Cornwall rages as outsiders cash in on second homes

Second-home owners in Cornwall accessed funds to the tune of £170 million intended to help businesses weather the Covid crisis — and almost 62 per cent of the cash went to people who live outside the county.

Plus the Council and local community miss out on council tax and business rates.

Also don’t forget the lack of accommodation for long-term rent and the whole question of affordability. – Owl

Will Humphries, Southwest Correspondent www.thetimes.co.uk

Tensions between Cornish locals and wealthy out-of-towners who own second homes in the county have been steadily rising — and the influx of tourists this summer has not helped relations.

The row has intensified after it emerged yesterday that second-home owners in Cornwall accessed funds to the tune of £170 million intended to help businesses weather the Covid crisis — and almost 62 per cent of the cash went to people who live outside the county.

Second-home ownership has resulted in many locals being priced out of the area and at a council meeting yesterday Andrew George, a Liberal Democrat councillor, demanded that £100 million of Covid grants that went to those living outside the county should be paid back.

He said the money should be returned by those who use their second homes in Cornwall as an “investment or leisure toy” and instead be used to tackle the “housing emergency” in Cornwall.

“It is time the government sought to recover these monies and ensured they are deployed to address the shocking circumstances of local families suffering the housing emergency,” he added.

Malcolm Bell, chief executive of Visit Cornwall, said he was “not happy with it … a minority did return their money but it’s such a minority it’s not worth commenting about.”

To further ruffle feathers, second-home owners who put their properties up for rent as registered holiday lets can separately apply for small business rates relief and as a result do not end up paying business rates or council tax.

David Harris, deputy leader of Cornwall council, said yesterday that this benefit was “just wrong and unfair”.

During the meeting it was revealed that there are 13,255 second homes recorded on its council tax database with 11,081 holiday lets registered for business rates and 8,953 getting business rates relief.

It was also revealed that 61.8 per cent of the holiday lets in Cornwall that claim small business rates relief and received Covid grants were registered to people living outside Cornwall.

Harris told the meeting he had made “very strong representations” to the government that the Covid grants should not “just be paid out automatically to these holiday let businesses”.

But, he added: “Unfortunately civil servants in London didn’t agree with me and I got nowhere.”

It has previously been claimed that Cornwall misses out on as much as £10 million a year as a result of holiday homes not paying council tax or business rates.

The government announced this year that it would close a loophole that enables second-home and holiday let owners to avoid paying council tax and business rates.

The growth in popularity of homes in Cornwall shows no signs of abating. Among the celebrities to own property are Dame Judi Dench, who owns a house near St Ives.

The seaside town of Fowey this month voted to ban people buying new-build homes as second properties.

Jo Ashby, a director at estate agent John Bray and Partners, said at the time there has been an “explosion” in interest in the past 18 months.

Rebecca Hemingway, from Fowey Folk Museum, added: “There’s nobody with a view of the sea that’s local — maybe one.

“It’s too late to do anything about the second homes situation now — it would be nice for the community if there were more affordable homes.

“There’s a handful at the top, but not enough.”

Carry on and Cover up

Don’t say ‘panic’ amid fuel crisis, Cabinet Office warns councils

By Ben Weisz www.bbc.co.uk

The government has advised councils not to use the phrases “panic” or “panic buying” about fuel supply problems, documents seen by the BBC reveal.

Slides prepared by the Cabinet Office’s Behavioural Science Team also advised against using language that morally judges people buying petrol.

A Green Party council leader called the recommendations “nonsensical”.

The government said it worked “closely with councils… on communications to encourage a co-ordinated response.”

The advice sent to local authorities from central government comes after days of long queues at petrol stations which began after fears a lorry driver shortage would hit fuel supplies triggered a surge in demand.

On Wednesday the government deployed a reserve tanker feet to boost deliveries and Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng insisted the situation was “stabilising”.

In a power point presentation marked “official sensitive” the Cabinet Office warns against using the terms “panic”, “panic buying” and “stockpiling”.

