Protesters to march against council sell-off
A Westcountry council has submitted fresh plans to its own planning committee to move away from its former headquarters and sell off the surrounding parkland for housing and a care home.
East Devon District Council (EDDC) wants to relocate from the Knowle in Sidmouth to Honiton, shedding 33 jobs in the process and forcing around 80 workers into a 20-mile round trip to new purpose-built offices.
The proposal is one of a number of development issues which have angered residents and led to the formation of the campaign group Save Our Sidmouth (SOS) which is set to stage a mass protest rally on Saturday morning at the Esplanade.
The Conservative authority originally produced an outline planning application in September but was quickly forced into a redraft after opponents pointed out shortcomings in the plans.
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Richard Thurlow, chairman of SOS, said the plans, which the council calls "cost-neutral", are akin to selling off the town's "family jewels".
"We are totally against these ill-conceived plans and we are asking Communities Secretary Eric Pickles to call them in," he added.
"We stand to lose a few acres of park land and the moment EDDC is acting as judge, jury and executioner."
The council has recently come under fire over plans to build an industrial estate in an area of outstanding natural, beauty at Sidford. It has also been criticised for funding an influential business forum, many of whose members are local developers who have benefited from changes to planning policy.
A council task force – Task and Finish Forum (TAFF) – was set up to investigate allegations against the East Devon Business Forum (EDBF) and will begin work in December.
The relocation plans from the Knowle campus were temporarily stalled while English Heritage considered whether to grant the offices and surrounding parkland listed status.
But conservation experts decided not to recognise the historic site, despite the land being of "clear local interest", because the edges have been eroded by dwellings.
The council's project team says revisions to the outline planning application bring improvements and introduce new information to clarify several of the more contentious issues.
The new material includes a revised statement on the economic impact, which reverses a net gain of three jobs to a loss of 33 posts over ten years.
Transport, heritage and design statements, a new layout plan, tree and bat studies and a waste management plan have also been added.
The consultation will end on November 8 and the development management committee will meet on December 4.
The council said the cabinet hoped to make a decision early next year.