Act now to save the Green Wedge!

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The deadline for comments on the planning application for land between Harepath Road and Colyford Road, which will almost destroy the Green Wedge between Seaton and Colyford, is 27 October, although objections are sometimes accepted after the date (apologies for wrong date in earlier version of this post). Seaton Town Council has resolved to object and is currently preparing a full objection, but everyone who cares about the future of the town and its environment should object as soon as possible. Here is a guide for objectors:

To object: go on EDDC’s Planning Portal to view the application and then submit your comment online, or email your objection to planningeast@eastdevon.gov.ukor write to Planning (East), EDDC, The Knowle, Sidmouth EX10 8HL

Quote application no. 15/2188/MOUT – Land East Of Harepath Road Seaton. Write your objection in your own words about the issues that are most important to you – don’t just cut and paste from these suggestions. 

THE PROPOSAL

The application proposes a combination of up to 130 or 150 houses (both figures are given!) with some employment and business facilities. However the latter will only be built if there is a demand – so maybe only houses will actually happen. 

The application is described as containing 75 affordable dwellings (50%) but the application form specifies 38 (25%). Apparently council officers persuaded the developer to increase the percentage because the site is outside the Built Up Area Boundary.

  • In Seaton we’re used to affordable housing disappearing during the development process, but to lose them at the turn of a page must be an all-time record!
  • It’s difficult to have any confidence that any affordable housing would actually be built.

THE SITE ACCORDING TO THE LOCAL PLAN

  1. In the Local Plan, the main part of the site (labeled LSE2) is not designated for housing, but only for employment and recreation facilities. At least 45% of this site must be for recreational use – we need additional playing fields in Seaton – but the application proposes no recreational facilities.
  2. The other part is currently a reserve site (labelled E315) which may be used for mixed use development – BUT only in the case of shortages of land elsewhere, which are NOT proved. However the new version of the Local Plan (which now has ‘substantial weight’ in planning decisions and is likely to be approved very soon) removes this reserve site. The developer is working against the clock trying to get it before the new Plan comes in.

GREEN WEDGE 

The Local Plan protects Green Wedges between settlements. This is the 3rd application by this developer to build in the Green Wedge.

  • EDDC refused the previous applications, but they were only defeated after an appeal inspector ruled that concerns about housing were not sufficient to override the protection of the Wedge. 

He said: ‘the housing shortfall although significant is – arguably – relatively short term, whereas the erosion of separation between Colyford and Seaton would be permanent, and should not be acceded to lightly.’ 

The gap left between Seaton and Colyford in this application – 250 metres – is a little bit larger than than previously. However it is still less than the 450 metres that another inspector found insufficient to separate Lympstone from Exmouth in 2011.

HOUSING 

The alleged ‘housing shortfall’ in East Devon has been addressed. The applicants are trying to take advantage of the residual uncertainty (about whether East Devon has a 5-year housing land supply) because the new Local Plan has still not yet been finally approved. 

  • However EDDC has shown that it has a 5-year supply, and this is not one of the issues remaining to be resolved with the new Local Plan.
  • Seaton is already meeting its target for new houses in the Local Plan within the town, as the Plan stipulates. Large numbers of extra houses are already being built in or are approved for Seaton, at Harbour Road and elsewhere.

ENVIRONMENT

The Green Wedge is crucial for the environment of Seaton and Colyford. The new Local Plan says that ‘Seaton’s outstanding natural environment especially its Wetlands is its most precious and defining asset’. Building houses across this site will damage:

  1. The landscape, views across Axe estuary and the setting of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
  2. The setting of the Seaton Wetlands, the jewel in Seaton’s crown. (This development will bring housing right up to the main entrance to the Wetlands, at the Cemetery, replacing the rural setting of the Wetlands with an urban environment.)
  3. The environment of bats which live on the site and other wildlife on the site and in the Wetlands.

TRANSPORT

Colyford Road is a narrow country lane with no pavement. Extra traffic into this road from the development will cause congestion – and threaten cyclists on the new national cycle route, the Stop Line Way (the section between Colyford and the cemetery has just opened) which passes along it.

TOURISM

In the Local Plan, Seaton’s economic future is based largely on a ‘green tourism’ strategy – if all the tourist sees is urban sprawl, they’re not going to be attracted into Seaton. The Wetlands and the cycle route are crucial to this strategy.

SERVICES

Seaton has grown hugely in recent years. The new Local Plan says that its ‘community facilities, school, health, social and cultural, are seen as borderline or inadequate with no capacity to serve additional residents.’ So extra housing will place unacceptable strains on the primary school, GP practices, etc.

WHAT’S AT STAKE 

  • Preserving the green setting of Seaton and Colyford
  • Protecting our environmental assets
  • The right balance between development and community services
  • Making sure areas designated for recreation are actually used for recreation
  • Stopping the developer riding roughshod over local opinion and the Local Plan.

Change of venue for Green Wedge planning meeting

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The Seaton Town Council Planning meeting which will consider the Green Wedge application will now be in the United Reform Church, Cross Street, at 7 on Monday 19th October, as the council anticipates a large public turnout.

New planning application for Green Wedge

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The developer whose previous application was turned down by EDDC, a refusal confirmed by an Inspector on appeal, has put in a new bid to build on land between Harepath Road and Colyford Road, in the Green Wedge between Seaton and Colyford. This will be discussed at Seaton Town Council Planning Committee on Monday (19 October, 7 pm). You can view the application here:

http://planning.eastdevon.gov.uk/online-applications/applicationDetails.do?activeTab=summary&keyVal=NV1DKXGHGTE00

Local GPs barred from making ‘routine’ referrals

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It was brought home to me this week that the cuts imposed by the NEW Devon (Northern, Eastern and Western Devon) Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which is in charge of our local health service, mean that GPs can’t refer patients to specialists for many ‘routine’ conditions – which may nevertheless be conditions which cause considerable discomfort and even risk serious complications down the line.

So although the Group says it is ‘prioritising’ the NHS Constitution commitment to ‘consultant-led treatment within a maximum of 18-weeks from referral for non-urgent conditions’, the real wait for patients will be much longer – because you’ll have to become ‘urgent’ to get referred in this first place!

In the bad old days you had to wait, but at least you knew you were on the list. Now you can’t even get on the list, not because there isn’t a specialist available, but because the list for your condition simply doesn’t exist in our area. It does in other areas, of course – it’s a postcode lottery.

This situation is partly caused, Independent County Councillor Claire Wright suggests out in her latest column in the Express and Echo, by the expensive, pro-privatisation NHS reorganisation forced through by David Cameron’s former health secretary Andrew Lansley.

UPDATE: Owen Jones reports that CCGs elsewhere in the country are paying GP practices NOT TO REFER patients.

Elected to Town Council

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I have been co-opted to the Council to fill a vacancy, and I took my seat last night. Many thanks to the members who voted me on and to friends who came to support me at the meeting. I look forward to an interesting four years.

Martin Shaw

Pendeen doomed in DMC travesty

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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.

Local health commissioning group “not fit for purpose”

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This is the body which oversees Seaton Hospital too.

East Devon Watch

This is the group that is top-heavy with jargon-speaking managers behind the closure of community hospital beds. Can we now expect to see a re-assessment of that decision?

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