The document – labelled “considerations for local authorities” – explains that people don’t recognise their own behaviour as “panic buying” and that the use of such phrases can cause panic which can become contagious.

Instead it recommends using phrases like “filling up earlier than usual” or “changed patterns in demand”.

Other tips include avoiding language that morally judges those queuing for petrol as “framing all individuals who stock up as ‘selfish’ or ‘irrational’ is likely to receive some backlash”.

“Framing people buying excess fuel as ‘taking away from those who need it/ the NHS etc.’ is likely to lead to them feeling like their freedom has been threatened, leading them to more readily engage in ‘panic buying’ behaviour,” the document says.

The advice also says councils could encourage petrol stations to take down signs saying “abuse will not be tolerated” – which could lead customers to expect confrontation on arrival.

Speaking to BBC Radio Sussex, Phélim Mac Cafferty, the Green Party leader of Brighton and Hove City Council said the recommendations amounted to asking councils to “help the government cover up the fuel crisis”.

“Instead of guidance to help us, help our communities navigate the fuel crisis, we have been given platitudes.

“This is beyond not good enough. It’s a disgrace.”

Devon covid starts to rise again

Covid cases have risen in some parts of Devon, ending weeks of gradual falls in infections.

Ollie Heptinstall, local democracy reporter www.radioexe.co.uk

In the week to Thursday 23 September, infecitons increased by 20 per cent in both the Devon County Council area and Plymouth, but fell slightly in Torbay.

Devon’s number of cases per 100,000 people now stands at 258, while the respective figures for Torquay and Plymouth are 275 and 319. By comparison, the UK average is now 351.

Whilst that means at ‘top tier’ level, all three parts of Devon are below the national average, it masks the picture at district council level. Of the county’s eight district areas, South Hams recorded the biggest rise of 75 per cent, putting the area’s infection rate above the national average at 378 cases per 100,000.

Teignbridge and West Devon also had increases of around 35 per cent, but their infection rates remain below the UK-wide figure. East Devon mirrored the county with cases here going up by a fifth.

Elsewhere, Torridge and Mid Devon registered the only falls in Devon, and even these were modest drops of 13 and five per cent respectively. Mid Devon’s infection rate of 169 is now the lowest in the county and around half that of the national average.

Last week, Devon’s director of public health said there had been an increase in infections in educational settings, which was being replicated across the country. Secondary school and college students are being instructed to wear face coverings in communal areas for a further two weeks.

However, Steve Brown added there is unlikely to be an extension to the current covid enhanced response area for Devon and Cornwall, which ends this Friday [1 October].

HOSPITALISATIONS

Prior to this update there had been a steady drop in infections, leading to a slight reduction in the number of people being treated for covid in Devon’s hospitals. That number is again down on last week – by 31.

Latest figures for Tuesday 21 September show 97 covid patients in the county’s hospitals, 41 of which are at Derriford in Plymouth, 28 at the RD&E, 16 in Torbay and 12 in North Devon. Of the total number of patients, ten are on mechanical ventilation beds.

DEATHS

Fourteen more people died in the county within 28 days of testing positive for covid in the latest complete weekly period (up to Wednesday 22 September). Eleven were in the Devon County Council area, two in Plymouth and one in Torbay.

A total of 1,210 people in Devon (including Plymouth and Torbay) have died within 28 days of a positive test since the pandemic began.

VACCINATIONS

Government figures for vaccinations now include people aged 16 and over.

The number of people who have received at least one dose of a vaccine is now 87 per cent in the Devon County Council area, 86 per cent in Torbay and 84 per cent in Plymouth.

The proportion of people who are now fully vaccinated with both jabs is now 82 per cent in Devon, 79 per cent in Torbay and 77 per cent in Plymouth.

