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My latest column in the local press (somehow missed out of the print edition of the Midweek Herald):
Town Council ‘declines to support’ Green Wedge development plan
Seaton Town Council last night ‘declined to support’ the scheme to build 130 houses in the Green Wedge between the town and Colyford. In a confusing meeting, councillors rowed back from the in-principle support given to the plan by a poorly attended meeting of their planning committee, citing flooding problems and the ‘dangerous’ Colyford Road.
50 objectors attended the meeting along with representatives of the developers. When I was cut off in mid-sentence by the chair (Cllr Amrik Singh), Julian Thompson, Mayor of Colyford, intervened to take over my speech, at which the chair was persuaded to allow me to finish.
Cllr Marcus Hartnell, who abstained, continues to believe that Highways may solve the problems of Colyford Road, but I was categorically assured when I was County Councillor, by the Neighbourhood Highways Officer, that there was not room to install pavements on the section which is missing them.
A Bakers Estates representative told the meeting that they would enter a legally binding agreement with EDDC for the proposed affordable housing. What the meeting was not told is that a financial viability assessment is a legal means for them to get out of their agreement, as many developers do all the time and as happened with the Tesco site.
Seaton Town Council to reconsider Green Wedge planning application – after public meeting’s request
After Tuesday’s public meeting attended by over 150 residents – which almost unanimously opposed application 22/2781/MOUT – on Thursday I wrote (as the meeting had asked me to) to the Town Mayor, Town Clerk and councillors asking the full Council to reconsider their planning committee’s support for the bid. I drew their attention to the Environment Agency’s objection on grounds of flood risk (see the text of my email below).
I didn’t get a reply but on Friday, the Council posted on the planning portal: “In light of comments submitted by the Environment Agency on 20 February the Town Council would like to reconsider the application. It is hoped that a meeting can be held on Monday 6 March and any comments could be submitted by the end of that week or the beginning of the following week.”
I also got an email from Cllr Marcus Hartnell saying: “Since the meeting … further information has been received from the Environment Agency (EA) concerning flood risk. This is of concern to me, and recognising the overwhelming consensus from those who attended the public meeting, and to ensure the response from Seaton Town Council is robust, I have put forward a motion that the planning application is reconsidered and debated at the Full Council meeting on 6th March. My motion was sent to the Town Clerk yesterday and is now confirmed to be included on the agenda.”
THE MEETING ON 6th MARCH IS OPEN TO THE PUBLIC – the agenda is still to be published.
HERE’S MY EMAIL:
Dear Amrik, Jules and councillors,
I write at the request of a public meeting about this development, held on Tuesday 21st February in the Gateway, which I chaired. The meeting of over 150 Seaton and Colyford residents was unanimous, apart from Cllr Marcus Hartnell, in opposing this development.
The meeting expressed its disappointment that Seaton Town Council’s Planning Committee, attended by only four out of its seven members, had voted to recommend approving the development in principle (subject only to Highways concerns), despite strong opposition from the public. Our meeting was reminded by several former town councillors that the Town Council had consistently opposed applications for development on this site in the past, in line with the vast majority of local opinion as well as the adopted Local Plan.
We feel that the Planning Committee did not fully consider the range of issues that are raised by this proposal. Indeed I am informed that apart from Cllr Hartnell no member actually spoke to the issues. The Committee was unaware, for example, that concerns about flooding due to the development, raised by local residents, have been reinforced by the Environment Agency’s objection to it on grounds of its inadequate Flood Risk Assessment.
As I recall previous proposals for this site (and other major developments), in view of their importance to the town and the strength of public feeling, have been considered by the full Town Council. I therefore assume that in line with usual practice, the Planning Committee’s minutes will be on the agenda of the next Town Council meeting for its consideration, before any response is submitted to EDDC.
We request that the full Council then take that opportunity to revise the Town Council’s recommendation. I wish to notify you that I and other participants in Tuesday’s meeting intend to attend the Council to speak on this matter.
Please confirm that time will be provided in your next full Council for proper consideration of this matter which has aroused wide public concern.
My objection to the proposal for a housing estate in the Seaton-Colyford Green Wedge
I have submitted the following objection. Please submit your own, in your own words, selecting the issues that are most important to you – no need to go into as much detail as I have. We now have around 100 objections but we need more!
