Jack Rowland’s latest report gives a good rundown on many important Seaton issues

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I’m grateful to Jack for sending me this report, which was presented to Seaton Town Council last night.

Jack Rowland (right) together with Dan Ledger (left), our other Independent district councillor, and me

EDDC Councillor report for Seaton Town Council meeting on 5 September 2022

Report produced by Jack Rowland on 30 August 2022 Subjects directly related to Seaton

Racal brownfield site

The site has recently been purchased by Seaton Quay Ltd (a wholly owned subsidiary of the Rich Group who are a property investment and development company). I arranged a meeting on 23 August with the key personnel involved and invited the other EDDC Ward Councillors to attend as I wanted to hear their plans, timescales and to suggest that a joint press release should be issued at an appropriate time. By the time you read this the press release should have been issued and the development plans mirror the existing latest approved planning application as that is still live as the previous owners had cleared the site.

The new owners are keen to start work on the site as soon as possible using local contractors I understand and hopefully at long last we will see this brownfield site being developed at a key location in Seaton that will potentially encourage other inward investment to help the local economy.

Seaton Heights – Planning Ref No. 21/1782/MFUL

I continue to keep in regular contact with the site owners, Lyme Bay Leisure, regarding their plans for the site. The EDDC Landscape Architect had sent a response report to the owners in January this year following the submission of the application and now understand that only very recently has a response to that report been sent to EDDC. I’ll continue to keep in contact and also bring to the attention of the owners any instances of the site being unsecure as has frequently happened.

Hook & Parrott site

As previously reported the owners of this site, having secured planning approval at the beginning of this year, recently decided to put the site for sale having yet to submit a demolition plan to EDDC as part of the planning conditions.

I understand that a sale, subject to contract, has now been agreed.

Seaton Coach Park

As part of Cllr Haggerty’s work on achieving coach friendly status for Seaton I had obtained agreement to make the coach park free of charges. However, as many of you know this resulted in the law of unexpected consequences as the school bus companies have taken advantage of this to the detriment of tourist coaches finding spaces on many occasions.

In order to find a solution to this issue I have recently been in discussions with the recently appointed EDDC Carpark Manager and also talked to Cllr Haggerty. My idea

is to offer a limited number of hours free of charge and then make an hourly charge for subsequent hours sufficient to dissuade the school buses from using the site, but at a cost that will not deter tourist coaches. The EDDC Officer is now making arrangements to speak to the school bus companies and local businesses prior to then introducing a formal 21 day consultation period on a proposal depending on the feedback the officer receives.

Axe Valley Levelling Up Bid

The bid that includes a seafront enhancement scheme, redevelopment of the Moridunum site and development of 2 employment sites in Seaton was submitted in the timescale required and following meetings with Richard Foorde (MP for Tiverton & Honiton) who supplied his required written support shortly after he was elected on 23 June.

Moridunum site

See the comment on this site in the previous subject. In addition EDDC continue to have discussions with Fossway Transitions Ltd (FTL) regarding their development and the party wall agreement etc in connection with the Moridunum structure.

Jurassic Centre

I continue to respond on Seaton based FB sites as periodically residents raise the subject of the empty building to either ask what is happening or making suggestions as to uses for the building. I respond as the latter suggestions do not take into the facts as 40% of the original build costs were funded by DCC, the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Coastal Community Fund with clauses regarding the use of the building. If those clauses are not adhered to within 10 years of the building completion then EDDC are liable to repay the £1.68m to the funders.

The site is being commercially marketed with those clauses and has attracted interest. Once EDDC Officers have reviewed the expressions of interest and evaluated the required business cases then an options report will be presented to an EDDC Cabinet meeting potentially in October.

Public Toilets

Seaton Hole / Jurassic Bites

I continue to keep in contact with Officers to ask about the discussions between the lessees of Jurassic Bites and the adjoining toilet block. The discussions are ongoing with the lessees even though the block is being marketed for a dual use in case that produces a meaningful bid.