Concerns expressed over reserved matter proposals for Zone A and D Winslade Park

Owl has received these considered observations on the latest planning details submitted on the reserved matters on the Winslade Park development: 

We have carefully worked through the detailed planning applications for Zone A (old Plymouth Brethren field) and Zone D (the 3 x blocks of flats).

Having been part of the campaign team for seven years, this was far from what we fought for and was contrary to the Local Plan, Neighbourhood Plan and Strategy 26B of East Devon’s Plan.

However, as we know, the Councillors that make up the Planning Committee voted to accept the outline planning application for Winslade Park on the economic and employment benefits that it will bring to the area. So far we haven’t heard or seen too much evidence of this, however the Manor House has been beautifully refurbished, although a little pricey.

We remain concerned for residents that have houses that back onto Zone A. Should the proposals get the go ahead the roofs of the new houses will tower above the bungalows, with the chimneys above the ridge lines. The backs of the proposed houses will overlook the properties in Clyst Valley Road. These proposed houses don’t meet and are contrary to the Bishops Clyst Neighbourhood Plan.

Some of the proposed gardens appear to encroach into and beyond the tree line. We believe these areas need amending or at least objecting to.

Zone D appears to totally contradict the Bishops Clyst Neighbourhood Plan. There appears that little design has gone into these apartments and they still appear to resemble Lego blocks, far from the quality development that should be adjacent to a Grade II* listed Manor. The apartment blocks are planned to be four storeys tall and will significantly tower over the backs of the houses in Clyst Valley Road, resulting in loss of privacy for a number of residents within our estate. This cannot be claimed to be, in any way, appropriate for a village in the countryside and more akin to the likes of Exeter City centre.

The Parish Council have arranged a meeting on Wednesday 6 th October at 19.30 for any residents that want to attend. It’s going to be held in Clyst St Mary Church (due to Covid we can’t use the school hall and the village hall is unavailable.) Please come along and give your views to the Parish Council.

Formal comments to  planningwest@eastdevon.gov.uk by 14 th October quoting reference 21/2235/MRES for Zone A, and 21/2217/MRES for Zone D. It is always important that you state clearly whether your comment is in support, an objection or neutral.

Torbay Council’s verbal punch-up leaves clerk in tears

It’s all kicking off in Torbay

Fierce row about who should be on committee

[If anyone can track down the Zoom recording, please drop Owl a link].

Joe Ives, local democracy reporter www.radioexe.co.uk 

A Torbay Council meeting desended into disarray this week as councillors took an hour to decide not to have a vote.

Along the way, they created a procedural row that left one clerk too upset to continue with their duties.

In a meeting which had echoes of the famous ‘Jackie Weaver’ incident at Handforth Parish Council that went viral earlier this year, Torbay members engaged in a fierce hour-long debate over who could or could not be a member of a new group set up to scrutinise the council’s efforts at addressing its housing crisis. 

The argument arose over a disagreement over how politically balanced the committee should be.

Councillors had been sent an email inviting them to join the committee, but problems began when the response turned out better than expected.  Normally, scrutiny panels struggle to attract enough councillors to join up, but with housing being such a key issue in the Bay, many councillors were eager to take part. 

This meant that an agenda listed three Liberal Democrats, two independents and seven Conservative councillors as members. 

Fearing that the panel would be politically unbalanced (the overall council is run by a coalition of Lib Dems and independents, although the Conservatives have the largest number of councillors), Lib Dem overview and scrutiny co-ordinator Margaret Douglas-Dunbar (Clifton with Maidenway) held discussions and told group leaders to put forward a limited number of candidates of their choosing. 

The measure was meant to create a political balance reflecting the makeup of the council with three Liberal Democrat nominees, three Conservative nominees and two independents. The move was rejected by the Conservatives, who felt it was an unfair attempt to move the goalposts and that it would give their members too little input into the scrutiny process. Leader of the Conservative group councillor David Thomas (Preston), said the request was sent too late and did not put forward any nominees. 

