Sidford Business Park Gets Approved

My response to the Planning Inspector’s decision as District Councillor for Sidmouth Rural Ward within which the Business Park site is located –

This is incredibly disappointing news for all those who live near to the planned Business park site and also for all those who live in and nearby to Sidford and Sidbury who, as a result of the Planning Inspector’s decision, will have to put up with significant increases in traffic, particularly HGVs.

However, a big thank you must go to all those local residents who have actively supported the local campaign to oppose the Business Park which remains the wrong thing in the wrong place.

If the County and District Councils had originally effectively scrutinised and challenged this site being included in the Local Plan then this site would never, and should never, have been included in it. Ever since the site was allocated as employment land within the Local Plan everyone who has opposed the proposed plans to build the Business Park have effectively been fighting with one hand tied behind their backs.

This is a sad day for local residents whose voices might have been heard, but they haven’t been listened to.

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Sidmouth Air Display

Don’t forget the air display down on the sea front this coming Friday evening, 23 August, starting at 6.00 pm. Whilst its a no show from the Red Arrows there will be plenty of other aircraft to enjoy. A real family occasion. Proudly supported by Sidmouth Town Council.

Are you eligible to vote?

East Devon’s Electoral Registration Officer has issued a timely letter to residents asking that we check who, at our home address is currently registered to vote. This is so easy to do as enclosed with the letter is a list of all those currently on the electoral register. All you need to do is check it, amend it if necessary, sign and date it, pop into the pre-paid return envelope provided and post it!

This will ensure that all those eligible to vote at your home is on the electoral list and will be able to vote next time.

The next time will be very soon as Sidmouth Town Council’s Sid Valley Neighbourhood Plan is about to be put to a referendum and we all will be able to have our say. The referendum will take place on Thursday 19 September.

Read the Neighbourhood Plan here – https://sidvalleyneighbourhoodplan.com/

The Neighbourhood Plan will be very important as it will become a key document that will govern the approach to planning across the Sid Valley. It is therefore most necessary for residents to go along on 19 September and cast their vote on it. I, along with the Town Council, am encouraging all voters here in Sidmouth and the Sid Valley to vote YES in support of the Plan.

There is a second reason why it is important to ensure that you and your family are all registered to vote and that is the now much speculated general election that the new Prime Minister is anticipated to call, or be forced into calling as a result of a successful vote of no confidence related to the Brexit terms.

Listening to national politicians and journalists it is becoming more apparent that one way or another during the next three months we will be going to the polls. So, if you aren’t registered to vote then you can’t have your say should an election be called in the near future!

If you, or anyone else in East Devon needs to register to vote it can be done on line – http://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote

Sidmouth Folk Festival Begins!

I was proud and pleased to be invited to the opening concert of this, the 65th, Sidmouth Folk Festival. The concert took place on the Ham this morning with a variety of acts who performed for the appreciative audience.

A selection of the entertainment on offer throughout Folk Week
The bustling esplanade today

The invitation came to me both as District and a Town Councillor. The Town Council is, quite rightly, a committed supporter of the Festival that does so much for the town and the wider Sid Valley and so I was most pleased to attend.

All of the acts that performed were excellent in their own right. However, I must single out the first two who were truly local groups. First up was the wonderfully entertaining Sidmouth Town Band that I believe has been going since 1862!

Sidmouth Town Band

Then we were treated to the sounds of the Sid Vale Folk Choir who really looked as if they were enjoying themselves. I must give a name check to Kelvin Dent who played guitar on one song. Kelvin is a fellow Sidmouth Town Councillor.

Sid Vale Folk Choir

Finally, a quick look at the audience behind me as the seats started to fill up.

