Planning applications validated by EDDC for week beginning 21 November

Exeter car park demolition won’t become student flats

Councillors have backed plans that would see a well-known Exeter city centre car park demolished and turned into housing. Mary Arches Street car park is becoming obsolete according to Exeter City Council and would require a £3.8 million refurbishment to “extend its usable life.”

Ollie Heptinstall

The council’s executive, at its meeting on Tuesday, approved knocking it down and turned into a “residential-led mixed use scheme” of around 100 homes with commercial use on the ground floor. The decision will need to be rubber-stamped at a full council meeting in a fortnight but, if approved, the car park could close before January.

A report by council finance director Dave Hodgson says a public consultation on the site’s future will then start in the new year, followed by a planning submission next August and demolition of the car park in November. The brownfield site, for which the council has secured £1.3 million of government funding towards demolition and asbestos removal, is expected to be ready for redevelopment in January 2024.

A number of upgrades are required to Mary Arches including structural, surfacing, accessibility and decoration works. The lifts also haven’t worked for over five years; bringing them back into use would cost £240,000 alone.

The report said the proposed regeneration scheme “is in the public interest and will improve the wellbeing of residents in a number of ways,” including by increasing the city’s housing supply, removing the “unattractive and obsolete existing car park” and reducing anti-social behaviour.

“In addition, the site is a key gateway to and from the north of the city and a high-quality scheme will contribute towards the positive forward-looking image of Exeter ensuring it is an attractive place where people choose to live, work, study and visit.”

The closure of the car park will mean the loss of 481 parking spaces in the city centre. However, the report states: “Across the city, there is spare capacity to take up customers when Mary Arches Car Park closes down.”

Speaking at the meeting, Mr Hodgson said part of the site has “significant archaeological interest underneath,” adding: “Therefore it is highly unlikely that that [part] would be disposed of for residential use.”

Responding to questions about what the residential development will consist of, council leader, Cllr Phil Bialyk, said: “I can be clear, if it is the city council’s land, there will be no purpose-built student accommodation.”

He added the finer details were “all a matter that will come forward in a planning application of which we’ve got a consultation charter and we will fully consult with everybody else.” Councillors were told the date of the car park’s closure is still to be finalised, depending on its safety and the confirmed timetable for the project.

Simon Jupp and team want to record how you voted in 2019

A couple of correspondents have brought the latest Tory “Community Survey” to Owl’s attention.

The first tore it up in disgust, the second sent Owl a scan.

It is not clear how widely this has been distributed within Jupp’s constituency; it asks questions on both national and local issues.

Here is how Simon introduces it:

But these were the three personal questions that stuck in the craw of the correspondents:

This survey was personally addressed, using information from the electoral register for what are deemed to be electoral purposes.

Despite having their name printed on the survey, recipients were also asked to confirm their name, if they returned the survey in the prepaid envelope.

Interesting questions: under the data protection act how do you justify holding, and how do you store and for how long, information on how individuals voted in a secret ballot? What uses are you entitled to put it to? Who has access to it?- Owl

Planning at crisis point – Local plan gridlock

Local plans for 15 years of development in each area are the bedrock of Britain’s planning system. Despite a government deadline to have an up-to-date local plan by the end of this year, 59 per cent of the country still lacks one, according to Lichfields planning agency. Amid labyrinthine complexity the average time to sign off a local plan rose from 450 days in 2009 to 815 days in 2019, the government’s planning white paper found.

Martina Lees (Extract)

Uncertainty over whether the government will abandon top-down housing targets, famously called “Stalinist” by former prime minister Liz Truss, have caused many councils to abandon making local plans. In April almost 70,000 homes across eight stalled local plans were in jeopardy, according to Lichfields. By September at least 19 councils had put their plans on hold. Sam Stafford, planning director of the Home Builders Federation, believes the count is now well above 20. “The local plan making system has effectively collapsed this year,” he says.

The process of making local plans should consult residents from the start instead of allowing developers to suggest sites, says Rosie Pearson, who chairs the Community Planning Alliance of about 600 local campaign groups. The system makes residents feel “things are always dumped on you. You don’t get a chance to influence them positively,” she adds.

