Axminster Masterplan - MP pledges backing for 850 new homes and bypass
PUBLISHED: 01:07 28 February 2020 | UPDATED: 10:23 28 February 2020
Axminster’s MP Neil Parish said he will be ‘banging down the door’ to ensure that the town’s massive urban extension is achieved.
The Masterplan for up to 850 new homes and the long-awaited north-south relief road was agreed last January, only for Homes England's Housing (HE) Infrastructure Funding of £10m to be turned from a grant to a loan.
HE said it believed that the development could afford to repay the HIF monies, but East Devon District Council (EDDC) is convinced that the scheme cannot afford to repay the money and the developers have no interest in progressing down the route of a repayable loan.
The funding would have been used to forward fund the new £16.7m north-south relief road that aims to end the severe congestion, pollution and HGVs having to travel on through the town centre.
EDDC's strategic planning committee this week agreed to send a letter to Neil Parish, MP for Tiverton and Honiton, to seek his further assistance in securing funding towards the Masterplan, as the council is now under threat of the money being withdrawn by Homes England and lost forever.
Having been shown a copy of the letter, Mr Parish said: "I will continue to support EDDC in getting the funding they need for the Axminster Relief Road. Together with our excellent local councillors in Axminster, we will be banging down the door of the Housing Minister and Homes England to ensure the Axminster Masterplan has a viable future.
"We met with Homes England last year - but it is clear further discussions must take place."
Axminster ward councillor Ian Hall told the committee it was imperative to get help from the MP so forward delivery of the relief road happens and the funding position is revisited by HE, as 'doing nothing is not acceptable'.
He added: "I want the best for Axminster and for it to be a resilient town in the future. We must unlock Axminster's potential. I believe that the agreed masterplan was nailed on the best for Axminster and East Devon. We have already wasted too much time and I will not watch Axminster stagnate and die, or at best be a retirement area."
Fellow ward member Cllr Andrew Moulding added: "We have concerns over the masterplan at the moment as it is not deliverable as we don't have the grants for the upfront delivery of the relief road. The case for us is very clear as delivery of the masterplan and relief road is essential for Axminster."
He said that he was concerned that plans for the southern parcel of land could be permitted soon, and that unless the relief road was forward-funded, that would be delivered without the infrastructure needed.
Cllr Moulding added: "It is essential to get upfront delivery of the relief road, stop the gridlock and get the cars out of the town."
But the third Axminster ward member, Cllr Sarah Jackson, disagreed with the wording and the content of the letter as it heavily leans on the discrepancy in the land values between the parties and that the committee had not been privy to the land valuations and viability assessments.
She said: "I would hope that members seriously consider if they have the information in front of them before they send the letter and what we ask the MP on our behalf to do."
But Cllr Philip Skinner said he was happy to trust the judgment of the people who had made the valuations and that they were trying to do their best for Axminster, and called for the letter to be sent to get him on board, as everyone was 'rolling in the same direction'.
The letter outlines the background, why delivering of the homes is important, what may happen if the relief road is not delivered in advance of development, and why the council would not be happy with the consequences of it, as well as the reasons why the council does not agree with the Homes England position on the land values.
It says: "Expecting the developers to pay the full cost of the road does not leave a reasonable incentive for the land owners because the costs of the relief road are so great.
"The relief road is also not just about servicing the proposed development but about addressing a wider issue of resilience in the road network and current congestion and air pollution in the centre of Axminster.
"To expect the development to cover the full cost of the road is unrealistic and unreasonable."
Councillors voted by eight votes to four, with two abstentions, to send the letter.
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