Planning Inquiry evidence raises serious questions for EDDC Chief Executive

As the District Councillor within whose Ward the proposed Sidford Business Park sits and as a member of the Steering Group of the NO Sidford Business Park Campaign I was concerned at some of the unchallenged evidence that was presented to the recent Planning Inquiry. This evidence was presented by a witness and the QC who were acting on behalf of Tim and Mike Ford, in the name of OG Holdings Retirement Benefits Scheme.

There have been two planning applications submitted in the name of OG Holdings Retirement Benefits Scheme, to build this Business Park. The first of these applications was submitted in 2016 and rejected by East Devon District Council. The second was then submitted in 2018 and was again rejected by the District Council.

Last Friday, 26 July the Sidmouth Herald printed a letter from a member of the Campaign Steering Group which addressed these very same concerns of mine. A copy of the letter as it appears in the Herald is attached and I quote from it below –

“In listening to the evidence at the Inquiry I was taken aback to learn a claim arising from the evidence given by a key witness for the Fords, Joseph Marshall, and which was repeated by their QC and which wasn’t challenged by the Council. In so doing this led to an acceptance by the Council of the claim that was made.

The claim that was made by Mr Marchant was set out at paragraph 6.0.1 in his written evidence “Subsequent to the refusal of the 2016 application, an approach was made to Members (Councillors) including Councillor Hughes and the CEO (Chief Executive) of EDDC, Mark Williams”.

This is continued in paragraph 6.0.2 of Mr Marchant’s written evidence “We were advised by Mark Williams….that in his opinion, the applicant (the Fords) may make more advance in progress towards delivery through appealing (the Council’s decision to refuse the 2016 planning application) rather than resubmission”.

This claim was also clearly set out in paragraphs 13 and 14 of the Fords’ QC’s final closing arguments at the Inquiry “After the 2016 application was refused, there was a meeting with Councillor Hughes and the CEO of the Council”. “The CEO advised that the way to progress was to appeal. That is an extraordinary state of affairs”.

I am sure that I am not the only resident who is astounded that the Chief Executive of the District Council directly advised a developer to appeal a decision of the Council. As the QC for the Fords at the Inquiry put it “That is an extraordinary state of affairs”.

I was so concerned at this evidence, and given the number of local residents who have contacted me about the issues raised in the letter since the Herald was published on Friday, yesterday I took the extraordinary step of writing directly to the Leader of the Council. In this I asked that an independent investigation be held into the claims made at the Inquiry about the advice that the Chief Executive of the District Council gave to the Ford’s agent and which appears to totally undermine the role of his own officers and elected Members.

I now await to hear what the response to my request will be.

24 July District Council Meeting

The second Full Council meeting of the new administration took place on Wednesday 24 July at the Council’s modern offices in Honiton. The temperature all day had been high and so the Council Chamber, despite having air conditioning, was very warm. So warm that the Chair invited “gentlemen can remove their jackets”!

To be honest, I was rather bemused at this invitation both in terms of its language and because surely an event such as a Council meeting shouldn’t be so formal as to either expect the wearing of jackets or having a situation whereby attendees have to wait to be told that they can remove their jackets! Anyway, as I was wearing neither a jacket nor a tie, I was unable to respond positively to the Chair’s entreaty.

Prior to the start of the meeting the Council had held a Civic reception for Honiton Rugby Club to celebrate their successful last season which was topped off in May when they won the RFU Senior Vase at the home of English rugby, Twickenham. The club and players were then invited to come into the Council Chamber to receive the Chair’s congratulations and to receive a warm round of applause for their success.

Honiton Rugby Club getting ready to receive plaudits from the Council Chair –

We then moved onto addresses to Council from members of the public. Two people addressed us both urging the Council to be bolder when it determines how to respond the climate emergency that the Cabinet had called. This set the scene for the rest of the evenings events as virtually all of the discussions and decisions taken related to climate change, which is fitting given that the Chief Executive has indicated to Councillors that the top priority for the Council should be responding to the difficulties of climate change.