Thury Harcourt

An EDDC press release was issued in late June, following intervention by myself and Cllr Ledger, that contained assurances from the Leader that a public toilet provision will still be provided at this site regardless of the outcome of the current marketing campaign.

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Wider EDDC subjects within the Finance Portfolio

Motorhomes / Campervans proposed policy

In view of the pilot that has been operating in Exmouth regarding the use of suitable EDDC carparks to allow overnight motorhome / campervan parking and sleeping I chaired a working party on 11 July that involved EDDC / DCC Officers and Exmouth based Cllrs at Town, District and County level.

The outcome from the working party discussion has resulted in a proposed motorhome / campervan policy and the report is on the agenda for the EDDC Cabinet meeting on 7 September. The report is recommending that relevant EDDC towns, such as Seaton, set up their own representative working party to consider adopting the same Exmouth policy for relevant EDDC carparks, but have the ability to decide on a local charging structure based on local knowledge and requirements taking into account local private companies that provide facilities for these type of vehicles.

Carparks

The latest available data shows that almost 60% of the income is now paid by card or the Ringo app and cash now accounts for 28% with the remaining balance from permits.

Despite the reservations expressed at the time that some car park charges were doubling (bearing in mind that charges had not been increased for 10 years and during that time VAT had also increased from 17.5% to 20%) the actual income against the budgeted income almost matches and I will provide more detail on this in my next report.

In Seaton the situation regarding the “free for all” carpark following the closure of the Co-Op store and the hiatus before Aldi redesign and re-open is not helping the use of the EDDC carparks at the Underfleet.

EV charging points in EDDC carparks

Work from the 3rd parties has at long last visibly started in some EDDC carparks to install EV charging points – for example, although not operational yet, the points have been installed at the Roxburgh site in Sidmouth and at the Dolphin Way site in Colyton and the 3rd party just needs to install the required signage now.

In Seaton the lease has been signed for the spaces in the Orchard carpark and the civil engineering work is due to start the week commencing 5 September. Similar work is due to start in September at sites in Axminster, Beer, Budleigh Salterton and Honiton.

Other subjects

There are many other subjects that I have not mentioned in this report that fall outside my Finance Portfolio such as:

The EDDC allocation of £1,796,363 over 3 years for the UK Shared Prosperity Fund that has resulted in a plan being submitted on 1 August.

The current status of the work being carried via the Strategic Planning committee on the new Local Plan for East Devon.

The work that has been carried out to formulate a new strategy for Sport & Leisure and Culture & Tourism across the district.

The current pressures resulting from people hosting Ukrainian families and the lack of a Govn lead policy when the initial 6 month agreement expires soon.

The work that is being undertaken to build social housing on EDDC owned land.

If Town Councillors have related questions on any of these subjects I will either answer them at the meeting on 5 September or provide written answers subsequently.

Jack Rowland
EDDC Councillor – Seaton Ward
Portfolio Holder – Finance JRowland@eastdevon.gov.uk

Truss plans to make consumers pay back the extortionate energy bills over future years

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Byline Times’ Adam Bienkov reports:

‘Liz Truss’ plans to freeze energy bills are not what they seem.

At first glance, the plans, which were briefed to multiple newspapers last night, look fairly similar to those backed by Labour and the Lib Dems last month.

However, while Truss is planning to spend tens of billions of pounds on freezing energy bills next month, her plans come with a nasty sting in the tail.

Whereas under Labour’s plans, a large chunk of the cost of freezing bills would be paid for by a windfall tax on oil and gas companies, under Truss’ plans the cost will instead be paid entirely by us.

According to multiple reports the new Prime Minister is considering plans to force the public to pay back the cost of the freeze over the course of decades, through a new charge on our energy bills.

This will leave current consumers, and potentially even future generations, with higher bills indefinitely.

Meanwhile oil and gas companies, who are now making huge unexpected profits due to surging wholesale prices, will not have to pay a penny more in tax.’

