Mid Devon shies away from withdrawing from GESP and votes for “Son of GESP” instead

Mid Devon seem to have opened a “can of worms” by deciding to fudge the issue of withdrawing from GESP. (Usually the only way to re-can them is to get a bigger can).

Sadly, people find it so difficult to let go of bad ideas when so much human capital has been invested in them.

Mid Devon are doing this a time when Councils would be advised to spend all the effort they can muster on preparing to address the Government’s new planning proposals (to be followed by the new devolution ideas).

Having been decisive, we, in East Devon, are now interested spectators and can concentrate on the more immediate problems.

Background

At the 2019 election the Conservatives lost 11 seats and overall control of Mid Devon.

Current balance of power is Conservatives 18; Liberal Democrats 12; Independents 10; Greens 2.

Conservatives are in opposition against a coalition of the remaining 24 councillors. The Cabinet of eight is led by Councillor Bob Deed  (Ind) with four Liberal Democrats, two other Independents and a Green. 

Last night the full council discussed the recommendation from Cabinet to withdraw from GESP.

Report from Owl’s Correspondent who watched the debate on Zoom.

On August 6th  the cabinet of Mid Devon District Council discussed how they should proceed with GESP, as all four participating councils were tasked to do.

After much discussion , it was decided by a majority of 7-1 that the cabinet would recommend the following to full Council:

  1. Withdraw from GESP 
  2. Bring forward the preparation of the next Local Plan Review 
  3. Enter into discussions with our former GESP partners on a new Joint Strategic Planning Framework that ensures responsibility for development site allocations and targets is retained with the Local Plan

The one dissenting voice came from the leader of the Council, Councillor Bob Deed, who is Mid Devon DC’s representative  on  GESP. 

Full council discussed their membership of the GESP on 26th August. 

Again much debating, where various councillors proclaimed that ”GESP is dead”, life and working practises have changed post Covid , Mid Devon could become a suburb of Exeter whilst traffic would clog the roads as people travelled to work in Exeter. Indeed there was much criticism of the whole plan being “Exetercentric”. More than one councillor expressed dismay that the plans for huge numbers of houses outlined in the GESP would destroy the character and heritage of existing market towns and villages which would effectively become dormitory towns for Exeter. Another councillor reported that she had been inundated with messages from residents concerned about the disproportionate number of houses proposed by GESP  in their area. 

Meanwhile the Leader, Bob Deed had put forward an amendment, set out below, which essentially proposed a “son of GESP” (his words), to keep cross border agreements in place, especially in the Housing Market.

The Amendment

  1. Commit to prepare a revised joint strategic statutory plan; 

 

  1. Should Officers subsequently advise that 1. proves not to be the most appropriate option in planning terms, consider a review of other options for further strategic and cross-boundary planning matters with willing participatory authorities in the Housing Market Area; 

 

  1. Instruct officers to review and incorporate relevant elements of the GESP Draft Policies and Site Options consultation document and other supporting documentation and evidence that remain valid; 

 

  1. Jointly prepare necessary technical studies and evidence for the new strategic plan, including conducting a further call for sites process, align monitoring and share resources where there are planning and cost benefits for doing so; 

 

  1. Reaffirm the Council’s commitment to the delivery of high quality development at Culm Garden Village as part of the Garden Communities Programme and continue to work collaboratively as a group of Councils in the garden communities programme with Homes England; and 

 

  1. Task Officers to prepare a further report on staff resources to prepare a revised joint strategic plan with resources to be provided equitably to the team through equalisation arrangements. 

 

  1. Task Officers to bring forward the preparation of the next Local Plan Review.

 A vote on this amendment was carried by 25 – 10, with two abstentions.

In other words, the door is still open for Mid Devon District Council to form some kind of re-hashed GESP with the other two remaining councils, Exeter and Teignbridge. 

A second amendment submitted by Councillor Barnell that GESP could not go ahead following cabinet recommendation to withdraw, was not successful. 

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