Government u-turn puts bypass and homes plan at risk

PUBLISHED: 09:47 12 March 2019 | UPDATED: 09:04 14 March 2019

The Axminster masterplan showing what the centre of the new development could look like. Picture EDDC

The Axminster masterplan showing what the centre of the new development could look like. Picture EDDC

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Withdrawal of £10million relief road grant could put entire Masterplan for Axminster's urban extension in jeopardy

Axminster councillor Ian Hall. Picture EDDCAxminster councillor Ian Hall. Picture EDDC

A £17m relief road and 850 new homes in the Masterplan for Axminster’s eastern urban extension have been put at risk by a late change in Government funding.

East Devon District Council has reacted with dismay to news that Homes England has said the £10 million it agreed to provide towards the town’s north-south bypass is no longer a grant – but a loan.

Ian Hall and Andrew Moulding, the two Conservative councillors representing Axminster on EDDC, have called the decision devastating - ‘a betrayal, both of the town’s chances of revival and of Whitehall’s own pledges’.

They say the masterplan may now have to go back to the drawing board because the grant was ‘critical’ to financing the relief road and the growth that went with it.

District council leader Ian Thomas. Picture: EDDCDistrict council leader Ian Thomas. Picture: EDDC

The funding u-turn means developers will have to repay the money out of profits from new housing developments – which would almost certainly render the proposed Masterplan jigsaw unaffordable, they warn.

The Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF) grant, secured in principle in 2018, was a key element of the wider Axminster Masterplan that has only recently been agreed by EDDC. It was set to deliver a mixture of new homes and infrastructure improvements, reduce congestion and air pollution and bring other benefits that offered Axminster a brighter, more resilient future.

EDDC had agreed to borrow the remaining £7 million for the relief road, seen as an integral part of the urban extension that could reboot the town’s fortunes.

Repayment of that £7 million loan by developers, once the new homes were occupied, would have been viable say councillors - but an extra £10 million on top is seen as a total game-changer.

Cllr Andrew MouldingCllr Andrew Moulding

Now EDDC is considering taking legal advice to investigate whether it may have strong grounds to challenge the decision.

In a statement to The Herald Cllrs Hall and Moulding said: “We are sure that those who want to see Axminster remain much as it is now will be pleased at this news. We would remind them that this decision will have wide-ranging repercussions that will be felt in Axminster long after our generation is pushing up daisies.

“The town will stagnate and planners will lose control of managing the way Axminster grows because EDDC will be unable to show a five-year land supply here.

“We feel badly let down by those entrusted with the funding decisions.”

EDDC leader Cllr Ian Thomas said: “We are dismayed by this fundamental change of mind. It throws the whole Axminster scheme up in the air and means that the effort we and our partners have put into this critical scheme over the last 12 months may have been completely wasted.”

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