MASSES of campaigners from across East Devon are set to descend on Sidmouth tomorrow for an unprecedented show of protest against the district council.

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It is anticipated around 1,000 people could join the march, organised and spearheaded by Save Our Sidmouth (SOS), to urge the authority to “think again” over its future development proposals.

Organisers are fuelled by the on-going outrage over proposals in the council’s Local Plan for an industrial estate in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty outside Sidford, and a planning application to develop Knowle and a chunk of its parkland into homes and a care facility.

Campaigners this week boarded the town’s iconic Toastrack and toured the region in a bid to drum up support.

SOS chairman Richard Thurlow said he believed representatives from a number of other East Devon towns and villages - like Exmouth, Budleigh Salterton, Feniton, Honiton and Seaton – will join the protest.

“We can’t predict how many there will be, but a couple of dozen turned up last Saturday by mistake, so let’s hope the weather is reasonable, and we might beat that!” said Mr Thurlow.

The march will start from Port Royal on the east end of the Esplanade at 11am and continue to Station Road before proceeding to Knowle.

“This event is part of our continuing campaign to make the people of the Sid Valley, and East Devon at large, aware of exactly what East Devon District Council (EDDC) is proposing, in the forthcoming Local Plan for their towns and villages.

“It is also another opportunity for people locally to show that it is not just a small minority who are concerned - an opportunity for people to say to EDDC, “Think again!”

SOS member, and Sid Vale Association chairman, Alan Darrant said the group is urging EDDC to drop its employment site proposals for Sidford – and to oppose a “perverse trend” that is seeing applications submitted to change existing land allocated for jobs into homes.

They also want to see plans for Knowle dropped and blueprints drawn up for a “more efficient” use of the council’s current headquarters.

Mr Darrant added that SOS is not against the building of new homes and creation of jobs – but said a need should be demonstrated.

The leader of EDDC says its decisions may not be “universally popular” - but will benefit the region as a whole.

Councillor Paul Diviani, said the authority was “fully aware” of concerns about individual sites and wider planning policy.

He added: “In a democracy it is proper that people who feel strongly about an issue should be able to make peaceful protests in the form of marches or demonstrations.

“The council respects that right and welcomes the interest shown in planning matters by some sections of the community.”

However, he said EDDC had to take a “wider and more strategic view” of planning to ensure the district “grows and flourishes in challenging times” while staying in step with government demands.

“That is what we are doing and we are satisfied that we have given residents ample opportunity to influence our decisions through due process,” he added.

“In a district with a growing age profile, it is imperative that we provide homes and jobs to attract and retain younger individuals and families to ensure that we have a balanced population and a viable workforce to service the needs of all age-groups.

“At times you have to take decisions that are not universally popular but which you feel to be right and for the benefit of the district as a whole. This is one such occasion”.

Scores of campaigners have been told to walk in single file along pavements at a mass rally in Sidmouth tomorrow - after it was revealed no roads will be shut when the event takes place.

Highways chiefs were left scratching their heads when they realised they hadn’t been asked to formally close any stretches of highway for the potentially huge march.

Save Our Sidmouth had notified police of their intentions weeks in advance but not Devon County Council (DCC).

Leaders of the group don’t anticipate the issue affecting the rally, or traffic, adversely.

It is now too late to process any formal closures for the march – which will head along the Esplanade, up Station Road and to Knowle.

Sidmouth councillor Stuart Hughes, DCC’s cabinet member for highways and transportation, urged protesters to keep on the pavements.

He’s warned organisers that anyone who obstructs traffic will technically be committing an offence under the Highways Act.

“They will have to stick to footways, which will be ok if they walk in single file,” said Councillor Hughes.

“They won’t be allowed to walk in the road as they will be obstructing traffic. I don’t want people to be seen breaking the law.”

The march is aimed at demonstrating a wave of protest to the district council.

SOS member Alan Darrant said protesters intended to stick to footpaths and had no intention of marching in the road.

He added that police would be on hand to see the rally pass through a pinch point in Station Road.

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