Inspector confirms that residential development at Knowle, Sidmouth is appropriate

In his final report on the Local Plan, Planning Inspector Mr Anthony Thickett has ruled that The Sidford Employment site is the most appropriate option for new employment land provision for Sidmouth and should not be dropped from the Local Plan.

The Local Plan will retain the proposal for the allocation of 5 hectares of land on the northern edge of Sidford for employment use. Because the proposed allocation lies within the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty ( AONB) particular effort will have to be directed at conserving the landscape and beauty of the area surrounding the site due to its protected status.

Allocation of an employment site in or close to Sidmouth is in keeping with the Local Plan’s strategy of matching jobs with housing, which in turn reduces the need for commuting. The Inspector concludes that a need for a new employment site to serve Sidmouth has been demonstrated and that no other sites in Sidmouth have been identified as being suitable.

Alternative sites, including Alexandra Industrial Estate, which is already hampered by poor access, and the council’s Manstone Depot, which is surrounded by housing and has therefore already been proposed for housing, have been deemed unsuitable.

The Sidford site has already been assessed for its suitability and it has been suggested that its location on a valley floor can be mitigated through sensitive design and landscaping. A detailed traffic assessment has already been undertaken to support the proposal and the Highway Authority is happy with the location. The Environment Agency has also considered the risk of flooding to the site, which sits adjacent to the River Sid, and is happy that the risk of flooding can be alleviated.

Failure to provide employment provision could be damaging for Sidmouth

Mr Thickett made reference to the fact that:

The Council’s statement for Hearing 7 (Sidmouth) and Employment Topic Paper record that the town has seen a relatively high level of residential development in recent years but limited employment growth with some sites lost to residential.  The Council’s Employment Topic Paper states that: ‘Failure to provide for future employment provision for the town, to provide scope to help diversify the local economy, could lead to adverse impacts for Sidmouth’. It goes on to consider the consequences of not allocating a site and concludes that this would; ‘entail travel through the East Devon AONB to arrive at job locations beyond boundaries (for example Exeter or other East Devon towns) and this would, in its own right, have impacts on the AONB through vehicle pressure on roads and emissions’.  The allocation of a site within or close to the town would accord with the Plan’s strategy of matching jobs with housing and reducing the need for commuting.  I consider that a need for a new employment site to serve Sidmouth has been demonstrated.

The Inspector also said that:

The evidence submitted to the examination demonstrates that a new employment site to serve Sidmouth would be in the public interest. Further, that it has been shown that there is neither a suitable site within Sidmouth nor a better one outside the town. I consider that any environmental impacts can be satisfactorily mitigated and agree with the Council’s contention in its Topic Paper that; ‘In the exceptional case of Sidmouth a AONB land allocation is warranted’.  I consider the proposed allocation to be sound and I do not recommend its deletion from Strategy 26.  Nor do I recommend the deletion of the allocation on the Sidmouth inset map.

Commenting on the Sidford employment allocation, the Leader of East Devon District Council, Councillor Paul Diviani said:

Mr Thickett was very clear in his reasoning as to why the Sidford employment allocation should stay in the Local Plan, despite members resolving to delete it last year [at a meeting on March 26 2015]. He has stated that as the allocation was part of the plan when it was submitted for examination and as no new evidence has been submitted to support the request for its removal (made at a late stage in the examination), he does not consider that the Plan should be modified to accommodate this change. In fact, he considers the proposed allocation to be sound and in the public interest. As such it is now up to us to take up the reins and progress this development opportunity in a diligent and sensitive way.

There will be undoubtedly be challenges ahead for us when we are seeking to open up allocated employment sites for development and infrastructure, but we will actively seek to work with partners to ensure that new jobs and investment can be secured, in order that sites are actually developed.  The future for Sidmouth in terms of employment is looking considerably brighter and this council looks forward to doing everything it possibly can to help support new enterprises looking to help build the local economy.

Knowle housing development ‘is the most appropriate use of site’

The Inspector has also confirmed that residential development at Knowle, East Devon District Council’s current headquarters, is the most appropriate use of this brownfield site, particularly as it is already surrounded by residential housing. He has also said that he is happy with the proposed allocation boundary, which coincides(roughly) with the footprint of the existing council offices and car park.

Commenting on the original building at Knowle, which dates back to the 19th Century, Mr Thickett said: (Knowle) is looked on with some fondness, but
is not deemed worthy of statutory protection.  I have neither seen nor heard anything to suggest that a well designed scheme could not complement its surroundings and safeguard the living conditions of neighbouring residents.

Affordable housing figures

New housing schemes in Sidmouth will have to provide affordable housing at a rate of 50% - the same figure will apply to developments in Budleigh Salterton, and rural areas. Elsewhere (West End, Axminster, Exmouth, Honiton, Ottery St Mary and Seaton) the affordable housing figure will be 25%.

Commenting on the Knowle housing development, Councillor Paul Diviani said:

The redevelopment of Knowle into beautifully designed first class retirement housing, that will aim to promote healthy living for its residents and offer amenity value for the surrounding neighbourhood, will be a great asset to Sidmouth. This will be an
architect designed, high quality facility that will blend sympathetically into the historic parkland setting and the town’s economy will undoubtedly benefit from the residents of the new development who will be using local goods and services.