Application number 22/2781/MOUT: Land Adjacent To Harepath Road, Seaton EX12 2WH
On 21 February 2023 I chaired, as a former County Councillor for Seaton and Colyton, a meeting of over 150 Seaton and Colyford residents who were almost unanimously opposed to this application (only one person was not opposed). Many reasons were given for opposing the building of a housing estate on this site, but some fundamental issues stand out. In this objection I why the proposal contravenes the Local Plan and the Council should reject the proposal.
- None of the land proposed for housing is allocated for this purpose in the plan, and much of it is outside the Seaton Built Up Area Boundary. Since this is classed as Countryside, the proposal is contrary to Strategy 7 of the Plan, and since it is part of the Seaton and Colyford Green Wedge, the proposal is contrary to Strategy 8. The scheme will bring Seaton’s urban area right up to the A3052, virtually closing the Green Wedge between Seaton and Colyford on the Harepath Road side, and creating a precedent for filling in the Green Wedge altogether.
- The proposed housing estate will bring suburban development close to the northern end of Seaton Wetlands, opposite its main entrance at the Cemetery, harming wildlife (including but not only bats) as well as their attractiveness for residents and visitors alike. This is contrary to the Local Plan’s commitment to Seaton’s environment: “Seaton’s outstanding natural environment especially its wetlands is its most precious and defining asset, and policies for the conservation, enhancement and sensitive management of the landscape, heritage and wildlife of the area will be prominent.”
- The development therefore also contradicts the Local Plan’s view of Seaton’s economic future: “Longer term growth of tourism, especially green tourism, is a fundamental objective to be promoted and we will seek to enhance the social and community facilities of the town. The Axe wetlands, Dorset and East Devon Coast World Heritage Site (Jurassic Coast) and surrounding exceptional coastline will be key environmental assets that will be integral to the future success of the town.” This impact is therefore is contrary to Strategy 25 (Development at Seaton) which states, “we will promote Seaton’s role as an important ‘green’ tourism destination on the Dorset and East Devon Coast World Heritage Site (Jurassic Coast)”, and to Strategy 33, on tourism.
- Contrary to the applicants’ claim that “the proposed site is readily accessible by non-car modes of travel including walking, cycling, bus and train”, there is no train service in Seaton, bus services have deteriorated, and the site is not sustainable for pedestrians. The walking distance to the centre of Seaton is approximately 1.5 km or 25 minutes average walking time, compared to the accepted 800 metre norm; moreover the most direct route via Colyford Road is unsafe as I explain below. The site is also more than 800 metres from the GP practices, local schools and Seaton Hospital. A suggestions which has been made for a new crossing to assist the new residents to access the Stop Line Way Multi-Purpose Trail would not solve this problem since this route would lengthen the journey to most facilities still further, and so is not an answer to everyday travel issues. The proposal is therefore contrary to Policy TC2 which states, “New development should be located so as to be accessible by pedestrians, cyclists and public transport and also well related to compatible land uses so as to minimise the need to travel by car.” Seaton needs development on brownfield sites near the centre, from which residents will use town-centre businesses and facilities, not edge-of-town developments that will send residents off in their cars to shop in other areas.
- The development will increase car movements on the narrow and winding Colyford Road. This is without pavements on some sections and is therefore unsafe for pedestrians. I asked Highways to investigate this issue when I was County Councillor and it was concluded that because of the width of the road, itself constrained by the buildings on either side, it was not possible to provide the necessary pavements. The proposal is therefore contrary to Policy TC7 which states that permission will not be granted if “the traffic generated by the development would be detrimental to the safe and satisfactory operation of the local highway network”. The applicants’ transport assessment recorded vehicle movements on a school day outside the main holiday period, although Seaton is a seaside tourist town with greatly increased traffic numbers during holiday periods. For example, Seaton Tramway had 93.5k visitors in 2022. The transport assessment was also undertaken at a time when the tourist attraction Seaton Jurassic was closed. This is due to re-open, bringing substantial numbers of additional visitors.
