EDDC Tories appear in Private Eye’s “Rotten Boroughs” column

From the blog of DCC EDA Independent Councillor Martin Shaw:

Private Eye goes to town on EDDC Tories’ handout to developers of the Knowle

Oh dear – and now “The Independent Group” led by EDDC Leader Ben Ingham has chosen to cosy up to Tories, rather than East Devon Alliance independents, whom he has frozen out.

With current Councillor Ingham having the been a member of all 3 groups and Leader of 2 of them (former Tory, former Leader of East Devon Alliance and current leader of ‘The Independent Group’) he really has to decide which side of the fence and his cohort are on!

Or maybe he has already decided – given that he appointed a Tory as Chairman of the Development Management Committee, who then used his casting vote to push through a controversial planning applucation in Axminster, opposed by Axminster EDA councillors on safety and pollution grounds:

https://eastdevonwatch.org/2019/07/19/eddc-tory-dmc-chairman-uses-his-casting-vote-in-controversial-planning-application/

Reality check needed for some of his colleagues, perhaps?

EDDC Tory DMC Chairman uses his casting vote in controversial planning application

“Plans for 10 new homes in Axminster have been approved, despite fears children could be flattened by lorry drivers who wouldn’t notice them until ‘they heard the screams’.

East Devon District Council’s development management committee via the chairman’s casting vote gave the go-ahead last week for outline plans for 10 homes to be built on land adjacent to the co-op supermarket in Axminster.

Serious concerns about highways safety had been raised by councillors as the front doors of the houses would open almost onto the road delivery drivers heading to the Co-op use.

But the committee heard that Devon County Council’s highways department had no concerns over the plans and hadn’t objected, and committee chairman Cllr Mike Howe used his casting vote to approve the application, saying: “I have to vote in favour as I cannot see a reason for refusal that would stand up and would not cost this council money at an appeal.”

Cllr Paul Hayward had said that he was very concerned about the safety aspects of the plan. He said: “This is building family houses next to a car park and the front doors will open directly onto the path of a reversing HGV from the Co-op. The lorry driver would only be focused on reversing into his spot and he wouldn’t even notice if a child run out of the doors after a ball or a dog or if they saw a friend across the road.

“A child wouldn’t even be on the radar until he heard the screams. Safety is paramount and I cannot conceive a worse place to build family houses.”

Cllr Sarah Jackson added: “The development is situated opposite a car park and alongside the car park access road. Family properties are likely to be occupied by young children who lack road sense and can easily run out unexpectedly, particularly as they may not perceive this as a road in the traditional sense.

“Equally, articulated lorries have incredibly limited visibility and when turning may not see a child in time. The nearest playing field/recreation areas are at Foxhill and Jubilee field. Both would require children to cross several roads.

“It’s worth noting that the play park at Jubilee Field is currently out of action due to a legal dispute and it is unknown as to when this will be returned to proper use, so it is therefore likely that children will end up playing in the car park.

“I just question the logic of putting family homes right next to somewhere where lorries will be reversing in and out to make their deliveries.”

Cllr Tom Wright added his concerns about kids running out and being run over, and added: “I also have environmental concerns. Encouraging people to live in an area which is being heavily polluted and there will be lorries running with their diesel engines is unbelievable and an absolute nonsense.”

And Cllr Paul Arnott said the development was the kind of thing you may see in inner-city London, but that ‘even there it would be turned down on environmental grounds.”

Planning officers though had recommended that the scheme, which would consist of three blocks, be approved.

Six homes would be on a terrace row which fronts on to the car park, with two semi-detached properties situated adjacent to the supermarket building and two further properties fronting onto the proposed car park for the new three bedroom homes.

Development manager Chris Rose said: “The application seeks to address the two reasons for refusal on a previous application which related to the unsuitable access and conflict with the loading area to Co-op and the lack of affordable housing contribution.

“The development can be accommodated without harm in terms of amenity, highway safety, visual impact or loss of character. Although these types of development would usually result in an offsite contributions toward affordable housing, in this instance viability information has been submitted which has demonstrated that such a contribution would render the development unviable.

