Plea to ‘not ring death knell for villages’ in East Devon local plan

Consultation will begin early in 2021 on a new blueprint for development for East Devon – with a plea from councillors to ensure the death knell for villages isn’t sounded.

Daniel Clark www.devonlive.com 

East Devon District Council’s strategic planning committee on Tuesday agreed to start consultation in January 2021 on a new local plan issues and options report, which aims not to set out defined solutions for a new local plan, but to raise some of the key issues and seeks feedback on options presented.

The feedback received from the consultation will be used to inform emerging and developing thinking on the form, structure and content of a new local plan.

And while the new local plan will set out how development in the district should take place, as well as allocating some land for large scale strategic development – potentially including another Cranbrook-style new town – councillors were keen to make the existing small villages in East Devon sustainable.

Cllr Mike Howe, speaking at the meeting, said: “We need to make the sustainability work better for many villages who have been left to quite honestly go on and die. We have to bring some sustainability to the communities, particularly those who want some small scale growth.

“We need to keep them sustainable as they are and things like bus services, even if just one a week, are under threat unless there is a gentle keeping the population at the same level. We do need to keep the unsustainable villages ticking over which is different to make them sustainable.”

Cllr Eleanor Rylance added: “Our planning policy has effectively rung the death knell for small villages. We have told them they are not sustainable because they don’t have ‘x, y and z’, which leads to a total demographic change as some people afford to live there and have to move out. And the first thing is the school shuts as there are no more children any more.

“And then bit by bit, all the things that contribute to a village being sustainable go and then you end up with a hamlet.

“Our own planning policy can ring the death knell for a village and that is shocking. There is a village in the district told unsustainable even though there is a main road through it, a shop, a school, and on a main line train line, that village was told it was unsustainable.

“We have to be mindful a village isn’t a collection of houses but people who live there and the range of demographics that make it a community. I have a village in my patch with no new houses since 1999 and the school is only hanging on by a thread.

“That village could be more sustainable if we had not told them they could not built anything. Our focus has been building new towns but there are existing communities that need to expand a little to accommodate for existing residents. It need a rethink and if a village wants to develop then they should be allowed to develop.”

Cllr Philip Skinner said: “In some of my villages, they wouldn’t want to support 50 houses, or 20 houses, but allowing some houses to come through incrementally and evolve out the plan period rather than a big chunk of housing at once, and we cannot get lumbered with something that people neither need for want in their villages.”

Ed Freeman, Service Lead for Planning Strategy, said that this was a big issue for the local plan as to how they support rural communities in the future.

He said: “Community led development is a big part of that to allow communities to bring forward growth where they want it without imposing it on the communities that don’t want growth. The challenge for villages that the scale of growth needed to deliver the facilities these need may not be that appetising – you may have to double the size of communities, but it does need a lot of further work and thought and discussions.”

This substantial station house is in an idyllic East Devon village

This substantial station house is in an idyllic East Devon village

And Cllr Nick Hookway added that the concerns over infrastructure had not gone away, saying: “You cannot have new developments that are not connected and some of the infrastructure issues aren’t going to go away, so that needs to be considered as part of the call for sites.”

The committee unanimously agreed that consultation on the draft issues and options report should start on January 18, 2021, and run for eight weeks, with the feedback received from the consultation to be used to inform emerging and developing thinking on the form, structure and content of a new local plan.

Work will also start in January to assess the smaller sites submitted into the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan call for sites in 2017, as well as running a new ‘call for sites’ for development.

And the committee recommended to Cabinet that a budget of £300,000 over a three year period is established for work towards the delivery vehicles for any proposed garden community.

Payhembury village centre

Payhembury village centre

Andy Wood, Service Lead for Growth, Development & Prosperity, in his report, added: “While we start to contemplate the next generation of strategic sites through the Local Plan review, the development of Cranbrook is far from complete and indeed there are immediate challenges not least in relation to the delivery of the town centre.

“The development to date has benefited from the land largely being in the control of a single Consortium but by contrast, the Cranbrook expansion areas are all in the control of separate, unconnected developers. This will make the timing and coordination of infrastructure delivery much more challenging.

“There is a logic therefore in testing whether some form of delivery vehicle could be also retrofitted to encompass Cranbrook and support the growth of the town up to the circa 8,000 homes anticipated in the current Local Plan

“Finally it is important to emphasise that the delivery of major strategic developments is a long term endeavour. Even when the development of individual homes has finished it is essential that there are robust and cost effective stewardship arrangements in place to ensure the ongoing delivery of assets and services that continue to meet the needs of the residents over time. Ensuring that such arrangement are in place is again one of the leading objectives for development corporation status.”

Cllr Ian Thomas, asked for clarification as to the scale of development that would be provided by any development corporation around a garden community, asking: “Are we talking about significant strategic developments rather than adjustment of villages, and would it be fair to say to support this proposal, the principle of looking for one or more significant strategic developments would be implicit in support for this?”

In response, Mr Wood said: “Yes, it would focused on big strategic developments, subject to what comes through the local plan review. The business case would only stand if there is strategic development to deliver.”