- The eastern side of the development is likely to cause additional run-off to the south of the site, acknowledged as an area of flood risk where existing properties (in streets including Buttercup Close, Primrose Way and Celandine Close) have suffered from flooding in recent years. While the development itself may be in Flood Zone 1, the proposal is contrary to Policy EN21 which states that a flood risk assessment must demonstrate “that the development will be safe, without increasing flood risk elsewhere and, where possible, will reduce flood risk overall.” As the Environment Agency confirms in its objection, the applicants have not submitted a satisfactory flood risk assessment.
- The proposal to add up to 130 dwellings in Seaton comes after the town has already delivered or is in the process of delivering more new dwellings than required by the local plan, with additional dwellings expected in other smaller developments. In these circumstances the proposed number of houses on this site is contrary to the local plan’s commitment that ‘there will be limited housing development in the short term beyond that already proposed in the regeneration area’ and that the authority will ‘restrict any further significant housing developments beyond the existing Built-up Area Boundary by locating the majority of the required 150 houses within the existing town.’
- Strategy 25 recognised that in Seaton “community facilities, school, health, social and cultural, were seen as borderline or inadequate with no capacity to serve additional residents.” The pressures have only become more acute since the plan was adopted in 2016: GP appointments are difficult to obtain and the school had only two spare places at the beginning of 2023. The development underway at Seaton Quay and the final tranche of houses at Pebble Beach will already add to these pressures. Since the application envisages that CIL money will be devoted to the football facilities, it is unlikely to generate significant resources for basic infrastructure, contrary to Strategy 50, which states: “It is essential that in areas where substantial new development is proposed, and in areas lacking facilities, that provision be made for community and education facilities.’
- The Council’s Landscape Architect noted in response to a previous application submitted for this site stated that there was an underestimation of its visual presence especially within long distant views: “any development within the green wedge would extend Seaton’s suburban edge towards Colyford substantially and offer views from the wider area of an extended roofscape. It would reduce the travel time between Colyford and Seaton and change the gateway into and out of Seaton, giving it a suburban feel due to the visibility of the built form even with mitigation measures.” The photograph on page 14 of the applicants’ Design and Access Statement shows precisely how beautiful these views are; a housing estate in the middle of them will destroy them forever. The development is therefore contrary to Strategy 46 which proposes protection for landscapes of value, and since it will build right up to the boundary of the Coastal Preservation Area, it is contrary to Strategy 44 which states that development ‘will not be allowed if it would damage the undeveloped/open status of the designated area or where visually connected to any adjoining areas.’
- This application proposes a new football pitch outside the Built Up Area Boundary, but as the Landscape Architect pointed out in relation to a previous application, EDDC’s Playing Pitch Strategy “identifies a need for minimum two adult football pitches and one youth (9v9) football pitch over-marking the second adult pitch for Seaton’s football provision.” Indeed, the Strategy also identifies a shortfall for cricket provision. It would be more appropriate for the adjacent land which is allocated for recreational and employment use in the plan to be used to meet the need for new pitches.
- The application promises ’25 per cent affordable housing’ but since the development is outside the BUAB, 66 per cent should be offered. Moreover ‘affordable’ houses for sale are often out of reach of local people, and the main need is for social housing for rent near the centre of the town, for families priced out of by second-homeowners and holiday rentals. As the meeting on 21st February was reminded, at the Tesco site in Seaton, a promise of 40 per cent ‘affordable housing’ was reduced to 25 per cent and then to 0 per cent. The Council should not trade Seaton’s environment for such unreliable promises.
The applicants argue that while the proposal is outside existing planning policies, these are “out of date” because the Council can only demonstrate 4.68 years’ “housing supply” when the requirement is for 5 years’. Yet this is a minor projected shortfall and major harm to the local environment should not be perpetrated on this basis. As the Planning Appeal Inspector put it in 2015, when rejecting an appeal against a previous refusal for this site, “although EDDC’s housing shortfall was significant it was arguable relatively short term whereas the erosion of separation between Colyford and Seaton would be permanent and should not be acceded to lightly.”
In fact the applicants’ reliance on housing supply policies, which have led, as Cllr Arnott has put it, to “inflated housing need numbers” in East Devon, itself appears to be out of date. The Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities announced on 6 December 2022 that he was considering abolishing the obligation for local authorities to maintain a rolling five-year housing land supply where local plans are considered up-to-date.
