At the July Public Examination Inspector Thickett instructed EDDC to reach agreement with Natural England over outstanding issues regarding compliance with the European Habitat Directive. These are legally binding on EDDC and, therefore, potential show stoppers. (It is claimed the phrasing he used was “lock yourselves in a darkened room until you reach agreement” – but who would voluntarily do that with an EDDC planner?).
Not surprising then to find the amendments proposed to the Draft Plan by EDDC in August didn’t mention that agreement had been reached, only that there had been a “dialogue”. EDDC’s proposed solution is to duck the issue by removing any dependency between the Exmouth Master Plan and the Local Plan i.e. Exmouth regeneration is irrelevant to achieving the staggering economic growth assumed in the Local Plan.
So the Watch watchers were interested to read the following article by Becca Glidden in last Week’s Journal under the title “Setback for major regeneration sites”. Amongst all the nuanced phrasing we are left wondering when is a plan not a plan? Maybe our readers can enlighten us?
Here is the text of the article:
Major sites earmarked for regeneration have been struck out of a major new planning document – after objections from Natural England.
The sites include the seafront Splash Zone/ Queen’s Drive, the Imperial Road car park, the rugby ground, bus station, estuary car park, London Inn car park and town centre post office.
They have been removed from the proposed East Devon Local Plan, which is currently undergoing public consultation.
The regeneration works have been deleted from the proposed planning document because Natural England said the proposals were not `legally sound’.
Natural England, a group championing the preservation of the natural environment for future generations, said East Devon District Council (EDDC) had failed to carry out a full conservation assessment of the Exmouth sites earmarked for regeneration. [Comment from Owl: Natural England is the Government’s statutory advisory body on this – i.e. top dog].
In a letter to EDDC, Natural England said: “Because we advise that we are unable to agree that the Habitat Regulations Assessment is complete, we consider that the Local Plan is not legally sound, since the statutory requirements of the assessment process have not been followed.
This remains the case.”
The regeneration sites are contained in a document called the Exmouth Masterplan, a planning paper which forms part of the proposed East Devon Local Plan.
An EDDC spokesperson told the Journal: “The Exmouth Masterplan is one of a suite of planning documents that support the [proposed] Local Plan, however, the Exmouth Masterplan needs updating.
“The issue which Natural England has concerns about, is whether all of the Exmouth Masterplan can be acceptably delivered, bearing in mind the possibility of adverse impacts on the Exe Estuary wildlife site.
“Because of the concerns expressed by Natural England, the council has withdrawn the direct links/references between the Exmouth Masterplan and the Local Plan to enable the Local Plan to move forward.
“The sites in Exmouth can still come forward, but to show that they are acceptable, each site and the scheme on that site will need to be subject to its own detailed assessment under the habitat regulations – Natural England will take a keen interest in these assessments.”
The district council said the seafront Splash/ Queen’s Drive, the Imperial Road car park, the rugby ground, bus station, estuary car park, London Inn car park and town centre post office would be included in a refreshed Masterplan, a council document which sets out the future for Exmouth.
The council said its regeneration plans for Exmouth were ongoing and would be completed.
The spokesperson said plans would be submitted for the Splash/Queens Drive development before the end of the year.
“Projects in the Masterplan remain in place for delivery. The delivery of Masterplan projects will be aligned with the new Local Plan policies, as well as wider rules and regulations. In the mean-time, the existing Masterplan remains in force.
“The Queen’s Drive proposals are proceeding and a planning application for the enabling works – road and car park – has recently been submitted.
“An application for the second phase will be forthcoming before the end of the year.”
Our summary: Now you see it, now you don’t!
That could be EDDC’s new motto, perhaps!