A major blueprint for development across the Greater Exeter region has been thrown into doubt after East Devon councillors recommending pulling out of the process.
The Greater Exeter Strategic Plan will provide the overall strategy and level of housing and employment land required across Exeter, East Devon, Mid Devon and Teignbridge in the period to 2040.
But while Exeter and Teignbridge councils had recommended going out to consultation on the draft policies and site options document, East Devon District Council’s Strategic Planning Committee – after more than four hours of debate on Thursday night -proposed instead pulling out of GESP.
As the initial decision to take part in GESP was a full council decision, the recommendation stands referred to full council to make the final decision.
Putting forward her call to pull out of GESP, Cllr Eleanor Rylance said that the plan was not fit to be consulted on now or at any point.
She said: “They say a camel is a horse designed by committee and this is what this is. We are being asked to send a camel out to consultation, and instead of putting forward this monstrosity of a dead camel, we should withdraw from GESP. This plan is not a fit plan and there is nothing about we should pass to consultation at this point or any point.
“This has self-contradictory polices clearly written by different people and it is unreasonable to put this before anyone. We are living in a different world from when this was drawn up and our world has changed and I am bemused that we are sticking doggedly to a timetable drawn up last year.
“This defies common sense, this does nothing for East Devon, and we should not be a member of GESP going forward. This document is all about volume house building, is dangerously flawed and contradictory.”
Cllr Paul Arnott, leader of the council, seconded her recommendation, and said that the promises in the plan were an illusion, the analysis of economic growth a dangerous fiction and doubling what was realistic, and that if the council voted for this, it would legitimise all that was come before.
He added that it was a ‘complete myth’ that East Devon would get the infrastructure it required from this, like the Whimple passing loop, and that East Devon should head in a different direction and ‘take back control’.
Cllr Paul Hayward added: “This is putting the cart before the horse. Anyone who has played Sim City knows that by plonking houses onto your field and hoping people will come and live in them is preposterous.
“The document is deeply flawed and doesn’t cover what is good for the people of East Devon. Some of the reports are ten years old, and the most up to date report is three years out of date, and the way people live, work and shop has completely changed.
“We must not follow blindly because we have spent money and time on this and it sums up the Field Marshall Hague approach that we have lost millions of men so need to throw more over the top. It is ludicrous and bound to fail and based on a vision that has profoundly changed. My feeling is we cannot park it and I cannot support moving with a consultation that will scare the bejesus out of people.”
Cllr Jack Rowland added that so many assumptions in the plan that don’t stand up with what will be happening with the world and said: “It is time to hit the pause button on this,” while Cllr John Loudoun added: “It is foolhardy to ask residents to look at something that isn’t a final document, and it is way off. This will cause concerns and confusion, so why waste money, time and energy on proposals that you don’t agree with?”
But Cllr Mike Howe, while saying that he wanted to ‘tear the document to shreds’, said that the council should not withdraw from GESP but instead reshape it.
He said: “This document is a diatribe of mis-information, poor information, and no options. I want GESP to be positive as we have to part of GESP, but the document needs some aspirations. The transport structure is unbelievable stupid and I am getting fed up of it I have told you this many times.
“I want GESP to be successful but this is not a consultation and we cannot send a document to consultation that does not have choices in it. We haven’t got a choice on housing numbers and do have to deliver them and have to work with our neighbours, but the policies need to be adjusted and looked at properly to address the concerns that we have.
“This in its current state does not do any good for anyone, give hope to anyone, and this does not do a thing other that deliver housing in an unsustainable way that wrecks the environment. We need to go through policies and make the right recommendation, but pulling away from GESP will be a disaster.”
Cllr Ben Ingham though said that pushing the pause button would be a disaster and leave the council in a dangerous position if they take the wrong decision, while Cllr Kevin Blakey added: “Despite my misgivings and that there is nowhere near information and forward thinking in the transport policy, we should go to consultation and deal with the results when they come in.”
Cllr Ian Thomas added that while there were fundamental flaws with the document, there would be a significant implication if East Devon didn’t go forward with it and he would be concerned if the council withdrew. He added: “It is in the interest of East Devon to ensure the correct GESP is delivered in a timely manner.”
After four hours of debate, councillors rejected Cllr Howe’s proposals to adjourn the meeting and then reconvene to go through the wording of the policies one-by-one by nine votes to four, before voting by eight votes to four, with one abstention, to Cllr Rylance’s proposal to withdraw from GESP.
Despite her protestations, the council’s chief executive Mark Williams said that it had to be a recommendation to full council, rather than a decision from the committee, as it was a full council decision to join GESP in the first place. The next full council meeting scheduled to take place is in October.
The GESP document did outline policies for how development should take place, as well as 39 sites where major housing or employment land could be allocated, although not all of the sites would have been taken forward to the final version of the GESP.
An eight week consultation on the document was due to take place this Autumn, but following the decision of East Devon, that will not be taking place now, with Exeter, Teignbridge and Mid Devon councils now facing discussions over how and if they proceed with the GESP.