The applicants also argue that the existing Local Plan policies should be set aside because part of the site is provisionally allocated for housing in the emerging Local Plan 2020-2040 on which the Council has recently consulted. However the land allocations in this draft of the Plan have been included only to satisfy the outdated five-year housing land supply requirement. In this case, moreover, the Planning Committee cannot rely on the provisional allocation because it does not have the support of the local community, as the recent meeting convincingly demonstrated.
Since the government has recently indicated that housing need target policy will be modified, the Council’s Strategic Planning Committee has rightly resolved that no further discussions on potential sites take place until the Government makes its decision. In this situation, it would obviously be completely inappropriate for the Council to approve the present application.
Very similar applications have been rejected by EDDC after large-scale opposition from local residents, and the Council’s decisions have been upheld on appeal. People in the Seaton and Colyford area trust that EDDC will protect the Wetlands and the Green Wedge against this new proposal.
Over 150 residents protest against Green Wedge housing estate
On Tuesday night I chaired a meeting in the Gateway of over 150 Seaton and Colyford residents who were virtually unanimous in their opposition to the proposal for up to 130 houses to be built on a site in the Green Wedge between the two communities, and very near to Seaton Wetlands.
The odd man out was Conservative councillor Marcus Hartnell, who had persuaded four members of Seaton Town Council’s planning committee (three others were absent) to approve the development in principle.
The meeting asked me to write to the Town Clerk protesting against this move, which is contrary to the Town Council’s longstanding policy of opposition to building on this site. The meeting also asked me to write to Cllr Eileen Wragg, chair of EDDC’s Planning Committee.
The meeting urged everyone to send individual objections to EDDC as soon as possible: the reference number is 22/2781/MOUT and you can LINK TO IT HERE.
Seaton meeting on Tuesday 21st to discuss Harepath Road planning application
Concerned Seaton residents will be meeting at The Gateway (Seaton Town Hall) at 6.30 on Tuesday to discuss Baker Estates’ planning application for land between Harepath Road and Colyford Road. All are welcome!
You can find the application on the EDDC planning site, reference 22/2781/MOUT.
Residents’ chance to influence local plan as policy context shifts
The government has finally given way on their dictatorial housing targets which force local councils to allow developments in inappropriate locations. It’s too soon to know what this will mean for EDDC’s new local plan, currently under consultation, but it should give residents a new opportunity to make their views effective.
There is a consultation exhibition in Seaton Town Hall (Gateway) on 15th December. A group of local residents concerned about the plans to allow development in the Green Wedge near to the Wetlands have produced this leaflet to alert local people to the issues. Please go along and have a look at what is being proposed and then express your views to EDDC.
EDDC’s new Local Plan out for consultation
The latest stage of the new Local Plan can be found HERE.
Consultation runs from 7 November 2022 to 15 January 2023. This is your chance to have a say.
Public exhibitions: Where and when?
- Thursday 1 December, Axminster, Guildhall, 3pm – 7pm
- Thursday 15 December, Seaton, Gateway, 3pm – 7pm
Potential sites for development in Seaton are outlined as follows:
- Land at Barnards Hill Lane for around 40 dwellings. In order to ensure no adverse effect on the integrity of the Beer Quarry and Caves SAC, suitable avoidance/ mitigation/compensation measures will need to be identified.
- Land to the south of Harepath Hill for around 70 dwellings. In order to ensure no adverse effect on the integrity of the Beer Quarry and Caves SAC, suitable avoidance/ mitigation/compensation measures will need to be identified.
- Land off Harepath Road for around 100 dwellings and 2.2 hectares of employment land. The employment land is located in the field immediately north of the existing Harepath Road Industrial Estate. In order to ensure no adverse effect on the integrity of the Beer Quarry and Caves SAC, suitable avoidance/mitigation/compensation measures will need to be identified.
- Land at Clay Common is allocated for around seven dwellings.
Seaton Hospital to be one of Devon’s new GP-led Covid vaccination centres
With this good news, and Citizens Advice moving to the Waffle House in the hospital, it feels as though we have finally secured its future in the near term.
But we still need to be vigilant – ‘selling public buildings’ is apparently one of Rishi Sunak’s austerity options.