Anger after another delay in finalising how town centre will look

The future of Cranbrook has once again been delayed after councillors voted against accepting an offer as to how the new town will be developed, much to the disappointment of many people.

Interesting to note that Simon Jupp criticises the Council for “dithering”. Dithering is what Boris Johnson does.

In this case, although you may not like it, the Council seems to Owl to be consistent.

Remember this was meant to be a showcase for “developer-led” development which has failed to deliver, leaving the Council to pick up the pieces. It’s another legacy problem.

Daniel Clark www.devonlive.com

East Devon District Council’s strategic planning committee had the option of accepting a revised masterplan for the town from the East Devon New Community Partners (EDNCp) when they met on Tuesday afternoon, having previously turned down their vision.

Further negotiations had taken place between the consortium and the council since the October meeting and subsequently councillors heard that an improved offer had been made, one that the council’s strategic lead for planning described as ‘being fit for purpose for the town centre both now and in the future’.

The proposals include a 2,500 square metres Morrisons supermarket, around 350 town centre homes, a town square, a town hall, a children’s centre, youth centre and library in a single building, as well as land that could be used for a leisure centre, a hotel and retail units.

Artist impression of the plans for Cranbrook town centre

Artist impression of the plans for Cranbrook town centre

But committee members rejected the recommendation to accept the offer and instead voted to go back to the consortium and try and negotiate further to deliver on some of the commitments initially promised that would be dropped.

The news though has angered Cranbrook councillors and the town’s MP Simon Jupp, who said they ‘showed little knowledge of the needs of Cranbrook’.

Ed Freeman, Service Lead for Planning Strategy, told Tuesday’s meeting that following the negotiations, the proposed offer from the consortium has been amended, which included relocating the extra care facility to elsewhere in the town to free up active frontage space on Tillhouse Road. This would also see sufficient space on provided to accommodate a leisure centre alongside the town council building and health and wellbeing centre, while the EDNCp are also suggesting that a hotel could be accommodated on this parcel of land.

The EDNCp are also willing to make land within the town centre available for the Council to acquire, however they have made it clear that they would expect that land should be valued on the basis of a residential use.

Artist impression of the plans for Cranbrook town centre

Artist impression of the plans for Cranbrook town centre

Mr Freeman said: “While the revised offer would not deliver everything sought in the draft Supplementary Planning Document, it would deliver the majority of what is needed and although any hotel delivered on the additional land would not have frontage onto the London Road, in the spirit of compromise the overall offer would in terms of the mix and quantum of uses be acceptable.

“This would provide sufficient land and flexibility to deliver a fit for purpose town centre, both now and in the future as the town grows.

“If you are not content with the revised offer, the SPD is the best way to deliver the town centre, but would be significantly delayed.”

But accepting the offer, while speeding up the delivery process, would see the town miss out on more than £2m of contributing towards formal open space, sports pitches, education, the health and wellbeing hub, and walking and cycling infrastructure in the revised legal S106 agreement.

Cllr Matthew Osborn, from Cranbrook town council, said that he was speaking on behalf of the residents who were sold the dream of moving to a new town and be a pioneer and called for the committee to accept the offer.

Artist impression of the plans for Cranbrook town centre

Artist impression of the plans for Cranbrook town centre

He said: “Like many people, I was amazed by the community spirit and sense of belonging and pride, but the dream has become harder as we have faced false dawns and were over promised and under delivered and we are losing faith in any sign of delivery.

“The residents’ wishes are to have a delivery and to start to believe again that they made the right choice in coming here and the current proposal delivers what the town needs. We have reached the point where officers and councillors and consortium can accept it, so please listen to the people of the town and don’t ignore us.”

Nick Freer, from the East Devon Community Partnership, said that this was now a collective proposal that had been worked on and the first elements of the town centre could be in place within 18 months, but said: “We cannot risk losing the momentum we have built up as the risks and the stakes are too high. We have a proposal that is worked on and that we all can be genuinely proud of.”

Cllr Kim Bloxham said: “These are good proposals for Cranbrook and what the community wants and needs, and for the hope for the residents’ of Cranbrook, accept the offer and allow it to progress without delay,” while Cllr Helen Parr said that it was a much improved offer and that residents wanted it to go forward so they can get on with their lives

Backing the proposals, Cllr Mike Howe said that there were issues still with the offer, but there are issues with every application, and the council were walking the fine line of the balance to get the best out of it now, and a future where they might get something but 10 years late.

