Aim of pulling out of the GESP is to protect our countryside – Eileen Wragg

Councillor Eileen Wragg, Chair of Planning East Devon District Council (EDDC), has written this excellent opinion piece which can be found on page 23 in the Exmouth Journal.

Owl has been surprised that the momentous decision made last week by the politically balanced Strategic Planning Committee to recommend EDDC pulls out of the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan (GESP)  has not featured in the Exmouth Journal or, as far as Owl can see, any of the sister papers. The story has been reported on Devonlive and Radioexe.

Post amended 1400 July 31 as a fuller account of Eileen Wragg’s opinion has now been published on-line:

Eileen Wragg, chairman of the East Devon District Council planning committee, writes about the possibility of East Devon pulling out of the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan (GESP) /news/eileen-wragg-column-gesp-plans-1-6770398

Some commercial businesses are going or are gone for good, causing unemployment and economic hardships.

The business of national and local Government has to continue, albeit in different forms, and at East Devon District Council, meetings are taking place using virtual technology with Zoom. Ironically, these are much more accessible to the public who can view them on YouTube.

The present situation was also a factor in a decision taken by EDDC’s Strategic Planning Committee (SPC) on July 23, which voted to pull out of the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan (GESP), which is proposing future development for Exeter, Teignbridge, Mid Devon and East Devon until 2040.

Those proposals are for 53,260 homes to be built between now and then at a rate of 2,663 per year. As a member of the GESP Forum, I found the meetings which I attended over the last year odd events, with officers from the four councils giving presentations, and identifying sites for development which had been put forward by landowners.

It was as though decisions had been made by others, unknown, and felt like a fait accompli, which many of my colleagues and I were bemused by, as ultimately elected councillors are held responsible for those decisions.

In short, the GESP seemed to be driven by landowners and developers. In addition, the plan would override the district councils’ Local Plans and the Town and Parish Councils’ Neighbourhood Plans. One chairman of a neighbourhood plan working group made the point at the SPC meeting that the three years of work which had gone into their plan would have been a waste of time.

Further credence is given to the considerable power of developers is the Prime Minister’s recent statement to “build, build, build “ our way out of the Covid crisis, an excuse for what was already planned anyway!

After a meeting which lasted four hours, with many excellent speakers, the SPC decided not to continue with the GESP, as it is believed that much of the housing would probably be built in East Devon. Who would it be built for anyway? Most people on low incomes, many of whom are young, would not be able to afford them.

Had it not been for a change in the administration at EDDC, it is highly unlikely that the decision to pull out of GESP would have been made.

As the Leader, Cllr Paul Arnott said at full council two months ago: “If your interest is working for friends and allies outside the council, your time is up”.

That was certainly also the message from the SPC. However, that decision has yet to be ratified at the next full council meeting.

That vote will be crucial in our efforts to protect our wonderful countryside, although we will continue to work with the other district councils.