Axminster’s MP Neil Parish said he will be ‘banging down the door’ to ensure that the Masterplan for the town has a viable future. Action man Simon Jupp MP is refusing to vote for HS2 whilst the two rail lines into Devon remain unfit for purpose. He is also trying to resolve the Budleigh Shandford care home crisis. Are witnessing a concerted “Charm Offensive”?
Daniel Clark www.devonlive.com
Axminster’s MP Neil Parish said he will be ‘banging down the door’ to ensure that the Masterplan for the town has a viable future.
The Axminster Masterplan for 800 new homes and the long-awaiting relief road was agreed last January, only for Homes England’s Housing Infrastructure Funding of £10m to be turned from a grant to a loan.
Homes England state that they believe that the development could afford to repay the HIF monies, but East Devon District Council are convinced that the development cannot afford to repay the monies and the developers have no interest in progressing down the route of a repayable loan.
The funding would have been used to forward fund the new £16.7m north-south relief road that aims to end the severe congestion, pollution and HGVs having to travel on the existing road that runs through the centre of the town.
East Devon District Council’s Strategic Planning Committee on Tuesday morning agreed to send a letter to Neil Parish, the MP for Tiverton and Honiton, to seek his further assistance in securing funding towards the masterplan, as the council are now under threat of the monies being withdrawn by Homes England and lost forever.
Having been shown a copy of the letter, Mr Parish told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “I will continue to support EDDC in getting the funding they need for the Axminster Relief Road. Together with our excellent local councillors in Axminster, we will be banging down the door of the Housing Minister and Homes England to ensure the Axminster Masterplan has a viable future.
“We met with Homes England last year on this matter – but it is clear further discussions must take place to get this sorted.”
Speaking at Tuesday’s meeting, Cllr Ian Hall said that it was imperative to get help from the MP so forward delivery of the relief road happens and the funding position is revisited by Homes England, as ‘doing nothing is not acceptable’.
He added: “I want the best for Axminster and for it to be a resilient town in the future. We must unlock Axminster’s potential. I believe that the agreed masterplan was nailed on the best for Axminster and East Devon. We have already wasted too much time and I will not watch Axminster stagnate and die, or at best we a reteriment area. Can we hurry up and get this done.”
Fellow ward member Cllr Andrew Moulding added: “We have concerns over the masterplan at the moment as it is not deliverable as we don’t have the grants for the upfront delivery of the relief road. The case for us is very clear as delivery of the masterplan and relief road is essential for Axminster.”
He said that he was concerned that plans for the southern parcel of land could be permitted soon, and that unless the relief road was forward-funded, that would be delivered without the infrastructure needed.
Cllr Moulding added: “It is essential to get upfront delivery of the relief road, stop the gridlock and get the cars out of the town.”
But the third Axminster ward member, Cllr Sarah Jackson, disagreed with the wording and the content of the letter as it heavily leans on the discrepancy in the land values between the parties and that the committee had not been privy to the land valuations and viability assessments.
She said: “I would hope that members seriously consider if they have the information in front of them before they send the letter and what we ask the MP on our behalf to do.”
Cllr Paul Hayward added that the committee were being asked to agree the text and tone of the letter which alludes to report that they haven’t seen.
But Cllr Philip Skinner though said he was happy to trust the judgment of the people who had been the valuations and that they were trying to do their best for Axminster, and called for the letter to be sent to get him on board, as everyone was ‘rolling in the same direction’.
The letter outlines the background, why delivering of the homes is important, what may happen if the relief road is not delivered in advance of development, and why the council would not happy with the consequences of it, as well as the reasons why the council does not agree with the Homes England position on the land values.
It says: “Expecting the developers to pay the full cost of the road does not leave a reasonable incentive for the land owners because the costs of the relief road are so great. The relief road is also not just about servicing the proposed development but about addressing a wider issue of resilience in the road network and current congestion and air pollution in the centre of Axminster. To expect the development to cover the full cost of the road is unrealistic and unreasonable.
“In Axminster we have a project to deliver an urban extension of 850 homes which has already been master planned with planning applications that will be ready to be determined by Easter 2020. The developers could be on-site within a year and delivering these homes if only we could deliver the relief road. All we need is for Homes England to release the money as traditional grant funding as originally indicated they would.
“All we are asking is that the viability work undertaken by Homes England reflects the values previously negotiated with land owners on the evidence now provided which shows that these are reasonable.
“Without this public investment the relief road will not be delivered but we are in real danger that some of the housing will have to come forward without it
“We may soon be in a position where we cannot resist the applications for the southern part of the site and are forced to allow this to proceed despite the communities’ clear requirement that the relief road be delivered first.”
Councillors voted by eight votes to four, with two abstentions, to send the letter.