“The proposal adequately addresses the two previous reasons for refusal on the previous application and as such is considered to meet the social, economic and environmental and thus achieves sustainable development.

Cllr Helen Parr proposed that the application be approved in line with the recommendation, saying: “It is going to be difficult to refuse this on highways safety grounds as Devon County Council’s highways team are satisfied that there is appropriate separation. I don’t see how we can object on highways grounds if they won’t support us. The other reason why development was refused was on affordable housing but there is now evidence that it would be unviable.”

Cllr Eileen Wragg seconded the proposal to approve the plans, saying: “If we don’t, I think that this is one that we would fail to defend on appeal.”

The vote to approve the application saw seven councillors vote in favour and seven against, before Cllr Howe broke the deadlock with his casting vote in favour of approval.”

https://www.devonlive.com/news/devon-news/homes-approved-despite-fears-reversing-3111980

Tory Councillor blames Tory Government for abandoning Axminster and pleads with Parish and Swire for help

Axminster Conservative Councillor Ian Hall has challenged the area’s two Conservative MPs to press for more credible support from Westminster after the town suffered another in a series of economic setbacks.

The Conservative district councillor, who was re-elected to represent the town in May, despite his party losing control of East Devon after 45 years, says he feels the Tory administration in Westminster has abandoned the town.

This follows news that the Government has rebuffed Axminster’s application for help from a Future High Streets Fund grant at the second stage.

The former Conservative administration at EDDC applied to Westminster in March for Axminster to receive a share of the £675 million set aside as part of Government’s Our Plan for the High Street.

It became clear that Axminster had lost out when the shortlist of successful bids for up to £150,000 was announced last week, with the nearest places to go forward being Taunton and Yeovil.

Ian Hall said: “Axminster seems to be the forgotten town of East Devon when it comes to any kind of support from Central Government. There’s been a catalogue of decisions going against us, which have left those of us who are working hard to revitalise the town during challenging economic times feeling like nobody in power cares about us.

POSITIVE ACTION

“I’ve now contacted our two local MPs – Neil Parish and Hugo Swire – challenging them to press colleagues in Government to recognise that Axminster will be in dire straits if it doesn’t see some positive action”.

In March, Ian Hall described a Whitehall decision to backtrack on an earlier promise of a £10 million grant for the proposed Axminster Relief Road as a ‘betrayal’ because changing the grant to a loan rendered the entire Axminster Masterplan unviable.

Since then, there’s been more gloom for Axminster, with Goulds announcing an autumn closure of the town’s Trinity House department store and McColls newsagent in Victoria Place expected to cease trading.

An angry Ian Hall said: “Enough is enough. Axminster is fighting for its life at the moment. There are people in this town – and I’m one of them – working incredibly hard to keep ourselves afloat against really tough odds. But all we’re getting from this Government [HIS GOVERNMENT!!!] is one kick in the teeth after another.

FIGHTING

“There’s only so much people here on the ground can do. I’m fighting Axminster’s corner at district and county level. But our local efforts can only make a difference if we get support from central funds. No one at Westminster seems to understand the desperate position we are in – let alone care about it. If you take away people’s hope, why shouldn’t they just give up?

“I’m hoping the two men who local people elected to protect our interests [!] will start rattling some cages in Westminster. We will soon have a new Prime Minister and a fresh administration in Whitehall. I’m challenging our MPs to get Axminster on their radar and to secure some tangible recognition of our town’s fantastic record of self-help.

“Meanwhile, we also have a new administration running East Devon. I also challenge them to do their bit, as a matter of urgency, to help our fantastic town to thrive and prosper”.

Crown Estates rented home? Beware – it could be sold from under you

Be warned, Axminster.

“Scores of complaints have been made about rented properties on royal land and tenants have faced more than 100 evictions, a Guardian investigation has found, prompting anger over how the Queen’s £14bn property portfolio is managed.

The crown estate, which helps bankroll the Queen by giving the monarch 25% of its profits, has sought to evict 113 tenants in the past five years so they can sell their homes for profit.