We need a good news story, here is a local one widely reported

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East Devon Watch

Drone photos show ‘incredible’ impact of beavers during drought

A series of remarkable drone shots have revealed how the reintroduction of beavers in Devon has had a hugely beneficial impact on the landscape during the current drought.

Harry Cockburn www.independent.co.uk

Over 400 years after beavers were hunted to extinction in the UK, the animals were returned to the river Otter in Devon in 2008, and after initial plans for them to be removed, the government consented to a five-year study which highlighted the astonishing improvements to the ecosystem that beavers bring.

Amid the drought and one of the hottest summers on record, some of those benefits are now highly visible, with the land where the beavers are living remaining a lush green, while adjacent land has turned a parched yellow.

The tinder-dry conditions have led to record numbers of wildfires in the UK, but on the Clinton Devon Estates, where…

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Protect the Green Wedge: bungalows are not what Seaton needs

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My column in today’s Midweek Herald:

It is now official – East Devon is one of the top eight districts in the country for rising population (up 13 per cent up in a decade). The further you go from Exeter, the more the new arrivals are retirees. In town after town and village after village, housing estates catering partly for middle-aged incomers are changing the landscape. In Seaton this month, a developer has showcased a new scheme to build 130 dwellings, many of them bungalows, on the town’s outskirts.

Seaton Wetlands – increasingly surrounded by housing?

Urban growth is not necessarily a bad thing. Towns change and growing populations need housing. The shortage of housing for local people is one of our biggest scandals, made worse by the Conservatives’ low priority for social housing, the poor quality of some private rented accommodation, landlords switching to holiday lets, and the house price boom – artificially stimulated by the government – which prices younger people out of the market to buy while simultaneously pushing up rents.

More housing, but not any old housing – or any old place

So we need more housing, but not any old housing as the government believes. A town like Seaton with one of the most elderly populations in the country – 45 per cent are over 65 – needs more retirement bungalows like a hole in the head. We’ve already had one revolt over this issue, when developers wanted to divert a site earmarked for a hotel to build more retirement flats. The community stood firm and in due course the hotel was built. The developers making the current proposal, Baker Estates, say that bungalows will facilitate downsizing freeing up family homes ‘elsewhere’. It’s little consolation for Seaton to know that houses will be available in the Midlands or the Home Counties! 

The housing we need also can’t be in any old place. Planning policies exist for a reason – if they didn’t, the whole of the Devon coast would have wall-to-wall development, ruining the very beauty which draws people to the area. ‘Green wedges’ between towns and villages is another key policy, maintaining a rural edge for urban areas as well as the identities of distinct communities. People in Seaton and Colyford have shown over the last decade that they value the Green Wedge between the two, and have twice fought off attempts to build it over. The proposed development will further surround the precious Seaton Wetlands with housing, and threatens the bat and bird life which are so important to them.  

Baker Estates promise up to 25 per cent ‘affordable homes’, although even with shared ownership, properties at around £300,000 are hardly affordable for many, and these dwellings (if built) will doubtless end up in the least desirable corner of the estate, with the smallest gardens. I say ‘if built’ because Seatonians are familiar with the ‘vanishing affordable homes’ trick, since what is now the Pebble Beach estate was supposed to have 40 per cent of them, then 25 per cent, and ended up with precisely none. 

Mandatory targets for houses, but not services

East Devon’s planning policies are robust but the council is under the constant pressure of the government’s housing targets and its penalties for not meeting them. It’s noticeable that the government doesn’t enforce targets for social health provision with the same rigour, so if we accept scores more bungalows our extremely stretched health and social care services won’t automatically expand to match.

We cannot keep building over our countryside and allowing our communities to become more and more unbalanced in age terms. We don’t need a nationally imposed target for new dwellings, to be supplied in whichever form the developers find most profitable. We need more good quality social housing, fewer second homes (we should restrict those to the areas where there isn’t acute housing pressure), and a better balance between holiday lets (desirable for tourism) and private rentals (which are essential housing). Not everyone will like this, but we also need house prices to fall, to let young people back into the housing market.

