Sidford employment land victim of “electioneering”

District council chiefs who voted to remove Sidford’s controversial 12-acre employment site from a strategic plan were in fact powerless to enforce the decision, a campaigner has been told.

Councillor Marianne Rixson last week questioned why – after the decision was made unanimously in March 2015 – officers were never instructed to submit a ‘flood of new evidence’ to put it into action. Despite the last-ditch vote to have it removed, a Government planning inspector later ruled the allocation must remain in East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) Local Plan.

The answer to Cllr Rixson’s question, given at last Wednesday’s full EDDC meeting, confirmed the instruction was never given to remove the allocation from the plan – because a public inquiry was already under way.

Members heard that officer advice would have been to allow the planning inspector, who led the inquiry, to ‘reach his own conclusions’.

Last week’s meeting heard: “Members’ resolution to remove the allocation from the plan was, and could only ever have been, a suggestion to the inspector as, following its submission for examination, the council no longer had the power to make changes to it.

“There was, therefore, no opportunity to submit evidence to support this change, however, even if there had been, the evidence produced up to that point had supported its allocation and it is likely that any future evidence would have reached the same conclusion.”

Cllr Rixson, a long-time campaigner against the allocation who was elected last May, said the Conservative-majority council only took the vote because it felt threatened by her and her East Devon Alliance colleagues.

She said: “The final comment [above] confirms our suspicions that EDDC never changed its mind about the Sidford site being in the Local Plan.

“Voting to ‘remove it’ was purely an electioneering stunt just before the district council elections in 2015.”

An application to develop the employment site into a 9.3-acre business park was refused in September, although EDDC bosses said they remain committed to its development.

Cllr Rixson added: “The recent refusal of the application to develop the site exposed significant planning policies that should have been considered when the Local Plan was being drawn up.

“The outstanding question is why they did not come to the fore when they could have made an impact on the Local Plan?”