‘Reckless’ move gets go-ahead

Honiton Community Centre latest.

Plans to build a community centre on a public car park next to Honiton Magistrates’ Court have taken a step forward this week.

After a protracted debate, which went in and out of session, and two recorded votes, Honiton Town Council agreed on Monday to seek planning permission for the development and put the project out to fixed tender.

The meeting heard the move was the only way to establish the project’s costs.

Putting forward the proposal, Councillor Nick Cornwell said: “Within the last few months, we’ve effectively lost the Royal British Legion and the British Red Cross halls. This all makes our aim to build a multi-purpose community complex even more urgent.”

He pointed out the town council must develop the Dowell Street site within a set time frame or lose it.

However, the decision to apply for planning permission has been taken ahead of a debate at East Devon District Council (EDDC).

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The district authority, which owns the site, is being asked to cover the cost of making the ground suitable for development.

Councillor Mike Allen sought to delay a decision at Monday’s meeting. He tabled an amendment, suggesting the council waited until the district’s decision was known and to, in the meantime, consider buying the former Royal British Legion Club or acquiring the cattle market site.

His amendment was defeated in a recorded vote of three to 11.

The resolution to move the project forward was supported by 11 councillors to three.

The meeting went out of session to allow members of the public to speak, to check a point of order and to seek advice of district councillors who were present.

The district councillors, including Phil Twiss, advised town councillors to wait another 16 days before making a decision.

But they would not wait.

Former councillors Jill McNally and Dianne Morgan were among those to ask the council to think twice before pressing ahead.

Mrs McNally said it would be “reckless” of the council to spend money on a planning application before EDDC’s decision was known.

She urged councillors to exercise “restraint” and said they risked isolating themselves from the community if they did not listen to concerns.

Mrs Morgan reminded the council of the outcome of an extraordinary meeting, saying it was her view the council had then decided to wait for EDDC’s decision before considering applying for planning permission.

“Has this been forgotten?” she asked. “Is this democracy?”

Questions were also raised by council tax payers Ken Sherman, Sheila McBrearty and Syd Taylor.

Veteran councillor Vera Howard could not attend the meeting for personal reasons but sent a letter saying she would have voted against proceeding. Councillor Liz Tirard pointed out the car park site had been offered free and that alternative sites, suggested by Councillor Allen, would automatically push up costs.

Councillor John Taylor said mention of the cattle market was no more than a “whisper” and Councillor John Zarczynski said fixed tenders would give the council an exact cost, with no extras, and that issues with the site were nothing more than any developer would encounter on a brown field site.

Plans for a community centre have been debated in Honiton for a quarter of a century.