He said: “Even with reservations, this gives us just enough to move forward, as we have the majority of the residents in support.”

Cllr Kevin Blakey added: “The vast majority of residents want to see the facilities delivered sooner rather than later, and the offer is now fit for purpose for now and for the future. There are matters of detail to be sorted out but now is the time to prove that the future of the residents of Cranbrook counts. We have a deal that we can progress.”

Cllr Ian Thomas added that the proposals meet the objective to deliver a town centre that the residents want, is supported by their representatives, and meets the reasonable aspirations of the consortium and the council, with much stronger officer support this time, and he proposed agreeing in principle to the Memorandum of Understanding.

He added: “We need to send a clear message and that we have something a lot better than Boris’ ‘oven ready deal’ and that the council is ready to move forward and deliver a town centre that meets the needs of residents and the partners.”

Artist impression of the plans for Cranbrook town centre

Artist impression of the plans for Cranbrook town centre

But while Cllr Eleanor Rylance said that while compared to what they initially saw, the proposals were heading in the right direction, she had fears that the MOU would be the ‘high point’ of any offer and not the starting point. She said: “There is lot of potential to deliver what the residents need now but questions over if it will deliver the need for the future residents.”

And Cllr Paul Hayward said that the £2m loss of amenity contributions if they accepted the offer was ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’,

He added: “The residents were sold a dream on a false promise, but someone who is desperately thirsty will pay any price for a glass of water even though there is an oasis over the hill. I am not convinced by the deal and think there is still room for more negotiating. I cannot support this as I don’t believe it will deliver. I hope I am proved wrong, and I don’t want to be proved right, and if I am wrong, then people can have a go at me.”

And Cllr Paul Arnott, leader of the council, added: “There is huge disappointment and it is unacceptable we don’t have an open book here and it is unclear what the land values will be. There is obviously concern about the town square which is just a bit of open pavement.

“We need to find a way out of this but we are underestimating our negotiating position. They have the Morrisons card and everyone is terrified that they may go off and in a strop and open up somewhere else, and that may be a risk we may have to take.”

Artist impression of the plans for Cranbrook town centre

Artist impression of the plans for Cranbrook town centre

He called for further negotiations to take place over the MOU with the outcome of them to either come to the cabinet meeting on January 6, or at the very least within 14 days of that, and then the cabinet can take a look and see what changes can be made, adding: “I’m sorry if it will ruin a few Christmases, but that’s tough.”

Councillors voted by seven votes to six, with one abstention, to reject the proposal made by Cllr Thomas for them to agree to the MOU, before then voting by nine votes to four to agree to further negotiations that will come back to the cabinet early in 2021.

Work on the SPD, which would deliver a more comprehensive town centre but further into the future, will be paused while the further negotiations take place.

But Simon Jupp, MP for East Devon, reacting to the decision said: “Cranbrook residents, some of the highest council tax payers in Devon, look on in disbelief as their voice is ignored and the can is kicked down the road yet again. Dithering by councillors who don’t represent Cranbrook is putting plans for a proper town centre and a new supermarket at risk. It’s time to stop faffing and start delivering what was promised to the people of Cranbrook.”

And in a joint statement, Cllrs Bloxham, Blakey and Sam Hawkins, the three ward members for Cranbrook, said: “The Democratic Alliance members of EDDC’s Strategic Planning Committee once again showed little knowledge of the needs of Cranbrook together with a lack of understanding of the whole planning process within which the town is being delivered.

“Remarks about failure of the developers to deliver on their obligations and comments about the needs of the town now and in the future were totally misplaced and led to a committee decision potentially plunges the town into a very uncertain future.

“Having been involved in detailed negotiations with the consortium for more than a year we had reached a place where there was a very positive proposal on the table. Yet just seven members of EDDC – all part of the Democratic Alliance, none of whom represent the town – decided to reject it.

“The proposal brought forward to the recent Strategic Planning Committee where the developers were not only delivering on all of their obligations (including those not due until later) but also bringing forward many additional town centre facilities including the supermarket, town square, nursery, double the amount of retail premises with further land being handed to the local authority to bring forward more shops, a leisure centre and other potential facilities such as an hotel and business units as well as a town council building that would not just be offices for the council but provide a cafe, meeting and event space, toilets and much needed office space for local businesses to grow.

“But the decision plunges Cranbrook into a further period of uncertainty and instead of enjoying Christmas with the prospect of a supermarket and a town centre in the foreseeable future the future now looks so much bleaker.”

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