Leading questions in developers’ ‘consultation’ about Green Wedge housing scheme

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On Wednesday, I attended Baker Estates’ exhibition about their proposed scheme for a housing development in the Seaton-Colyton Green Wedge. Following the exhibition, a Facebook group OPPOSE Baker Estates Building on the green wedge between Seaton & Colyford has been set up and already has over 250 members.

Exhibition stand showing sports pitch to west of Harepath Road, possible commercial area (in grey) to east, and housing between Harepath Road and Colyford Road (photo from OPPOSE Baker Estates Building on the green wedge between Seaton & Colyford)

Baker Estates has acquired an interest in the land shown on their map and proposes to build up to 130 homes, a large proportion of them bungalows with a possible 25 per cent ‘affordable housing’. The majority of the houses are proposed to be built outside the Seaton Built Up Area Boundary and inside the protected Green Wedge, as defined by the current East Devon Local Plan (go to the interactive map to compare the plan to the Baker Estates proposals).

Baker Estates were giving out a questionnaire for a ‘consultation’, which is also available on their site. As a social scientist who knows something about questionnaire design, I can confirm that it is so poorly designed and and misleading as to be worthless as an expression of public opinion (but which Baker Estates will doubtless seek to use if they get ‘results’ helpful to their cause):

  1. The first question asks about the proposal to build bungalows, ‘addressing an unmet need and providing downsizing opportunities that free up family home elsewhere’. Giving the alleged benefits of this in the question, but with no mention of the downsides (e.g. a massive increase in Seaton’s already huge pensioner population with all the knock-on effects for local services) makes this a leading question.
  2. The second asks about whether there should be a through link for pedestrians/cyclists/buses only between Harepath Road and Colyford Road, or a road connection, but then says ‘do you agree, yes or no?’, rather than providing boxes for the two alternatives. So this question is so poorly designed as to be meaningless.
  3. The third asks if people support the provision of a new sports pitch ‘to enhance local facilities’. This is like asking people if they like sunny weather, but there is no indication that the scheme will not actually construct this pitch and its associated facilities.
  4. The fourth asks if people support the provision of 25% ‘affordable homes’. No mention of the fact that a scheme that overrides the local plan would normally be expected to have a much higher proportion (as much as 66%). Why no alternative percentages – 50, 66, 75 – for people to tick?
  5. The fifth question asks if housing similar in style to their other Seaton developments would be suitable.
  6. The sixth is the most outrageously leading question: ‘Given that the emerging local plan identifies a need for more homes at Seaton and a need for sports facilities, do you support the proposals? (1) The ’emerging’ plan is not in force yet and will not be when Baker Estates submit their application later this year; it is the existing Local Plan which matters. (2) Both the existing and emerging plans include a policy on Green Wedges, as well as other policies which this proposal will violate. (3) Just because extra homes are needed does not mean that this is the right place to build them – there are other options, as people are pointing out on Facebook.

I will be writing about the wider context of this in a forthcoming column in the Midweek Herald. Sign up for updates to this blog to get notified of this and other comments on these issues.

New Seaton plan proposes to bring housing into the Green Wedge and up to the Wetlands

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Baker Estates have acquired an interest in land either side of Harepath Road and have a new plan which seems more ambitious than those which were successfully opposed by the local community in the past. Plans have not yet been submitted but will be available to view on Tuesday 12th July in the United Reformed Church Hall (Cross St) from 3pm to 7.30pm.

Together we won the by-election, but we need even greater unity to consolidate the victory

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My column which should have appeared in today’s Midweek Herald

The Liberal Democrats have achieved an historic victory in the Tiverton and Honiton by-election. I warmly congratulate Richard Foord and wish him the very best as the area’s first non-Conservative MP for over a century. The result shows, as he says, that we have spoken for the country and told our disgraced prime minister, Boris Johnson, to go and to go now. 

