Plea for faster Cranbrook town centre plan falls on deaf ears

This sorry saga of what happens with “hands-off developer-led development” is a living example of what the government has in mind with its “planning for the future” White Paper. The consultation on this ends next week on 29 October

This is a highly technical consultation. Not all the questions need answering and, for members of the public, e-mailing some general narrative comment would suffice. If anyone wants ideas on how to respond to the key questions, read the excellent brief prepared by EDDC planners for the 16 September Strategic Planning Committee, pages 36 to 73.

Cranbrook started off with such high hopes with a dedicated EDDC planning team. They created a viable community plan (Owl even attended a presentation) but this team was dissolved, on government instruction, with all the time and effort wasted.

Cranbrook ended up being a pioneer of “developer-led” community planning.

“The market knows best.” (See also the “mutant algorithm” which it is intended should be used to allocate housing numbers, part of the consultation) – Owl

Daniel Clark www.devonlive.com 

Impassioned pleas for councillors to accept a proposal that would kick-start the development of Cranbrook’s long awaited town centre have fallen on deaf ears.

East Devon District Council’s strategic planning committee on Thursday were urged to by local members, the town council, and the town’s Minister, to accept the proposals by the East Devon New Community Partners for the town.

Their offer would see development take place sooner rather than late, although would be less ambitious than a proposed masterplan that council officers were in favour of.

But the calls were rejected, with committee members instead voting to continue negotiations with the EDNCp to improve their offer and to that work should continue on a draft Supplementary Planning Document for the town centre.

Artist impression of Cranbrook Town Centre by the Consortium (Image East Devon New Community Partners)

Artist impression of Cranbrook Town Centre by the Consortium (Image East Devon New Community Partners)

While the SPD approach would see a more ambitious town centre provided, as the land is not owned by East Devon District Council, it would be uncertain how this could be delivered or funded, and other than when the existing S106 obligations for reaching 3,450 occupations were reached.

The proposal from the consortium of developers included:

  • A 2,500 square metres Morrisons supermarket with an additional 1,000 square metres of retail space on Tillhouse Road (around 10 to 12 shops);
  • A town square
  • A nursery
  • Around 350 town centre homes
  • Town hall with café, meeting spaces and around 15 rentable office units (including land and around one-third of the construction costs)
  • Children’s centre, youth centre and library in a single building (including land and the construction costs to the Section 106 value)
  • A skate park
  • Land for extra care facilities delivered by Devon County Council
  • Land for a “blue light” facility to house fire, police and ambulance services
  • Opportunities to provide additional retail outlets
  • Public conveniences, if not built within a commercial building
  • Option to purchase an acre of land to safeguard land for any additional development needs identified in the future, e.g. a leisure centre, workshops or light industrial units.

The masterplan approach seeks to use the EDNCp proposals as a starting point by incorporating their proposals for the town centre, and would see the library, youth centre, children’s centre and blue light services provided.

But the proposal would make the remainder of town centre land available for a mixture of commercial, community and leisure uses to meet the needs of the town in the future rather than for housing, the location of the extra care facility would be changed, while it may make provision for a hotel in the town, and would continue to plan for the proposed leisure centre to be provided.

Cllr Barry Rogers, chairman of Cranbrook town council’s amenities committee, said that this was a choice between a range of facilities being delivered now or more ambitious town centre at some stage in the future, without clarity over what can be delivered, whether it can be funded, and how long it will take to deliver.

Artist impression of Cranbrook Town Centre by the Consortium (Image East Devon New Community Partners)

Artist impression of Cranbrook Town Centre by the Consortium (Image East Devon New Community Partners)

He said: “Residents are crying out for the delivery of facilities now and not at some stage in the future. Cranbrook is rapidly building out and majority of people no longer live within walking distance of the only convenience store in town. An entire town is being built, but there is little or no urgency that the community desperately needs and is demanding the town centre sooner rather than later.

“No-one knows how long it would take, there is no timescale for delivery, and no guarantee anything would be delivered at all, so the town council, on behalf of the Cranbrook community, urges you to approve the developers proposal for the facilities that we so urgently need.”

Cllr Ray Bloxham, who represents Cranbrook on Devon County Council said that the consortium proposal was the way forward. He said: “Rejecting the proposal will kill off the youth building and the community building ahead of the trigger point.

“This is not a bird in the hand or the bird in the bush, as while the consortiums proposals are the bird in the hand, the chances are the bird will never get into the bush with the SPD and may die before it does. Even with the perceived limitations, it would be a major boost, while the prospect of many more years with no facilities would be so demoralising it could have a desperate impact on the economic development of the town.”

The Rev Lythan Nevard , Minister for Cranbrook, said if we want Cranbrook to be a town rather than a sprawling housing estate, then it does need a town centre sooner rather than later.

She added: “We are at a tipping point and the need for a town centre as soon as possible is critical. We need more community space. The town is growing every day all the time, but the social infrastructure cannot grow at the same pace as new people are arriving. People are disillusioned and they will leave because the dream of the town they were sold isn’t going to come to fruition.