“Don’t propose a load of plans and then ask people what they think and carry on ignoring everyone. Get everyone in a room and say, ‘Write what you liked about your area. What don’t you like?’ Then propose things and then run them by people,” Pearson says. “It’s called ‘engage, deliberate, decide’. It’s the opposite that happens at the moment, which is ‘decide, announce, dissent’.”

Devon seaside resort deserted in winter could become ‘next St Ives’

Across Devon and Cornwall it’s a familiar story: towns and villages that are buzzing with life during the summer, but little more than ‘ghost towns’ during the winter, as second home owners retreat to their cities and Airbnbs are left vacant. Salcombe, St Ives, Falmouth, Padstow, Newquay, Bude; the list gets longer every year. And now the award-winning, much-loved seaside resort of Woolacombe could be next.

Becky Dickinson

The very nature of Woolacombe means that it has always been busier during summer. For decades, tourists have flocked to the jewel on North Devon’s coast to lap up the sun, surf and golden sand, while sustaining the local economy. In winter, locals have enjoyed the chance to rest and regroup before the madness resumes all over again the following year.

But in recent years, the tide has shifted. In summer, Woolacombe is as busy as ever, but in winter, it’s becoming increasingly abandoned. Locals say second home owners are to blame, sweeping up properties as soon as they become available and pushing up prices – often into the millions. The result is that locals are being driven away due to the lack of long-term affordable housing in the place in which they grew up.

Nicola Roberts has lived in Woolacombe for 40 years and works in Londis. She says: “When I first moved here there were a lot more locals. Second homes weren’t really a thing. But the village in the winter now, there’s very few lights on, most of the properties are empty because a lot have just been bought up as second homes.”

Nicola adds: “There’s less of a community, yet this village is full of empty properties. People can’t afford to live here, they can’t afford to rent here, there are very few properties to rent because it’s all AirBnB.”

And she fears it could spell the end of village life. “I think it’s coming to the point of saturation where it will spoil the village,” she says. “Eventually, if we’re not careful, Woolacombe will end up like Padstow or St Ives. It’s a slow progression but that is what is happening.”

Compared to a decade ago, the village has already changed beyond recognition. Gone are the butchers, bakers and newsagents, replaced by chain clothing stores and expensive art galleries – that locals can’t afford to shop in. And according to property website Zoopla, the average sold price for a property in Woolacombe in the last 12 months was £545,537 – that’s well over the national average house price of £294,559.

Like so many other locals, Nicola can’t afford to buy a property in Woolacombe. She lives in rented accommodation – and to add irony to insult, the house right next door was used as second home. “They would send their teenage daughters down, they’d be having a fabulous time, screaming and laughing and joking which you do at that age,” says Nicola, “but they don’t know who their neighbours are – they’re not bothered that they’ve been working all day.”

While Nicola can only dream of owning her own home, there are others who buy them like ice-creams. Someone she knows works in an estate agents. “She said a chap phoned up and bought two properties to the value of £2million. He didn’t even view them,” recounts Nicola.

The population of Woolacombe now stands at just 840 people. And fewer locals means fewer workers. “There aren’t people living here to staff the businesses,” says Nicola. “Staffing this summer has been an absolute nightmare. People can’t travel in to work very easily, they can’t park, on a busy day they can’t get in to the village.”

Nicola would like to see rules introduced to ensure people are only allowed to buy a property if they intend to live in it. “I’ve got nothing against holiday makers because that’s why we’re here,” she says, “but the second homes are a problem. The whole financial structure is causing a problem in the village for lots of people.”

Nicola’s concerns are echoed around the village. Richard Walden was ‘lucky’ enough to move to Woolacombe 18 years ago before prices rocketed. He says: “it’s tough for local people. There are people who have lived here all their lives, they can’t afford to buy property in the village, they’ve got to go to Ilfracombe or Barnstaple. It’s already having a detrimental effect on community.”