But it is more than that. It is a rejection of twelve wasted years of Conservative government which have left Britain diminished by Brexit, our NHS and public services starved, and many people facing hardship this coming winter. Voters have recognised that far from being ‘levelled up’, the South West has been left further and further behind. People agree that the Tories have ‘taken Devon for granted’ as the Lib Dem leaflets rightly put it.

One of the good things for me about the by-election campaign was the chance it gave me to meet more readers of this column. One man I spoke to thought it was too anti-Tory. But now we know the result, it appears that my criticisms are in tune with what many residents are thinking. Previous Conservative voters are themselves becoming ‘anti-Tory’, because the party is no longer ‘conservative’ in the traditional sense. No wonder the three openly far-right candidates did so poorly – the extreme right is now represented by the Conservatives!

A grassroots progressive alliance

The result was the result of an impressively professional Lib Dem campaign but also of a genuine progressive alliance at the grass roots. Moderate former Conservatives, Labour and Green voters all joined together to prevent Boris Johnson’s candidate winning. Many activists from other parties including the East Devon Alliance of Independents joined the Lib Dem campaign. 

My Independent colleague Claire Wright ruled herself out to avoid splitting the Lib Dem vote, when it became clear that they had the best chance of winning. It has to be said that the Labour Party did themselves no favours by campaigning so vigorously only to lose their deposit. The Greens got almost as many votes without campaigning and their candidate wisely acknowledged that tactical voting was necessary.

Richard’s task is our task

Richard Foord faces a formidable task. He must speak up on all the issues he picked up in his campaign and address the consequences of decades of government neglect. While bedding in at Westminster, he also needs to make himself much more available and better known to voters than Neil Parish was, perhaps through public meetings and monthly surgeries in each of the area’s towns. 

These are not just Richard’s problems, however. The by-election campaign mobilised voters with the help of Lib Dem activists from all over the country, but the new progressive majority in the area is not strongly enough organised in our local communities. Lib Dems, Labour, Greens and EDA need to find ways of working together to build a support base which can make this week’s historic change permanent.

The challenge of consolidating the victory

The size of Richard’s victory gives me hope that it is more than a flash in the pan. Hard though it was, it could prove however to have been the easy bit. The Tories will try to sneak back in at the general election when boundaries change, presumably with a less hapless candidate. In this context, Richard’s majority will probably be squeezed. The votes ‘wasted’ on Labour and the Greens could be the difference between success and failure.

This takes us back to the national crisis. Johnson intends to defy the voters and cling on. To be sure of getting rid of him in the next election, the Lib Dems, Labour and the Greens need to come together at the national level. The crisis in our country is enormous and it requires a new kind of cooperative politics. Together we have won the by-election battle, but we need even greater unity to win the bigger prize.

Congratulations to Richard Foord, the Lib Dems and progressive voters on a fantastic victory!

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I’ve issued the following statement as Chair of the East Devon Alliance:

‘The East Devon Alliance of Independents warmly congratulates Richard Foord on his election as Tiverton and Honiton’s new MP and the Liberal Democrats on their excellent campaign. This historic victory results from a progressive alliance among voters this part of Devon which has seen many Labour, Green and Independent voters backing Richard. I and other members of the East Devon Alliance of Independents are proud to have played a part in his success and look forward to working with the Lib Dems and all opposition forces in the new era for Devon politics which it opens up.’

Richard Foord, our new MP

Inspector dismisses appeal against field planning refusal

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A Planning Inspector has strongly rejected the applicants’ appeal against EDDC’s decision to refuse planning permission to build a house in the field at the top of Beer Road, Seaton. The grounds are very solid: the location of the site outside the Built Up Area Boundary, the effects on the character and appearance of the Coastal Protection Area, and the effects on the Beer Quarry Caves Special Area of Conservation and biodiversity. The full judgement can be seen on the EDDC planning portal, reference 20/1775/OUT.