It comes after it has emerged on Tuesday that the taxpayer has footed a £2.4m bill to renovate Frogmore Cottage, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s official residence, according to royal accounts. While the royals have no direct oversight role in crown estate’s dealings, Prince William and Prince Charles have both spoken before about the importance of ensuring good quality housing is available for all.

Figures obtained by the Guardian show that the crown estate has received more than 100 complaints about its residential properties in just two years, including grievances over rent hikes, leaks, delays in repairs and faulty electrical goods. …

An investigation using data obtained through Freedom of Information laws reveals that:

The crown estate has made £1.1bn selling off more than 700 residential and commercial properties since 2014, with one private firm subsequently hiking rent well above inflation.

More than a quarter of a million pounds has been banked by the crown estate in housing benefit from just seven hard-up tenants.

Four tenants have sued the crown estate for breach of contract, including one claim worth half a million pounds. …

Prince Charles has also spoken out in the past in favour of affordable housing for low-paid workers. In 2003, he said in a speech that “the lack of affordable rural housing is one of the most important issues facing the countryside”. …

The crown estate issued 113 “notices to quit” to residential tenants from 2014 to 2018, including 97 in rural properties, nine in Windsor and seven in central London.

Other figures also reveal that the crown estate gained more than a quarter of a million pounds in housing benefit from just seven tenants. People renting in Camden, Runnymede and Windsor and Maidenhead have let property on royal land using housing benefit paid directly to the crown estate.

Since 2014, £253,092 has been paid to the crown estate in housing benefit. The majority of the payments were for five tenants in Camden, north London. …”

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/jun/30/crown-estate-faces-tenants-anger-over-rent-hikes-evictions-and-repair-delays?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

Cross-county working for health care: Axminster, Seaton, Lyme Regis

“Three towns are joining forces in a bid to improve healthcare provision in the Axe and Lym valleys.

Seaton, Axminster and Lyme Regis have formed a powerful alliance which will represent a combined population of some 40,000 residents.

Working together as the Axe Valley Health Forum the group believes it will have a stronger voice.

The new organisation will work with the NHS on the delivery of a health and care model that fits its demographic.

The vision is to establish a ‘place based system of care’ to meet the specific needs of the people of the Axe Valley where all voices within the community are listened to and everyone has an opportunity to participate in the design of services.

The aim will be to improve health and wellbeing for everyone living within the place identified as the Axe Valley – this includes Seaton, Axminster, Lyme Regis and the surrounding communities.

The Forum will consist of elected community representatives, health and social care providers and volunteers. …”

https://www.midweekherald.co.uk/news/seaton-axminster-and-lyme-join-forces-1-6099018

“Stronger Towns Fund” not new money

“Theresa May’s £1.6 billion ’shameless bung’ to MPs in a bid to get them to back her Brexit deal is not new money, it has been revealed.

Much of Government’s ‘Stronger Towns Fund’ Much will be distributed to Leave-voting Labour heartlands to give communities a boost after leaving the EU.

Angry Labour MPs accused the Prime Minister of trying to woo them to back her plans ahead of this week’s failed second vote.

But the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) have confirmed it is not new money and will be met from existing departmental budgets. …”

https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/theresa-mays-shameless-16m-brexit-14139714

Have your say on Axminster’s future

“Community group Light Up Axminster is inviting people to have their say about the town’s future development during a programme of ‘Community Conversations’.

Funded by an Awards for All grant from the National Lottery the group is exploring the things that matter to those that live, work and visit the town.

The aim is to highlight the highs and lows of community life and how the town can shape its future together.

The ‘Community Conversations’ will take place at a range of venues and times throughout March and early April and will be led by Light Up Axminster’s Cindy Furse with film-maker Rich Tomlinson and Actiontrack’s Nick Brace.

Anyone attending is asked to take a photograph, picture, poem, drawing or description of their favourite thing about living in Axminster and the thing that they would most like to change.

These will be used to create a picture of what is important in the community. For anyone who can’t attend the themed sessions there will be a number of drop-in sessions, too.