It was then down to business! Here’s the Council in session –

Councillors are able to put questions to the Leader of the Council and Portfolio Holders in writing which in turn receives a written response. All of this is provided prior to the meeting and issued as part of the set of papers for the meeting. All of this can be read at –

There were 12 questions put through this process and each questioner is able to ask a supplementary verbal question in response to the written answer. This additional question then has to be responded to. Each of the 12 questions were followed up with supplementary questions at the meeting.

Included in the issues that the questions explored included the distribution of Section 106 monies as held by the Council on behalf of Town and parish Councils, wanting the Council to bid for East Devon to become a Tourism Zone, how the Council will deal with its anticipated budget deficit,  what the new Administration’s top priorities will be, seeking an independent inquiry into the sale of the Council’s previous main offices at the Knowle, how much revenue the Council’s car parks bring in and 4 politically motivated questions from the Leader of the Conservative Group.

We then moved into receiving the minutes of the various committees. Here we ventured once more into debates around climate change as amendments were proposed to the minutes of the recent Cabinet meeting which had declared a climate emergency. This all resulted in the majority of councillors, including me, agreeing to the Council setting a target of East Devon becoming carbon neutral by 2014, which is a full decade earlier than the target date that many neighbouring Councils, including the County Council, have set. I believe it is right to set a challenging date such as 2040 so that we all can move heaven and earth to respond quickly and positively to this most important of issues.

As part of further amendments to the Cabinet’s minutes we, including me, agreed to widen the range of organisations that the Council should work with in responding to climate change and to also maximise the amount of publicity that the Council will give to this matter.

In response to consideration of the minutes of the Overview Committee we, including me, agreed that the issue of poverty in the District which the committee had considered should be referred back to it for further detailed consideration. In other words, we felt that the actions taken so far by the Overview Committee on responding to local poverty, had not been sufficient. I fully concur with that and as a member of that Committee I look forward to us taking this important matter forward and building upon the Committee’s previous members considerations.

Finally, we considered a motion “Electrical Charging points for Vehicles and light transport in East Devon District Council Car Parks across the District”. I had added my name to the list of Councillor’s who supported this motion, which read –

“That in supporting the Devon Declaration on Climate Change Emergency this Council should;

1. Prepare a costed roll out 5-year programme that would ensure at least 10 electrical charging points for cars and light vans in all its principal car parks.

2. Assess the viability of charging points for all types of cycles.

3. Have as a priority in both the Greater Exeter Structure Plan and the review of the Local Plan the provision of EV charging points for all properties where parking spaces are provided”.

We again had good debate and many Councillors made excellent points on a broad range of issues associated with climate change and the need to support non fossil fuelled vehicles in East Devon. Unfortunately, a Councillor proposed and had it seconded that “the question be put”. In other words, enough debate has taken place and so we should now vote on the motion.

Sadly, at this point a degree of chaos ensued as it became very apparent that many Councillors didn’t understand this procedural motion and so when they were asked whether the supported the motion that “the question be put”, they thought that they were being asked to vote on the main motion. The confused majority agreed that “the question be put” and so the Chair swiftly invited Councillors to vote on the main motion. Here it really became most obvious that many Councillors didn’t understand what was going on and many didn’t vote. Despite this the main motion was agreed.

At this point the meeting concluded with still so many Councillors both confused and annoyed at the situation they found themselves in. This must be seen as a lesson that needs to be learnt from. I will be asking that the Council provides all Councillors with training on meeting procedures and asking that the Chair in future, when he’s handling motions, makes it crystal clear what Councillors are being asked to vote upon and what the implications of doing so would be.

It’s a shame that such an engaging and positive meeting ended so confusingly for so many Councillors and members of the public.

Sidford Business Park Planning Inquiry – a report

As I’m sure you all are aware last week there was the Planning Inquiry into the appeal lodged by Tim and Mike Ford, trading as OG Holdings Retirement Benefits Scheme, into the planning application to build a Business Park in Sidford that was refused by East Devon District Council at the end of last year. The Inquiry was held in public in front of a Planning Inspector.