And he says the situation is creating a division in the village. “You’ve got people coming in buying up second homes for hundreds of thousands, they’re just out pricing everybody else. The village is becoming ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots.’ “

In the Beachcomber cafe, John – the cafe’s most loyal and treasured customer – is enjoying his daily coffee. He loves coming to the cafe, with its ‘lovely staff’ and says he’d ‘be lost without it.’ But after more than 50 years in the village, John is no stranger to change. “The population has altered a lot since I’ve been here,” he says. “I don’t really agree with second homes when there’s so many people without a home at all. Seeing a lot of empty homes isn’t much fun and it’s a waste of a house if they only come occasionally.”

Maggie Parker is another one who has witnessed the insatiable demand for second homes. Now 61, she is Woolacombe born and bred. Her grandparents used to run a hotel on the front and she went to school in the village. “When I grew up it was lovely, there was a butchers, all the shops, everyone knew everyone,” she says. “Now there’s no community, nothing.”

The culprits, in her eyes, are the second home owners. “It doesn’t bring money into the village because they get their deliveries from Tesco or wherever,” she says. Maggie’s daughter, Stacey Phillips, agrees.

Stacey runs Captain Jacks, the last standing traditional pub in Woolacombe, as well the Chichester Arms in Morthoe. However, despite running two businesses, Stacey still can’t afford to buy a property in the village. She currently rents the rooms above the pub with her husband and three children. And of all the friends she grew up with, only one still lives in the village.

“It’s upsetting that you’re shoved out of the place you grew up because you just can’t afford to live here,” she says. “In a way you can’t blame people because it’s a fantastic part of the country to live in. But living here is one thing, owning multiple properties that are then left empty is another.” And she believes the rent on many holiday rentals is “obscene.”

Stacey is passionate about the need for affordable housing and has put her name down on the parish council. “It’s getting to the point where something needs to be done because there isn’t a community,” she stresses. On top of the housing crisis, Stacey also faces trying to keep two pubs afloat in the face of a dwindling local population and the escalating cost of living.

“We’ve never wanted to be a business that just opens from April through to October and then shuts up, it’s always been for the community,” she says. However, “it’s getting to the point where what’s the point in opening 12 months of the year?” she asks. “You’ve got people to pay, you’ve got massive energy costs, with just a few people coming through the doors.”

Add to that competition from chain pubs and you’ve got the perfect storm. “One of my biggest bug bears is overhearing ‘I can get this for less in Wetherspoons,’ “says Stacey, who endeavours to use local produce and suppliers wherever possible. “But they (chain pubs) buy huge volumes of everything so they can get a better price. When you’re an independent you don’t get those prices.”

For now, Captain Jacks remains open for the scattering of locals who come to sit by the fire with a pint of ale or a plate of chips. But for all its beauty, there is a dark side to Woolacombe. With summer a fast fading memory and winter a grim reality, it’s hard to escape the sense of doom and resentment that haunts the village like the marauding cry of seagulls. And unless second home owners rent or sell empty houses back to local people at an affordable price, there may be some difficult decisions ahead.

Letter: Marine Conservation Society and Good Law Project join forces to take Government to court over sewage dumping 

This from Maggie Nelmes, Ventnor. Ed

Islanders are up in arms against Southern Water’s constant release of raw sewage into our coastal waters.

Whether a surfer or wild swimmer, a fishing or tourism business owner, or simply an Island resident, we are all adversely affected by this shameless flouting of the regulations, this willful fouling of the rivers and seas we value and depend on.

Seven IW locations in top ten of dry spills

In a recent report, publicised by News OnTheWight, Surfers Against Sewage revealed that, “Southern Water was responsible for four times as many ‘dry spills’ as the next worst offender, South West Water, and the Isle of Wight has seven locations ranking in the top ten for ‘dry spills’”.

Dry spills are sewage discharges occurring when no rain fell. Yet regulations stipulate that discharges are only permitted during ‘unusually heavy rainfall’.”

All around the country, private water companies are now routinely dumping untreated sewage in our rivers and seas, endangering human and animal health, and killing freshwater and marine life.