“People are hungry for the facilities now even if smaller than planned, rather than a dream that may come later, as for many people, it is already later. A town without a heart is just an estate, and that was never the plan for Cranbrook.”

Cllr Kim Bloxham urged the committee to support the consortium proposal which will be a huge boost to the community of Cranbrook, saying ‘do what is right for them’, while Cllr Sam Hawkins said: “It is not want we want in an ideal world but we don’t live in an ideal world. I struggle to see how district can provide the town centre from a finance and resources point of view.”

Cllr Kevin Blakey added: “The developers’ proposals are fully funded and deliverable in the short term, so it presents a low risk to the authority. We should take note of what the people in Cranbrook are asking for. We are supposed to represent what they feel and they want.”

Supporting the calls from Cranbrook, Cllr Andrew Moulding said: “I am concerned that the recommendation would mean more delay for the residents of Cranbrook. The Minister made an impassioned plea to get on with it. She knows what the residents of the town feel and on behalf of them made a plea.

“The ward members support it and they know the town. It delivers what I hope it would be able to deliver and what the SPD would mean is yet more delay.”

Cllr Philip Skinner added: “It’s time we got something done. People are crying out for something to be done. It is maybe not delivering on the aspirations but it is time to deliver on what we’ve got, as we need to build communities not just housing estates.”

Cllr Ian Thomas said that there was always going to be an issue with the ‘self-sustainability’ of Cranbrook due to its proximity to Exeter. He said: “To suggest it will have a massive town centre with everything under the sun is just not going to happen. The proposal from the consortium are not radically different from the SPD and if not radically different, where all the other things are going from, as I don’t expect they’ll be in the SPD either?

“It is brave to go against the views of the elected members, 1000 residents in support, the town council, the county council – so from a public perception the support is clearly strong. In the current climate, a bird in the hand is better than a starling hiding in the bushes. We should look to move forward.”

Cllr Mike Howe added that this was a difficult decision, as one hand there is a scheme that will deliver what the residents want, but on the other hand, won’t deliver what the town will need for the next 15-20 years and never will because of the constraints put upon it.

He said: “This is the devil and the deep blue sea. The proposals have merit and should be explored but there are only an opening gambit and they need to do a lot better, or we give officers longer to come up with a scheme, debate it, and see if we can afford it.

“If we accept this, we are committed to a town that will probably never have a cinema, never have a sport centre, and will have to grow more, but we will be stuck as what we have now. It cannot be seen as acceptable and they have to do better, but at speed, as sitting around debating an SPD for many more years is not going to work.”

But Cllr Olly Davey said that the council had to look to the future and that the 2,000 households living there now may want this, questions will be asked when the town is fully built to 8,000 homes why did they accept such a small town centre and why didn’t they stick out for the original vision for the town?

He said: “We should stick with the recommendation and accept the proposal that has been made by officers, and that the negotiations continue.”

Cllr Eleanor Rylance added that there had been ‘little bits of shine’ knocked of the vision for Cranbrook each year. She said: “It would be devastating if we privileged speed over delivering the town of Cranbrook when it is built out. This is not ambitious enough. It is a quick solution to a current problem, but doesn’t address a future problem.”

She added that the proposals ‘looked like the lunch area in an out of town office park and was not a destination that anyone wants to go to with a windy precinct as their town centre’, and said: “We can do better and must think about what we are delivering. We need to think about not just the current residents but future residents.”

Cllr Paul Hayward added: “All I see is houses and putting more strain on infrastructure and services. Cranbrook needs massive investment, but we will deliver it, and we must make a commitment to get the SPD done far faster.”

In his recommendation to the committee, Ed Freeman, the service lead for planning strategy and development management, said in officers opinion, the consortium proposals may deliver what the town needs now in terms of retail facilities but in so doing it precludes the delivery of future commercial and community spaces that the town already requires, and which the need for will continue as the town grows from its current 2100 homes to around 8000 in the future.

He added: “Failure to meet the long term needs of the town as it develops jeopardises the future of Cranbrook as a sustainable and healthy new town. Officers continue to have fundamental concerns with the viability evidence presented which forms the fundamental rationale for the NCp’s proposal for a reduced economic heart for the town centre; the evidence is not transparent and has inconsistencies within it which raise concerns over accuracy.

“The production of an SPD and the proactive delivery of the town centre is therefore considered to be the favoured approach. There would however be major challenges in terms of accessing the land and funding the delivery of the proposals.”

Councillors rejected Cllr Blakey’s recommendation to accept the consortium’s proposals by seven votes to four, with one abstention, before accepting the recommendation of officers by seven votes to three, with two abstentions.

The committee agreed to advise the East Devon New Community Partners that the Council is not minded to enter into the proposed Memorandum of Understanding based on the proposed heads of terms at the present time but is open to further negotiation.

They recommended to Cabinet that funding be made available to support the pro-active delivery of the town centre based on the draft SPD Masterplan, and that work should continue on the draft SPD which alongside a delivery plan be presented to Strategic Planning Committee in December.

One thought on “Plea for faster Cranbrook town centre plan falls on deaf ears

  1. Pingback: Developer Led! – Friends of South Hams

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