The District Council was represented by a very competent barrister and had one of its planning officers and a highways officer from Devon County Council as their witnesses. On the other side, the Fords, known throughout the Inquiry as the appellants, were represented by a QC and had a plethora of witnesses.

Four representatives from the NO Sidford Business Park Campaign were present continuously at the Inquiry from the very moment when it commenced and over three days until the moment that it concluded. Indeed, three of the Campaign’s representatives gave evidence to the Inquiry, were cross examined by the appellants’ QC and were able to direct questions to be put to witnesses, as well as participating in several “round table” discussions on specific issues related to the matters under consideration.

The three Campaign representatives who gave evidence were District Councillor Marianne Rixson, Keith Hudson and me. There were also three other witnesses, all speaking against the proposed Business Park. These were – Town Councillor Jeff Turner, County Councillor Stuart Hughes and Sidford resident Jackie Powell. In reality, and for all other appearances, the Campaign’s representatives were treated as, and able to participate as, full participants alongside the Council and the appellants.

At all stages of the Inquiry it was pleasing to have a number of members of the public in attendance for what on a number of occasions must have been a rather dry affair, particularly when legal arguments were being exchanged and technical data argued over.

The bulk of all of the evidence and legal arguments centred primarily, as one would expect, around the issue of the suitability and safety of the highway (the A375 through Sidford and Sidbury) as this had been the grounds upon which the District Council had refused the latest planning application. Its worth recalling that for the appellants the planning application which was the subject of this Inquiry was the latest on for that site, with the first one being back in 2012, whilst the Fords submitted their first in 2016, which as we know was refused in the same year.

On the final day of the Inquiry the Campaign’s representatives were able to make strong interventions on what could become an important set of issues. As in any such Inquiry the Inspector, whilst they have all the parties together, go through what planning conditions would apply should the Inspector uphold the appeal. None of this is meant to signify that the Inspector has made a decision one way or another, but rather makes good use of everyone’s time.

We were able to put arguments on behalf of local residents for some of the main planning conditions. These conditions include important matters such as the days and hours when noisy machinery could be operated, the days and times when deliveries or collections could be made to businesses using the Business Park, having an agreed site lighting scheme which would include the use of illuminated advertising, the days and times of when the construction can take place and when construction vehicles can access the site.

Both parties agreed that if the site becomes operational there will be provision made at it for a cycle/footpath through it. This would link to the existing cycle/footpath that goes from Two Bridges Road down to the Byes and is meant to be an additional link to join through to the centre of Sidbury. The only problem here is that the County Council appears to have made no progress in developing the route into Sidbury.

The Campaign argued that the appellants, if successful at the appeal, should agree to fund the full cost of the cycle/footpath from Sidford to Sidbury and that such a condition should remain for the next 10 years. The appellants, not unsurprisingly, did not accept that this should be a condition that either legally or voluntarily should be applied!

We were very pleased to hear from the Inspector that the day before the Inquiry started, he had visited the site, as well as key areas within Sidford and Sidbury. At the end of the Inquiry the Inspector invited both parties and this Campaign to identify sites that we wanted him to revisit. We are pleased that our proposed locations were accepted by the appellants representatives.

During the Inquiry we were able to persuade the Inspector to pay five videos that we had submitted as part of our evidence. These videos, we argued illustratively show the effects on the A375 in both Sidford and Sidbury of traffic problems given the current level of traffic, and we argued that with the additional traffic that would be generated by the Business Park this would only get worse. Links to each of these videos are set out at the end of this Update.

Interestingly, three new pieces of information came from evidence provided on behalf of the appellants.

The first is that the appellants argued that the planning application as it currently stands is the least that would make the site financially viable for them. In other words, if the appeal is lost then there is no point in the appellants submitting another application as it wouldn’t make them enough money.

