Sidmouth: Councillors agree Sidford Business Park building heights ‘through gritted teeth’

Remember that Cllr Stuart Hughes claimed that this business park within the AONB had been deleted, when it hadn’t’, during the last iteration of the Local Plan. – Owl

Joe Ives, Local Democracy Reporter sidmouth.nub.news 

The size of buildings at a controversial business park to be built in Sidford has been agreed by East Devon District Council (EDDC) “through gritted teeth.”

The development, which was rejected by EDDC’s planning committee before being approved on appeal by the government’s Planning Inspectorate in August 2019, has been a source of contention for both the council and local residents.

The council had previously refused an outline application for the eight-square-kilometre business park because of concerns over dangers from increased HGV traffic through Sidbury and Sidford as a result of the development. There are also worries about the visual impact, as it is in an ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.’

When the Planning Inspectorate’s decision was announced in 2019, Sidmouth and Sidford councillor Stuart Hughes (Conservative) described the judgment as “basically a two fingers up to the Sid Valley” – a sentiment which is still widely felt.

When making its decision, the inspectorate pointed to the 250 new jobs expected to be created as one of its reasons for approval.

Either way, with the inspectorate’s 2019 decision the council had little choice but to support the proposals for the final details of the height of the buildings.

Sidford already struggles to get large vehicles through its roads (Credit: Daniel Clark/LDRS)

EDDC’s planning committee voted in favour of the ‘reserved matters’ application for the size of the buildings from the applicant, 0G Holdings Retirement Benefit Scheme.

It means the industrial estate will mainly consist of six-metre tall buildings. There will be two 7.5-metre-high buildings, roughly two storeys in height, next to the entrance at Two Bridges Road. The developer says the visual impact of these buildings will be partly mitigated by new trees.

A letter of objection from a local resident was read to the planning committee. It said: “There comes a point in time when somebody has to say enough is enough. This development has nothing to do with local economic benefit or creation of opportunities.”

They said the scheme had driven them “beyond anger.”

In 2019 The ‘Say NO To Sidford Business Park’ campaign collected 1,500 signatures in a petition.

However, given the decision of the Planning Inspectorate, EDDC can do little except approve the specific details as presented to the government.

Each councillor who voted for approval expressed their reluctance before doing so. Councillor Olly Davey (Green Party, Exmouth Town) and Cllr Richard Lawrence abstained. Councillor Geoff Pratt (Independent, Ottery St Mary) voted against approval. But in the end, the vote was carried.

Councillor Mike Howell sympathised with the objections raised by members of the public but stated there were no grounds for refusal, given the 2019 decision of the planning inspectorate. He said: “It is purely scale we are talking about and this is exactly the same as the proposal that went to appeal. The scale is set.

“We are really struggling with this and I wish I could see any hope of amending, changing – doing anything. As far as I can see there is no hope in hell. In fact, I would say if we did vote against it we would have costs awarded against us for acting ‘unreasonable.’”

Councillor Richard Lawrence (Conservative, Whimple and Rockbeare) said: “We are between a rock and a hard place and there is very little we can do about this.

“I can’t understand why the inspector gave these decisions but at the end of the day we’re faced with them and we must comply with them.”

Councillor Joe Whibley (Independent, Exmouth Town) said: “I would like the people who have objected to this to know that we do this [the reserved matters approval] through gritted teeth. This is not something that we’re all happy just to wave through.

“It’s incredibly frustrating.”

The proposed final appearance of the buildings will be voted on by the planning committee at a later date.

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