Strategic Planning pitfalls? Certainly for Axminster

A reporter … reports:

“At Tuesday’s Strategic Planning Meeting at Knowle (29 /01/2019), chaired by Paul Diviani, the masterplan for increasing Housing in Axminster by a whopping 30% , was voted through almost unanimously (there was one abstention), despite serious cross-Party criticism of the plan.

As the debate ended, the considerable number of Axminster residents in the public gallery were astonished to hear the Chair’s quip, to Cllr Jill Elson, “ I felt confident that you would come out with something that would stir things up”.

Cllr Elson (shown on right of the photo, beside Cllr Philip Skinner), had argued firmly that “the problem with plans is that they change” , citing her Ward as an example.

“Exmouth ended up with two huge estates with no play space or amenities whatsoever”, she said. Cllr Mike Howe (Con) shared her concerns, saying, (the masterplan) “doesn’t give us much credence or security that we will get the right houses”. But the Deputy Leader of the Council, Philip Skinner (Con ), expressed his view that “Give and take is needed in negotiations with a developer”.

Shortly afterwards, when Cllr Geoff Jung (East Devon Alliance, EDA) observed that the plan might not suit young families, it became apparent that Cllr Skinner was not aware that the proposal to include a primary school had been dropped.

Cllr Eleanor Rylance (Lib Dem) had noticed significant typing and other errors in the masterplan document. Cllr Rob Longhurst (Independent) observed there was no mention of the words ‘Neighbourhood Plan’ in the document.. although Cllr Moulding had told the meeting that he had designed one for Axminster… and suggested this Strategic Plan Committee would like to see “if the community wants and needs” the masterplan.

Cllr Susie Bond (Independent) asked for clarity about the legal implications for the Council if the costs for the relief road “went through the roof” (So far, EDDC has agreed to borrow £7m to ensure the road, estimated cost £16.7m, can be delivered.)

Ian Hall (Con) admitted “this masterplan doesn’t sit easily with the residents of Axminster”, which Alistair Ferguson’s speech in Public Question Time, confirms. The text is reproduced below, with Mr Ferguson’s permission):

In support of the objections, other District Councillors, Cathy Gardner and Marianne Rixson (both EDA), also attended the meeting, though not on the Strategic Planning Committee themselves.

Cllr Gardner pointed out that agreeing to a massive increase in the town’s housing numbers “would not be for the right reasons”, if it was done primarily to fund a relief road. The masterplan “was being done to the people of Axminster, not for them”, she said.

And Cllr Marianne Rixson added that “delivery of affordables does not have a good record” in East Devon.

Having listened to the comments aired, Cllr Geoff Pook (Ind) cautioned the committee not to be “persuaded by the opposition”. “There are just as many people in favour”, he opined.

Finally, the fear that the time-limited government funding for the relief road would be missed, therefore putting in jeopardy the 650 homes allocated in the Local Plan, swayed the committee members to approve the masterplan, albeit with caveats based on their misgivings.

Is this how the wrong sort of housing so often gets built in the wrong place?

In Axminster’s case, how much will the masterplan impact on the historic former deer park? As Cllr Mike Howe, Chair of the Development Management Committee (DMC) told yesterday’s meeting, there’s an urgent need to know….’