From a correspondent:
From a personal perspective having spent hours, days, weeks . . . . no actually . . . . . seven years voluntarily taking an interest in representing and contributing the views of the community on the future development in our village to the East Devon District Council for the Local Plan 2013-2031, the Villages Plan (including BUABs) and our Neighbourhood Plan – may I suggest that (even with much prompting on Facebook and social media from District Councillors to remind us that time is running out for making representations for the New Local Plan) – the reason why many previously interested parties in our communities do not wish to comment on the new Local Plan going forward is that after multitudinous time spent and huge efforts in the past – one local community found that inappropriate development was approved by the Planning Committee recently (in spite of hundreds of local residents’ objections) on green fields, on high risk flood areas with proposals supported that will increase traffic substantially in an area which already suffers with massive traffic congestion!
There was approval for 54 new homes on an agricultural greenfield outside of the Local Plan, the BUAB and the Neighbourhood Plan;
There was approval for a change of proposals from a supportable, modest amount of homes shown at a Public Consultation to a block of 40 two-three storey apartments overlooking existing residents’ homes directly opposite to a Grade II* Listed Building when, surprisingly, proposals for blocks of two/three storey apartments were not included in the Neighbourhood Plan for an historic, rural village;
There was approval for increased provision of multiple commercial uses, in tandem with adding 94 dwellings to the mix, in a countryside location because the developers’ viability reports maintained that the whole masterplan would be financially unviable without building homes on green fields;
There was approval for a significant increase in traffic (with no extra provision for public transport) in an area that already suffers with major gridlock, noise and air pollution. . . when most of us are trying to improve our carbon footprint and EDDC state they are committed to policies to improve climate change;
There was approval for a large impermeable car park on green, agricultural fields adjacent to a watercourse that is within an area of high flood risk.
It must be remembered that the preparation of the current Local Plan 2013-2031 incurred exorbitant costs, magnified by the need for a Planning Inspector to advise for many months to ensure that the Plan was sound, with copious, administration costs that accumulated over ‘eons’ – so it is fair to say that Local Plans cost East Devon tax payers very highly!!
However, when all local representations have been taken into account and the policies have been written and the Local Plan is adopted and in place – the bad news is that around 16 elected Local Authority Councillors (as the ultimate decision makers) with recommendations from Planning Officers can ignore the Local Plan, BUAB, the Neighbourhood Plan and National Planning Policies and approve an application that offers substantial economical growth to the entire district, which in their opinion, outweighs the social and environmental policies set down for the protection of a village community in East Devon!
There is little point in giving people confidence that planning policies will protect their areas with Local Plans or pretend that local democracy and community involvement has any value in decision making when, in fact, such policies can be overridden and the local people’s representations ignored!
There were, indeed, a great deal of positive aspects attached to the approved development that were hugely innovative and supportable – but sadly planners deemed that environmental and social aspects within their Local Plan could be ignored for the greater good of providing economic benefits for the entire district to fill a funding gap black hole!
The electorate had sent a clear message to the Council that after five decades of Conservative dominance, they wanted change and they were hoping for a reformed and improved council whose administration would bring stability and direction for the benefit of all its residents. In this context all residents must be interpreted as some residents because some residents have had to tolerate a build, build, build policy because East Devon has vast swathes of protected Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty – so some communities in the planning lottery will have to draw ‘the short straw’ resulting in an historic, rural village being sacrificed and residents’ views being brushed aside!
And that’s why many people have lost faith in the local planning system and will not waste any more of their precious time responding to a new East Devon Local Plan Consultation that can equally be ignored if it suits the decision makers!
The Localism Act sought to decentralise power away from Whitehall and back into the hands of local councils, communities and individuals to act on local priorities and this concept is applauded.
The pandemic has shown us that our personal choices and decisions can have huge impacts on other peoples’ lives – flippancy is not supported and there will be no hand- clapping for planners in this community!
However, in an effort to end on a positive note – us ‘minions’ have all been assured by our elected members that this is the way democracy works – we elect them to be our representatives and they make the decisions – Mmmmmm!