Panel chairwoman Councillor Hazel Foster (Conservative) attempted to start the meeting with a vote to ratify the membership as printed on the agenda. Liberal Democrats were up in arms, arguing that such a move should not go ahead, given the request to form a politically balanced council.

A vote was started by Cllr Foster but was quickly interrupted when Councillor Mandy Darling (Liberal Democrat, Tormohun) questioned the democratic process saying: “I don’t recognise this and I will not be a part of this.”

It was to set the tone of a fierce back-and-forth between councillors which quickly spiralled out of control.  Chris Lewis (Conservative, Preston) said: “If this went public people would be amazed that we’re arguing about this. All members want to do the best for our community in Torbay.”

At one point, a council clerk, who is not allowed to be involved in political debates, was put in the crossfire when she was asked to weigh in. After being placed in an impossible position, the clerk became visibly distressed and was granted permission to step out of the meeting. 

The moment sparked even more bitterness. When Councillor Foster attempted again to proceed with the vote, Cllr Karen Kennedy (Independent Group, Churston with Galmpton), who wanted the meeting to be reconvened, was furious. She said: “I think it’s totally and utterly unacceptable to put a member of the council staff in a situation like this where they clearly are very very upset.

“This is out of order and it’s close to bullying and harassment. I don’t agree with what’s going on at all. It’s unfair, it’s unkind.”

Council chief executive Anne-Marie Bond was eventually drafted into the meeting, held over Zoom, to help councillors reach a consensus.

As the hour mark approached it was decided the meeting could carry on without a panel and that group leaders would agree on the make-up of the scrutiny panel before the next meeting.

Only then did invited guests finally get to discuss the housing crisis, but by then the subject had been largely overshadowed.

It’s thought more than 1,400 households are awaiting affordable accommodation in the Bay, with demand quickly outstripping any new supply. Earlier this month, the council rented all 47 rooms of The Richmond Hotel in Torquay to provide a ‘circuit breaker’ for some of its housing pressures. 

In August, the council’s leadership split opinion in its coalition when said it would not directly provide housing to Afghan refugees because of the Bay’s accommodation shortage. It subsequently launched a campaign trying to encourage landlords to provide homes but still says it won’t provide council homes to refugees fleeing the Taliban.

Torbay Council has yet to release the footage of the Zoom meeting, but is expected to do so as it generally publishes all public meetings after a few days.

30,000 Devon households to be hit by end of Universal Credit uplift

The end of the temporary £20 a week uplift in universal credit payments is expected to affect 30,000 households in Devon. 

Ollie Heptinstall www.midweekherald.co.uk

The figure, which excludes Torbay and Plymouth, was revealed at a virtual meeting of the Team Devon local outbreak engagement board this week, made up of local authorities including the county council, police and NHS. 

Presenting the economy briefing compiled in August, Keri Denton, the council’s head of economy, enterprise and skills, told members the end of the uplift would amount to a reduction of £31 million in support to families. 

“Obviously the greater impact will be on the lowest income households, and obviously they tend to be in our areas of deprivation. And that will have consequences for the health and the social wellbeing of our residents, some of the demand we’re seeing appear in the health system,” she said. 

However, Ms Denton described the number of universal credit claimants in the county as ‘rapidly reducing,’ going down from five per cent in May 2020 to 3.6 per cent in June 2021. 

The briefing adds there is “anecdotal evidence (so far) of highly significant increases (doubling in some instances) in food bank usage in Devon during the pandemic lockdown periods and more widely worry about food insecurity, especially among those with children.” 

Following the meeting, Councillor Alistair Dewhirst said the number of households impacted by the end of the £20 uplift was “absolutely terrible.” He describes poverty as a major issue. 

“At the Devon County Council scrutiny committee I chair, we decided to put poverty on our list of urgent actions to look at. 

He added: “I think it’s very interesting that [on Thursday] I understand the prime minister was put on the spot and asked if he could live on universal credit and he refused to answer that.” 

