon District Council, the bad language and behavior of some Conservative Councillors, led to a delay of some 15 hours in the election meeting being concluded.

At last year’s District Council elections, the voters of East Devon ended 47 years of consecutive Conservative rule by electing a majority of non-Conservative Councillors. Unfortunately, no single grouping of Councillors was able to form a majority Administration.

A group “The Independent Group” which last May had the largest number of Councillors in its grouping, was able last may to be elected to run the Council. This grouping consisted of Councillors who stood as Independents in the election. They had nothing broader than this to bind them together. They had no collective set of objectives or values. None the less they were the largest grouping and were given the responsibility to run the Council.

Over the past year The Independent Group administration has fallen apart which given it had no real collective vision was in some ways not a surprise. Equally, as this grouping of Councillors had not anticipated being thrown together to lead the Council it was unsurprising that they struggled to maintain unity of purpose.

After nearly five decades of single party dominance in East Devon, for others to take time to work out how to work together across their wide political spectrum is understandable.

Many Councillors, including myself, who were outside of both the Conservative Party and The Independent Group, were unhappy as the months rolled on at how business was being done and the priorities that both groupings were seemingly supporting.

At the same time some disquiet within the ruling Independent Group started to bubble to the surface and various other groupings – East Devon Alliance, Liberal Democrats, Greens and several Independent Councillors – started to discuss the possibility of abroad coalition being formed with the objective of seeking to attract the majority of Councillors, which would be 31 or more, with a common set of values, as well as social and political objectives.

This broad coalition initially was formed of 24 Councillors into the Democratic Alliance which included 12 East Devon Alliance, 8 Liberal Democrat, 2 Green and 2 Independent Councillors. A group of 7 Councillors then decided to leave The Independent Group and to form the Independent Progressives and to align themselves with the Democratic Alliance to achieve a working majority on the Council.

All of this left the still ruling Independent Group with only 10 Councillors and the Conservative group with 19. Having a ruling group of only 10 out of the total 60 Councillors was clearly untenable and therefore on 18 May the Leader, Ben Ingham, and his Cabinet resigned. As I write the Independent Group now only consists of 6 Councillors.

On 28 May at a virtual Council meeting a vote was taken as to who should become the new Leader of the council and form the next administration. A new majority administration – formed by the Democratic Alliance and the Independent Progressives – was elected. This new administration, led by Paul Arnott received 32 votes, whilst the Conservative Party, led by Andrew Moulding received 20 votes and 8 Councillors abstained from voting.

The new Leader of the Council, Paul Arnott has now announced his key appointments, and I am pleased to have been asked to serve as the number two in the Finance Portfolio. It’s going to be a tough time ahead for this Council and this new administration on many fronts, not least the financial one as the Council’s income has plummeted during the Covid 19 lockdown period.

This will make for a really big challenge in order to not only balance the books in this 2020/21 financial year, but also over the medium term of the next few years. It doesn’t take a financial genius to recognise that some very tough financial decisions are going to have to be taken whilst still trying to maintain and deliver quality services that residents rightly expect.

I cannot leave this story without reporting on the problems that the Council, its Officers, Councillors and members of the public who were following the 28 May online Council meeting faced. Officers did a great job in corralling and keeping all 60 Councillors linked in on line via Zoom to hold the meeting to elect the new Leader and his key appointments.

Throughout the meeting the demeanour of some of our Conservative colleagues had been less than positive. When it came to each of us in turn having to say whether we supported Paul Arnott or Andrew Moulding for Leader various Councillors could be heard to mutter disapprovingly of the way some others were voting.

Indeed, several Councillors could occasionally be heard uttering swear words and indeed as we got to the point where the 58th Councillor was asked for their vote the YouTube live feed to the public was cut off by YouTube. As a Councillor at this point swore, and as this violated the terms upon which YouTube allow the feed to be broadcast the feed was cut and the meeting had to be halted.

Although at the point where the meeting had to be suspended it was clear that Paul Arnott had sufficient votes to be declared the new Leader of the Council, this was not possible until all Councillors present had been allowed to exercise their votes. After much effort by Officers, it became apparent why the live feed had been cut and so the meeting was temporarily suspended, thus requiring everyone to reconvene on 29 May to allow the final three Councillors to cast their votes and finally for Paul Arnott to be declared the new Leader and to then announce his key appointments.

I find it incredibly disappointing that my colleagues within the Conservative Party have expressed faux annoyance at the fact that those of us in the democratic Alliance and the Independent Progressives sought to legitimise our majority and to establish a new administration at a time when usually face to face Annual meeting of the Council would allow us to have a vote upon who should lead the Council for the next year.

They cynically chose to hid behind Covid 19 as an excuse for not holding a virtual Annual Council meeting despite councils being allowed to use virtual meetings to conduct business. Indeed, I am more than disappointed at the way in which the Conservative group argued that holding a meeting to virtually elect a new Leader would be to divert the Council’s attention and resources from the challenges of Covid 19.

Indeed, all of the unpleasantness that some of the Conservative group displayed at the virtual meeting on 28 May, as well as the unprofessional and inappropriate use of swear words in the meeting, which led to the meeting having to be abandoned and reconvened, place far more strain and waste of time and resources on the Council, its Officers and its Members, than actually holding a meeting to ensure democracy carried on during Covid 19.

So, as the new administration starts to get to grips with improving and delivering quality services to residents, I am mindful, particularly as I have now been appointed to the number two financial role, of the significant challenge facing the Council as its income has been sorely hit as a result of Covid 19. It will make for some tough challenges ahead.

I hope that as we move forward my Conservative colleagues will stop playing political games and start to behave as the experienced professionals they claim to be, but fail to demonstrate by their often-puerile actions. Its time for them to get behind the new administration and to support us as we try to meet the real challenges facing this Council and its residents.

East Devon District Council’s advice on having a bonfire

East Devon District Council is regularly updating its advice to residents on its services and what we all should be doing during the coronavirus difficulties. Its worth keeping an eye on this advice at https://eastdevon.gov.uk/coronavirus-covid-19/latest-updates/east-devon-district-council-latest-coronavirus-updates/

Many residents with gardens are making use of them now the weather has turned nice. As gardens are tidied up and whilst the District Council’s green waste service has been suspended to allow resources to be directed to keeping the recycling and landfill waste collections going, many residents are considering burning their garden waste.

Bonfires can cause annoyance and aggravate some people’s health conditions, so please take a look at the District Council’s updated advice on bonfires https://eastdevon.gov.uk/environmental-health-and-wellbeing/land-air-and-water-pollution/bonfires-during-the-coronavirus-outbreak/ the introduction to which starts –

Bonfires during the Coronavirus outbreak

Please avoid having any bonfires whilst the Coronavirus controls are in place if smoke or smell from them might affect neighbours or aggravate any health conditions.

Cut up your woody garden waste and store it somewhere safe to dry out for the next few months.

Never burn garden waste that is still green or recently cut, and never burn any other household waste.