From a correspondent – views expressed are those of the correspondent:
Sidmouth Employment Land
Dspite a vote by full Council on 26 March to exclude the proposed new industrial site north of Sidford from the local plan, it remained listed in the Review as O41 at 5.97ha. The wording in the draft plan was for a site of “up to 5ha”. The table on page 154 showed 5.97ha as the area of the intended site.
It is now known that the Inspector was left to decide whether the Sidford site should stand. The case presented was that there is no proven need for it as there is ample scope on the Alexandria Road Industrial Estate.
The inclusion in the Local Plan of a “need to promote a new employment site on the northern edge of Sidmouth” is not, in my opinion, supported by any evidence of need over and above that available at far less cost and more suitable location at the Alexandria Road site which is not in the AONB. It should be rejected.
Recent history of Alexandria Road and Sidford Fields:
The Employment Land Review 2014 was sent to the planning inspector as supporting evidence for the revised Local Plan. On page 65 is the appraisal of the Alexandria Road Industrial Estate in Sidmouth. This appraisal is based solely on the Tyms Study(2011) with passing reference to the Atkins Report (2006). This evidence is years out of date and not a reflection of the current state of the area, particularly its description of the northern area presently accessed only via Pathworlands. But even the remark that “the southern area is occupied by builders merchants in an old railway premises” is couched in language designed to imply its unsuitability! In fact the yard is on the land of the former railway sidings so is flat and well suited to its use, as is the substantial old building now equipped as a store and a purpose built new brick building for stock and offices. The use of this appraisal will be very much criticised during the Public examination process.
The two most inaccurate comments are: “The northern area is being used for self storage shipping containers” and “The estate is made up of a number of plateaus and is quite densely developed. The majority of accommodation provided is relatively poor”.
Since those 2006/2011 reports the containers have been re-sited to a higher level secured area in a glen well out of sight from the rest of the estate (05/2722/FUL approved January 2006) so there is now also available a large empty area, part used just for the casual parking of assorted private vehicles and the dumping of rubbish.
In addition, the area formerly occupied by a gas holder is now available for use after the ground has been de-toxified and was purchased in 2013 by the majority owner of the rest of the site – a large mainly empty area presently being part used for a log business, storage of palletts and parking for Voluntary Service vehicles. An application is currently awaiting decision for a Certificate of Lawfulness for change of use to Business uses (14/1866/CPE).
Since Tyms, one of the site businesses, Sidmouth Tyres and Exhausts who own the freehold of their part of the site, has invested heavily in two large new buildings fully equipped with vehicle lifts (6!) and a rolling road for MoT testing after demolishing an old office and one of the old workshops. EDDC are fully aware of these developments as it was they who granted two separate planning applications (09/1377/FUL & 12/1978/FUL) for their construction. Yet they continue to present outdated information.
Many of the older buildings in the northern section are “relatively poor” as stated. But that is largely because the current owners have not invested in them in the same way, probably in anticipation of being the sponsors of a proposed new industrial estate at Sidford and a recent (2012) approach by a major retailer to buy part of the site which has subsequently been discontinued.
The site as it is today is far from being “densely developed” – it has masses of underused space which with suitable modest investment could meet the needs of growing or start-up businesses for Sidmouth for many years to come, especially now that there is a commitment to provide improved access directly from the main road.
It is surprising that EDDC officers appear not to have not troubled to check the validity of evidence they present to the Inspector but continued to rely on outdated reports – especially as they had a record of discarding these two particular reports in the past because they did not accord with the wishes of certain Councillors involved in the inordinately long period of preparation of the Local Plan.
Questions about Sidford Business Park
1. Did Mr Thickett actually visit Alexandria Ind estate or did he rely solely on the evidence submitted by EDDC in the Employment Land Review 2014 page 65? The evidence above shows that this was outdated and inaccurate. Was it considered?
2. On what criteria did Mr Thickett rule that Alexandria Industrial Estate was “unsuitable”?
3. EDDC has said that Mr Thickett “considered all the options and concludes Sidford is the best of a bad bunch.” The 5 additional options listed in the ELR 2014 in addition to Sidford were all remote from Sidmouth and totalled 7.29ha. But these are all existing sites already in use for employment so would not have figured in Mr Thickett’s consideration of “all the options” for additional employment land to serve the needs of the Sidmouth area. The only new site he was offered was Sidford.
Many many questions, no answers.