Speaking to reporters on a visit to the United States, Mr Johnson said: “I have every sympathy with people who are finding it tough and I really really do, but I think we have to recognise that in order to maintain the covid uplift you‘ve got to find another five or six billion in tax, that would have to come out of people’s pockets.”

Cathy Gardner: Our final hearing is October 19th 

r.mail.crowdjustice.co.uk 

The final hearing is now only a few weeks away, beginning on the 19th October for 4 days. This is a momentous occasion. The Court is the only forum which has the power to rule that the actions of the Government were unlawful and breached the human rights of vulnerable care home residents. We believe that the Government have violated the most fundamental of rights – the right to life – and discriminated against the elderly and disabled residents of care homes, with devastating consequences. The evidence shows that the health and wellbeing of care home residents were simply not considered when the Government decided to clear the hospitals to “Protect the NHS”. Testing capacity was not utilised and basic advice on wearing PPE and isolating new admissions was not given. Even worse, it seems that care home operators were given misleading and downright dangerous advice by Government so that they would be persuaded to take in new residents who could spread Covid to other vulnerable people within the home.

What is truly shameful is the Government’s ongoing refusal to acknowledge the serious errors of judgement they made. Unbelievably, they still maintain that there was a “protective ring around care homes” when it is plain and obvious that the very opposite is true.  Equally shameful has been their ongoing refusal to disclose key documents that explain why they made the decisions they did. We appealed to the Court of Appeal for disclosure of these documents but were unsuccessful. The Court of Appeal was concerned to keep the final hearing date and one of the factors which worked against us was that the extra time and work involved in the Government undertaking more disclosure would risk losing that date. We therefore press on for the trial on 19th October.

My legal team have been hard at work and have now filed our Skeleton Argument with the Court. This document is the last formal document we send to the Court before the final hearing. It explains why we believe the Government, and the NHS, have acted unlawfully, in endangering the lives of care home residents. It can be found here.

I am very grateful to everyone who has given financially to help us bring this case. We still have a deficit of £35,000 and I would be grateful if you could consider giving one last time and sharing this crowdfunding page with others. Thank you for your support in seeking to hold the Government to account for their truly shocking failures.

‘Openness, Transparency and Democracy’

From Stephen Pemberton, letter published in the Sidmouth Herald: 

EDDC Licensing Committee Agree Sidmouth Town Council and Jazz and Blues Festival Arrangements. 

It’s sad to see that the EDDC Licensing Committee would agree the Application by the proposed Jazz and Blues Festival for 2022, with the backing of Sidmouth Town Council, on the basis of no information and no consultation with the necessary Statutory Bodies, with only the promises and assurances that they will act in the best interests of Sidmouth. 

This is against a background  of the STC Town Clerk and Chairman’s ill-conceived Plans which they have forced through, having informed the Organiser that it was all agreed, done and dusted, even before a full Town Council meeting. 

STC meetings have prevented STC Cllrs from raising concerns about the Proposals. 

There is a lack of Scrutiny and Challenge by STC Cllrs, which is their role to do. 

STC have not consulted Sidmouth Town residents on the Town Clerk and Chairman’s proposals, alerted, or informed Sidmouth Town residents of the details of their Plan. 

The EDDC Licensing Committee has now taken on responsibility and accountability from STC through the Organiser for the proposed Event. 

The concerns relate to: 

– Planned excessive numbers of 2,750 attendees at each of the (2/3?) Events for each Event of each day 

– Full Closure of The Ham and The Ham pathway and Cycleway for 14 full days and nights  

– Disruption for all members of the Public and visitors to the Town and esplanade 

– Unsafe, congested funnelling of people at all times of the day and evening down Mill Street and York Street, and around and over the small bridge and along the riverside path to the esplanade 

We shall have to wait to see if the Organiser and their Event Manager have heeded concerns that STC have fully known and proposed, and drastically adjust their arrangements. 