Secondly, it transpires that after their 2016 application was refused by the District Council the appellants representatives met with the Council’s Chief Executive where he encouraged them to appeal the decision.

The third was that even if the appeal is successful and the appellants are able to build the Business Park, they would not be intending to build a phase two development in the neighbouring field as was expected.

The documents that both parties, this Campaign and members of the public have submitted to the Inquiry, and which the Inspector assured us he has diligently all read are available via this link –

We now have to wait for about six to eight weeks for the Inspector to issue his decision. It will be a long wait, but we believe that we could not have presented our case any better and whatever the outcome we can all be proud of the way in which we have battled this unwanted proposition.

Video 1

Taken by Sarah Voss in September 2016 at around 3.00 pm in Sidbury.

Length: 5 minutes, 58 seconds

Yodel lorry

Video 2

Taken in May 2017 at around 1.30 pm in Sidbury.

Length: 6 minutes, 38 seconds

Tractor towing low loader

Video 3

Taken in May 2018 in Sidbury.

Length: 34 seconds.

Three lorries stuck passing each other.

Video 4

Taken on 26 March 2016 in Sidford.

Length: 2 minutes, 10 seconds.

Two vehicles stuck in School Street.

Video 5

Taken on 26 March 2016 in Sidford.

Length: 1 minute, 38 seconds.

As a result of two vehicles becoming stuck in School Street police diverted traffic

down Brook Lane/Fry’s Lane.

The Sidford Business Park Planning Inquiry is about to start

As a member of the NO Sidford Business Park Steering Group I will be attending the Planning Inquiry that opens tomorrow under the direction of a Planning Inspector. As the planning application to build the Business Park has been rejected by the planning authority, East Devon District Council, it will now be up the Inspector to make the final decision.

The Inquiry is scheduled to last up to three days and will hear evidence from the applicants, as well as the District and County Councils. On behalf of the Campaign I will be asking the Inspector to allow me to give evidence in opposition to the application. The Sidmouth Herald will be blogging live from the Inquiry. Here’s their latest update ahead of the Inquiry opening – https://www.sidmouthherald.co.uk/news/all-you-need-to-know-about-sidford-business-park-application-1-6160900

Taking the lead on inclusion across East Devon

I am pleased to have been appointed to become the lead District Councillor on the important matter of inclusion.

I see the matter of inclusion to be something that should be at the heart of all of the services that the District Council delivers, as well as being something that should shape the way and how we deliver services.

But its not just District Council services that I will be wanting to look at to ensure that they are fully inclusive, but I believe that the District Council has an important role in recognising and praising those other businesses and organisations across East Devon who are positively embracing inclusion.

Equally, the District Council has to identify those businesses and organisations who retain barriers or fail to remove barriers that don’t allow them to be inclusive to their customers, residents and service users.

My starting point for approaching inclusion within and across East Devon will be to look at what the 2010 Equality Act expects. But that has to be the bottom line. I would want to build upon its requirements.

At this early stage I don’t intend to publicly identify objectives, aims or strategies over and above what I have said here. I have to start by taking Officer advice and I expect that the district Council will have to undertake audits both internally and externally and determine some quick wins in order move things forward.

It’s a matter of watch this space as we look to making a positive difference for the people of East Devon.

If you fancy reading upon the 2010 Equality Act –

https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/sites/default/files/psed_essential_guide_-_guidance_for_english_public_bodies.pdf

Sidmouth Town Council Update

As the Town Councillor for Sidbury today I attended the Sidmouth Chamber of Commerce’s breakfast meeting where there was a presentation from representatives from Sidmouth in Bloom.

In the same capacity I have written a report on the key discussions and decisions taken at the Sidmouth Town Council meeting on the evening of 10 June.

I post my Town Councillor reports on the Sidbury village website. If you want to read what I have to say in that capacity then please regularly visit the village website www.sidbury.org.uk