Contact Cindy Furse on 07930 800225 or email cindy@lightupaxminster.co.uk for more information, or join the conversation on Facebook/LightUpAxminster

Sessions are:

Thursday March 14: The Light House (formerly Marle Gallery):

9am to 10am: drop in; 10am to 12pm – regeneration, development and growth; 1pm to 3pm – education and employment; 3pm to 4pm: drop in.

Friday, March 15, Axminster Guildhall: 9am to 10am: drop in;

10am to 12pm – sport and leisure; 1pm to 3pm – arts, culture and heritage; 4pm to 5pm – drop in.

Tuesday March 19: The Light House: 12pm to 2pm – spaces, places and facilities; 2pm to 3pm – drop in; 6pm to 7pm – drop in; 7pm to 9pm – health and wellbeing.

Wednesday March 20: Millwey Community Hall: 12pm to 1pm – drop in; 1pm to 3pm – education and employment.

Wednesday March 20: The Light House: 5pm to 7pm – drop in; 7pm to 9pm – sport and leisure.

Friday March 29: The Light House: 9am to 10am: Drop in; 10am to 12pm – health and wellbeing; 1pm to 3pm – spaces, places and facilities; 4pm to 5pm – drop in.

Tuesday April 2: The Light House: 7pm to 9pm – arts, culture and heritage.

Thursday April 4: Millwey Community Hall: 6pm to 7pm – drop in; 7pm to 9pm – regeneration, development and growth.”

https://www.midweekherald.co.uk/news/community-conversations-planned-to-help-shape-the-future-1-5934595

Shock news: ‘Government Agency ‘U-turn’ puts Axminster relief road at risk…’

EDDC press release:

“The £17m relief road and 850 homes, in the Masterplan for the east of Axminster, have been put at risk by a late change in Homes England funding.

East Devon District Council has reacted with dismay to news that government agency Homes England has changed how it is assessing the council’s £10 million bid for Axminster relief road.

The council bid for a non-repayable grant in 2017. This bid was accepted in February 2018, to be used to help fund the delivery of the crucial new relief road and associated homes, employment land and community facilities.

The council has now been told by Homes England that a new condition of the funding is that the money must be repaid by the development.

Council leader Cllr Ian Thomas is enormously concerned that the decision potentially puts the Axminster Masterplan in jeopardy.

He said: “We are dismayed by this fundamental change of mind. It throws the whole Axminster scheme up in the air and means that the effort we and our partners have put into this critical scheme over the last 12 months may have been completely wasted.

“Since I was first elected leader, I have been absolutely consistent that we don’t simply build homes, we build sustainable communities. The Axminster Masterplan is an excellent example of such a community. It would bring enormous social and economic benefit to Axminster, by delivering high quality affordable housing and employment land, together with other essential community facilities. After this decision from Homes England, it feels like we are back to square one. It’s bitterly disappointing.

“We understand that our scheme is one of a number across the country where similar funding decision changes are being made, as Homes England assesses the viability of schemes on a fundamentally different basis, to that applied in our original agreement with them.

“Our council is now considering its options. This includes taking legal advice to investigate whether we may have strong grounds to challenge Homes England’s decision.

The masterplan for 850 homes with employment land, open spaces and community facilities was endorsed by the council’s strategic planning committee in January. The plan was based on the money from Homes England not being repaid and even then, the development could only be made viable by expanding the site area and increasing the number of homes proposed to around 850. The amount of affordable housing required from the additional 200 homes was also reduced from 50% to 25%.

Following a decision by Homes England last week, it would appear that the development will have to repay the £10 million of government “grant” and the masterplan is no longer viable in its current form.

The council must also consider revisiting the masterplan to understand the consequences of the decision for the amount of affordable housing, employment land and community facilities to make the development viable again.

Throughout the masterplan process, the council has always been clear that the urban extension of Axminster is not just about delivering housing and the relief road but is about helping the town grow as a community in a sustainable way supported by the services and facilities that it needs.

The council is frustrated that Homes England’s change in approach puts this all at significant risk and could make the development undeliverable. It will be seeking an urgent meeting with Homes England to discuss this case and other implications for investment in the district.”