Stephen Pemberton, 

House prices: Young and low paid ‘priced out’ of tourist areas

Young and low paid workers in tourist hotspots are increasingly being priced out of homes, new analysis has shown.

www.bbc.co.uk

House prices rose up to three times faster in some rural and coastal areas compared to the national average in July, Office of National Statistics (ONS) figures have revealed.

North Devon has seen a rise of 22.5%, while the UK average rose by 8%.

A lack of affordable homes could be contributing to hospitality struggling to fill vacancies, the ONS said.

The average cost of rent in the south-west of England rose by 2.6% in the year leading to August, more than double the 1.2% increase for the UK as a whole.

The ONS said the growth in demand for rental properties “appears to be exceeding supply”.

It added the fall in supply of letting was most widespread in the South West, East and West Midlands.

‘Immense anxiety’

The ONS said: “Rising house prices and private rents mean that some workers are at risk of being priced out of living in rural and coastal areas, contributing to skill shortages in the tourism and hospitality industries that their local economies rely on.”

One couple from Barnstaple say they have been looking for a new home for five months with no success.

Sarah-Jane and Lauren Tolley have three weeks to find somewhere to live after being asked to leave by their current landlady through a no-fault eviction.

Section 21 notices allow landlords to evict renters without a reason after their fixed-term tenancy period ends.

Sarah-Jane explained two years ago they “genuinely had a choice” of where to live, but now are “in a position where we have to take whatever we can get”.

She said the “anxiety is immense” for them both and they were struggling to sleep over fear of being made homeless.

“The pressure that you feel in your chest is just heart-wrenching to think that you potentially might not have a home,” Mrs Tolley added.

The average UK house price was £256,000 in July 2021 – £19,000 higher than a year earlier.

Other rural and coastal areas with house prices rising much above the UK average are Conwy in North Wales (25.0%) and Richmondshire in the Yorkshire Dales (21.4%), the ONS figures show.

ONS house prices statistics

By contrast, house prices in the City of London borough fell by just over 10%.

Nathan Emerson, CEO of estate agent body Propertymark, said the coronavirus pandemic had created a “perfect storm” of housing problems in coastal and rural areas.

He cited the movement of people from urban centres to the countryside, shortage of housing stock, high demand for homes and increases in prices caused by a lack of supply.

“More importantly, we are in a position where that vein will continue for a period of time,” Mr Emerson added.

‘Losing our community’

Emma Hookaway, from Braunton in Devon, launched a Facebook group and campaign for the local community’s access to housing, after also being told she must leave her rental home.

She explained it was “nearly impossible” to find somewhere to rent, with people being increasingly priced out of the market.

Ms Hookaway also described the situation as a perfect storm caused by Covid, with more and more people moving to north Devon.

She argued the area was “losing our real sense of community” with locals unable to compete with the prices those moving in could afford.

“I don’t at the moment feel like my children will be able to afford to come back and move into the area,” Ms Hookaway added.

An open letter to Michael Gove

An open letter to Michael Gove, Secretary of State  for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, from a Correspondent:

Dear Secretary of State, 

Amongst your many new responsibilities you have been given the unenviable task of building 300,000 homes a year with the remit that voters in Tory constituencies continue to vote Tory and not liberal democrat. Also, are you aware that in my part of the world it was an independent who was runner-up twice to the conservative in the last national elections and my local council Independent led?

 This is in response to the previous local Tory regime who “built, built, built”.

You will never reconcile your goals until we, who live in these constituencies, trust that there is democracy and openness in planning, the planning system itself, those who administer it and then those who vote on the planning applications. An Englishman’s home is his castle, large sums of money are invested. There must be a democratic process if any development occurs nearby. The answer is not to seriously curtail local input. 

I am very pleased that the government now is considering that the 1.1 million homes awarded planning permission, but not yet built, may be subject to a land tax. This will ease the housebuilding problem. I believe that this issue was the main cause of the shortage of housing, not the present planning system. The present system is by no means perfect but the suggested changes of Robert Jenrick were not the answer. 

