'Democracy in action? No!'

PUBLISHED: 09:41 31 December 2008 | UPDATED: 22:48 15 June 2010

On Tuesday, December 9, I attended the development control committee meeting at The Knowle, in Sidmouth, in order to hear the committee consider an application for affordable homes in Colyton. It was fourth on the agenda and applications for Axminster, B

On Tuesday, December 9, I attended the development control committee meeting at The Knowle, in Sidmouth, in order to hear the committee consider an application for affordable homes in Colyton. It was fourth on the agenda and applications for Axminster, Branscombe and Budleigh were first considered at length, over a period of two hours. The decision to approve the Colyton application took 12 minutes. The Axminster application was refused, as the officers were unhappy with the height and closeness of the properties and it "failed to respect the setting and the character of the proposed site". I quote one officer: "Considering the topography of the site is fundamental in coming to a decision to refuse." In the case of Branscombe Airfield, a site inspection was agreed. Again the emphasis was on "the importance to conserve or enhance AONB's". When it came to the Colyton application, discussion was brief and a senior officer summarised the proceedings as thus: "Local landscape must take second place -- bring on the precedence."A new site notice was posted on November 26, drawing attention to the fact that the development proposal does not conform to the provisions of the development plan and thus advertising the application as a 'departure'. This provided a further 21 days for representation - ending on December 17. The chairman seemed unaware of this procedure when informed of the fact and simply proceeded to the vote.So, we are now in a situation whereby the meeting should not have been held until after the 17th; no response or debate has taken place regarding strong objections to the development by the county Highways Authority, the council's own landscape architect, the Campaign to Protect Rural England, the Axe Vale & District Conservation Society and 24 members of the public - plus serious unresolved concerns regarding drainage voiced by Devon County Council's highways development management officer.In its letter of objection, the CPRE said: "In the submission accompanying the application seven alternative sites are considered and each dismissed. This process of elimination has been carried out on behalf of the applicant for the sole purpose of justifying the chosen site and that, as far as it is possible to tell, no independent scrutiny has been carried out. The East Team makes no mention of a sequential test of the various sites put forward and certainly makes no reference to any search for suitable sites carried out by the council. There is, however, reference by the landscape Architect to 'many other more suitable alternative sites being investigated through the SLAH process. This omission must be rectified before any consideration can be given to the application site."A recent application for an arch and trellis was refused but a development of 20 houses on the skyline in open countryside recognised for its natural beauty is approved. This will set a precedent that should concern all towns and villages in Devon where exception sites are being considered for housing. No parish or district council wants to be seen to oppose 'affordable housing' but the erosion of democracy under the guise of protecting the poor and the vulnerable cannot be and never will be the way forward. At the present time there are one million empty homes in Britain yet EDDC are set on building high density housing on the edge of towns and villages that are losing their jobs, their churches, their pubs, their post offices and their community shops.This decision has shown a blatant disregard for proper procedure and for Colytonians. Much is made about parish plans and, in Colyton's, 36 per cent of the respondents said they would accept some extension of the built-up area only for developments such as affordable homes. You don't need to be a genius at maths to work out that with only 1,263 Colytonians filling in the parish plan questionnaire and the current population of Colyton being 4,000 (grammar school website), then the true number of residents who will be happy with this news is about 11 per cent. Hardly democracy in action!Carol JonesBy email

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