The battle for Pendeen, the modest but attractive seafront bungalow on Castle Hill which its owner wants to replace by a block of 3 flats, was lost at East Devon’s Development Management Committee yesterday. The DMC had refused a very similar application in April (by 7-6), but the same committee has now approved the replacement (6-4, with three Independent members unfortunately absent).
Seaton’s voice was once more unanimous: Marcus Hartnell for the town council, his fellow district councillor Jim Knight, Pendeen neighbour Jean Hoskin, and myself for the many individual objectors, backed up by Peter Burrows on the committee, all opposed the application, but we were overridden by Tory councillors from other areas.
Planning officers’ distortions
How could local opinion be so ignored, and the committee’s own recent decision be set aside? The simple answer is that planning officers, who supported the original application but were overruled by the majority of members, provided ammunition for councillors supporting the bid to overturn the first decision.
Two disturbing distortions in the officers’ case were highlighted by councillors who opposed the application. First, they quoted the National Planning Policy Framework’s paragraph 60 to the effect that we ‘should not stifle innovation, originality or initiative’. However Councillor Mike Allen (Conservative, Honiton) objected that they had omitted the conclusion to the NPPF paragraph: ‘It is, however, proper to seek to promote or reinforce local distinctiveness.’ Allen said that he did not appreciate officers quoting selectively to buttress a particular case.
Secondly, the officer in charge repeatedly displayed a photo, originally produced by the applicant, labelled to show the proposed flat-roofed block together with two other flat roofs in the view from Seafield Gardens. Peter Burrows twice pointed out that there were no photos provided at all from the public viewpoints (Coastal Path, Cliff Gardens) that would be damaged by the building. (Moreover the photo that was highlighted by the officer had cut out the row of red-roofed houses on Castle Hill of which Pendeen forms part.)
Councillors’ failure to carefully consider the objections
How did the committee come to its decision despite these failings in the pro-application case being pointed out? The majority of members simply did not respond to either Allen’s or Burrows’ points, they did not respond to most of the objections made by the Seaton representatives, and they did not address point by point the 3 good reasons for refusal that their own committee had given as recently as April.
Mostly these councillors thought it sufficient to give their opinions: Councillor Alan Dent, the former Design and Heritage Champion, ‘liked’ the proposed building, his successor, Christopher Pepper, agreed with him without expanding his own view, and other members chipped in briefly before voting the proposal through.
The bias of the planning system
Why do councillors act like this? They are not simply biased against Seaton, as the same thing happens to applications from other areas. They are not necessarily corrupt (in the sense highlighted by the Graham Brown case). The key, probably, is that they don’t want the trouble of appeals, highlighted as a danger by the officers in this case. Group-think does the rest: the Tories are happy to let individual councillors like Jim and Marcus speak for their constituents, and more independent minds like Mike Allen have their say, as long as the rest of them can vote us down.
We have no real redress against the Committee’s failure to consider the matter carefully or fairly. The applicant, if he had lost, could have appealed. Objectors can only seek judicial review – a right the Tory Government is trying to curtail – which would cost probably tens of thousands of pounds if EDDC spent taxpayers’ money to cover their own failings.
Unemployment on the rise across East Devon, with the biggest increase (19%) recorded in Seaton.
A controversial application to build two houses in the rear garden of the Lyme Bay View Residential Home, Old Beer Road (seen in the picture from the SW Coastal Path to Beer) has been withdrawn. This follows the withdrawal of a similar proposal to build three houses in the garden of Pembroke House, Beer Road, earlier in the year.
These proposals both involved overdevelopment of the sites and affected views of the coast and White Cliff (both adjoin the open field at the top of Beer Road which affords the best views on the west side of Seaton). Neither was environmentally sustainable, as distances from the town centre meant that occupants would inevitably rely on their cars.
Both also had access problems – the threat from coastal erosion to Old Beer Road at the Lyme Bay View entrance, and the ‘dangerous’ bend at the entrance to Pembroke House (as a previous EDDC decision described it).
Despite these withdrawals, West Seaton residents remain concerned at the pressure for inappropriate new development, also seen in the application for a block of flats at Pendeen, Castle Hill, which has been submitted in a revised form (the first application was rejected by EDDC after widespread opposition). The two ‘garden-grabbing’ applications could also return.
There is speculation that developers are planning to submit a new application to build on the ‘green wedge’ between Seaton and Colyford. Twice in recent weeks, residents have spotted people who appeared to carrying out preliminary surveys for such a proposal. The last application was defeated at the beginning of 2014 after a major campaign.
Not far from Seaton, on the road into Lyme Regis, a planning application for 120 homes in the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty has rightly been refused by EDDC. It was immediately called in by the Government (Department of Communities and Local Government – see below), but they quickly allowed the decision.
A well deserved victory for the determined campaigners to Stop the Shire Lane Development!
It appears that, whatever the decision, the Minister at the Department of Communities and Local Government had already decided to call it in.
Whilst this might be an unpopular development, it is no more or no less unpopular than many other current applications, so what has made it so special? It might, however, be the first of several applications that eventually could link Axminster to Lyme Regis.
The Devon MP is Neil Parish, the Dorset MP is Oliver Letwin, good friend of David Cameron. The site is closer to Dorset’s Lyme Regis than Devon’s Seaton and Axminster.
Following the 2015 election, Letwin remained Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster as Cameron reappointed him as an official ministerial member of the new Conservative government’s Cabinet. He has been given responsibility for overall charge and oversight of the Cabinet Office.
Wonder what they think of this really strange situation?
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No, not for the problems in the Beer Brook (which flows into Seaton Hole) which we exposed on BBC Spotlight in April (screen grab), but for another case near Bideford, where a farmer has been fined £30,000.
If the problems in the brook return, we’ll be pressing the Environment Agency for similar action. Report pollution to the EA straightaway on 0800 80 70 60, and email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This month’s Natural Seaton festival was a great success. My wife and I took the boat trip and the Undercliff walk during the weekend, and I’m more than ever convinced that this is the right way for Seaton’s tourism effort to go. The world-heritage Jurassic Coast with its dramatic red cliffs, the striking estuary, the Wetlands skirted by the Tramway, Holyford Woods – all framing a classic seaside town – it should be a winning package. I know a lot of people are sceptical about the Jurassic centre, but it really is a great chance to pull this all together and attract more visitors to the town.
However it’s still coming together, and a lot still needs to be done. The amazing Wetlands are under the radar, deliberately it appears, because the car park through the cemetery is too small (in contrast, there are fears that Seaton Jurassic may be over-provided with car parking). However I think the softly softly approach has been taken too far – no sign to the Wetlands off the A3052, no special page in the classy new Town Guide (indeed the main entrance isn’t even on its map), and not even a proper website. Google ‘Seaton Wetlands’ and you have to go through EDDC to reach the nice leaflet that they’ve produced: seaton-wetlands-leaflet-updated-apr
I was also struck that the Undercliff tours are not regularly available: the landowners apparently limit Natural England’s vehicle access to the start point. Moreover the tour focuses entirely on the physical aspects of how the Landslip happened and the flora that has established itself on Goat Island – the dramatic human story of 1839 isn’t part of it at all. I hope this is something the Seaton Jurassic displays will address, since coastal change (also erosion, for example) is one of the most vivid parts of the human story of Seaton – at least as interesting to most people as the geomorphology.
For selling Natural Seaton to reach its full potential, we still need a more joined-up approach.