The Development Management Committee meets this week to nod through the latest draft of our Local Plan, after which it will go out for consultation.
It’s just about a year since the first version was inspected and thrown out straight away – the Inspector saying he expected to re-hear it in October 2014.
That month came and went and the excuse was: we have LOTS more work to do, be patient.
Those dealing with the revised plan were given few extra resources (around £50,000 worth when costs last published), more resources being piled into headquarter PRE-relocation work (£750,000 plus at least £10,000 to keep consultants reports on the project secret after EDDC was taken to court by the Information Commissioner for refusing to publish them).
February 2015: and we are told consultants reports are “imminent” but must not be published before local elections (May 2015) as they are deemed to be “too politically sensitive”. However, Mid Devon (relying on the very same consultants reports) decided to put their Local Plan out for consultation, eventually publishing the reports for the public with no qualms about their sensitivity.
Our Inspector would have no truck with this “political sensitivity” excuse and said he expected our new draft Local Plan to be out for public consultation by April 2015, election or no election.
Out of the mist came the consultants report – short, based on widely available figures and with no explanation as to why they had taken so long and soon after what appears to be a new draft Local Plan hurridly changed to reflect the new numbers and with an extra addendum of vastly more housing for Cranbrook and Clyst St Mary.
The Local Plan still appears to be (possibly fatally) flawed. Whereas it fixes on a number (18,000 plus houses including windfalls) IT DOES NOT MAKE IT CRYSTAL CLEAR WHERE EXACTLY THEY WILL GO except for Cranbrook and Clyst St Mary.
The report says some towns will have their built-up boundary respected (e.g. Sidmouth) whereas no such promise is made in other places (e.g. Budleigh Salterton). Some towns and villages have little idea of what their allocations will be or where they are to go. That makes Neighbourhood Plans very difficult.
What are the chances of this draft Local Plan being passed by the Inspector? Layperson’s opinion: very slim.
Whatever happens it will be a THIRD council that carries the can – the previous two having failed to get to grips with an out-of-date plan. Let us hope the new council will do a better job than the first two (big Conservative majority) councils did.
A vote for Independents is a vote for a new Local Plan to protect the district from free-for-all development. Heaven knows what a vote for Conservatives would bring on past and present performance!