To add to your problems we in Devon and Cornwall have the added difficulty of seeing many of our permanent dwellings bought as second homes and holiday lets. This results in a lack of affordable homes for our local youngsters, inflated house prices, no long term rentals available and serious loss of community. No widow should have to buy a flat for her daughter who can afford to rent but there are no long term rentals available. As she said “I can’t have my daughter homeless”. 

I cannot understand why a dwelling built as a Holiday Let needs planning permission to become a permanent dwelling and yet a permanent dwelling can become a second home without any planning restrictions. Surely this is now the time to change this.

To many of us it is immoral that “The Times” could report that in the last decade more homes became second homes than were built. Grade 1 agricultural land has been sacrificed for a new town in our district which is unacceptable. To add insult to injury the town of circa 5,000 population which was started 10 years ago still lacks a viable town centre with shops.

Why don’t we  trust the planning system? 

Is it that the National Planning Framework is fundamentally flawed? I accept that sustainable development is at the heart of the NPPF but there are safeguards in place to improve the environment and our heritage. The problem relates to the many ambiguous words in the NPPF such as:

“significant; in the best interests; give weight to; harm; conserve and enhance”

This gives tremendous powers to the planners and councillors. A balance has to be struck and weight given between the different policies by the planners but the experience in East Devon is that the deciding factor is always “economic benefit” or “housing need” (in spite of a 5 year land supply).

 For example there was an application for 2 houses in the conservation area of a saxon village, adjacent to 10 listed buildings and 45 metres from the Grade 1 listed church.  This site of great heritage significance was validated with no Historic Impact Assessment as required in the NPPF. The officers were repeatedly made aware of the extreme importance of the site by Historic England’s three comments on the planning portal. Of particular concern was that the orientation of the proposed buildings were at right angles to the historic landscape. These comments were simply brushed aside. The application was contrary to many of the newly adopted local neighbourhood plan policies -number of bedrooms specified in NP; materials; density; design; respecting heritage assets. This contentious application was decided by officers under delegated power and approved. The reason given was the need for housing although East Devon at that time had a 5 year land supply.

So, what about democracy and the planning process? Many towns and villages in East Devon have an adopted Neighbourhood Plan which is a very democratic way of finding locals’ views on issues in their neighbourhood and then voting on them. Some councils and developers also consult on proposed planning matters.

Why then is it widely thought to be a charade? Following a consultation regarding the proposed location of a school it is amazing that Devon County Council still put forward a planning application for a 150 housing development and school in Ottery St. Mary which was contrary to a) the Ottery St Mary Neighbourhood Plan and b) contrary to the result of their own DCC consultation. But of course their reasoning was:

“this needs to be balanced against the benefits of the solution proposed” 

and

“however, in general planning is concerned with land use in the public interest. “

Developers are encouraged to consult. This is exactly what Burrington Estates did in Clyst St. Mary. The first public consultation included, amongst many other dwellings,  14 traditional houses adjoining the houses next to the site. This was supported by the majority of the community.

When the outline hybrid Planning Application was submitted to East Devon Planners these had increased to almost 60 flats which, after objections, have now been reduced to four blocks of 40 flats. Quite an increase as these flats will now overlook the pre-existing houses. In addition 39 more homes have received outline planning permission since the consultation.  

As another correspondent wrote:

“ What this community was originally shown and found acceptable at a Public Consultation bears no resemblance to what is now being proposed!”

Yes, the developers think the present planning system needs revision. Yes, the public also thinks the planning system needs revision. But you must remember that if you wish people to vote conservative you must provide convincing arguments. The 300,000 houses a year target has been question many times. Please tell us in detail where this number comes from. Do something about second homes. Make sure the land is released which has planning permission and developers are sitting on. Make sure our environment and heritage is not sacrificed for the nebulous “economic benefit”, “public interest” or “exceptional circumstances”.