Unfit-for-purpose Victorian sewerage systems

Rather than investing in new infrastructure, they are making do with unfit-for-purpose Victorian sewerage systems, to maximise their profits for the benefit of their directors and shareholders.

No wonder many people are calling for public utilities like water to be brought back into public ownership.

Storm overflows within 1km of Marine Protected Areas

There are 1,651 storm overflows within 1km of a Marine Protected Area (MPA) in England, and they were spilling sewage into the sea for a shocking 263,654 hours in 2021.

Many people across the country worked hard to persuade the Government to set up these protected areas to shelter vulnerable marine life and provide nurseries for young fish to grow, reviving depleted stocks caused by overfishing.

Marine Conservation Society join the campaign

Now, as a last resort, the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) is joining forces with the Good Law Project (GLP) to take the Government to court for failing to stop this environmental pollution.

At their Great British Beach Clean in September this year, the MCS found sewage related pollution on 73 per cent of the beaches they surveyed in England.

Luk: A polluted, toxic soup

Sandy Luk of MCS writes,

“It hardly needs saying that this is not good for the health of our seas. Plastic, chemicals and bacteria are all part of the cocktail of pollution that makes up untreated sewage spills.

“It won’t matter if we have the most effective management of marine protected areas, or the most sustainable fisheries management in the world (both key Marine Conservation Society ocean goals) if the sea is a polluted, toxic soup.”

Plan fails to offer solution

In August, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) published its new ‘Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan’ for England, but its proposals to tackle the problem fail to offer a solution to sewage spills from storm overflows.

Here are the MCS’s concerns about the Plan:

  • It virtually excludes most coastal waters (except for bathing waters), with some types of marine protected areas and shellfish waters totally excluded. This means around 600 storm overflows are not covered by the Plan and water companies will therefore continue to be able to dump uncontrolled amounts of sewage directly into English seas and onto beaches – completely legally.
  • The proposed time frames lack urgency, long-stop targets are being set for 2050, and the earliest, most urgent, targets will not have to be met until 2035.
  • There are no targets to implement upstream solutions or to stop harmful pollutants, including chemicals and microplastics, at source.

Sandy Luk of the MCS writes,

“In our consultation response in March, we pointed all of this out and proposed solutions.

“The plan has not been amended since the consultation.”

Government dismissed MCS’s concerns

In early August, the MCS met with DEFRA to draw their attention to the urgency of these issues and recommend strong action.

To their utter amazement, the Government dismissed its concerns, claiming that storm overflows don’t harm estuaries and coastal waters because the sea dilutes the sewage.

This is,

“A ridiculous statement showing either a complete lack of understanding of the impact of the cocktail of plastics, chemicals and pathogens in raw sewage on marine life, or a complete disregard and disrespect for the importance of that marine life.”

No response to open letter to DEFRA

Driven by frustration, the MCS wrote an open letter to DEFRA to highlight their concerns and demand more information on the impacts of the Plan on coastal communities, who had lobbied so hard for DEFRA to address coastal sewage spills.

“To date, we have had no response to our open letter.”

Legal action as last resort

Now, having run out of all other options, the MSC is having to resort to legal action. It is joining forces with the Good Law Project (GLP), an oyster business and a surfer. GLP is setting up a crowdfunding campaign. On its Website, it writes:

“This is one of the biggest environmental scandals of our times. But the Government is failing to put a stop to it.

“We need urgent action to protect our precious and biodiverse ecosystems and to safeguard everyone’s right to safely enjoy our beaches and waterways for generations to come.

“We are joining forces …to compel the Government to rewrite its Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan to impose much tighter deadlines on water companies to clean up their act. We are also in discussions with other potential claimants, who may be added to the claim later.”

What is the Good Law Project?

Good Law Project (GLP) is a not for profit organization, independent of any commercial interests, and funded mainly by members of the public. Its mission is to protect the environment, uphold democracy and defend the interests of marginalized groups.

GLP recently succeeded in forcing the Government to totally rethink their Net Zero strategy.