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May the 4th be with you

Festival could be held to celebrate A38 model

Paul Parker’s model of the AT-ST, which featured in iconic movie Return of the Jedi, was installed on a patch of land by the side of the A38 a mile outside Ashburton.

But a Rebel Alliance formed after Teignbridge District Council told him he had 21 days to tear the £12,000 model down as it didn’t have planning permission.

Mr Parker has since submitted a retrospective planning application to Teignbridge District Council, and The Force seems to be with him as the scheme has received backing from ward councillors, Ashburton town council, Devon County Council’s Highways Department, Highways England, and scores of residents.

When he installed the AT-ST, Mr Parker, who runs a storage business and is a member of Ashburton Chamber of Trade, said: “About 99 per cent of the comments I’ve had have been positive.

“It’s a bit of fun. I wanted to do something that would create interest in Ashburton and maybe help get people to visit. It’s been a talking point since it has been up.”

And a ‘May the 4th Festival’ could happen in the stannary town, the official response from the town council reveals.

The town council comment says: “I have viewed the structure many times on journeys on A38 and have personally found it interesting and amusing. Ashburton Chamber of Trade said that its appearance has heralded renewed optimism in the town and sparked some interesting conversations, and a May the 4th Festival has been proposed and is being considered.

“There is long standing tradition of conversation pieces alongside major roads, for example an orange elephant at the Splatford split on A38, the striding willow man near Bridgewater on M5 and the camels, Humphrey and Boo, near Glastonbury, and I propose that Ashburton town council support the application.”

Ward councillors Charlie Dennis and John Nutley both have backed the plans and have told officers that if they recommend refusal, then any final decision must go through the planning committee.

Cllr Nutley said: “This structure will have no adverse effect on the surrounding area. It will attract more visitors to Ashburton and will help boost the economy of the town. This is no different from the Orange Elephant at the bottom of Haldon Hill or the Willow Man off the M5.”

Cllr Dennis added: “I wish to support this application as I do not consider it is a visual distraction to road users and it does not have a detrimental impact on the landscape.”

Devon County Council’s Highways Department said that they had no objection to the proposal, while Highways England said: “There have been a number of advertising hoardings placed in the vicinity of the structure over a number of years which can also be considered to constitute a driver distraction. We have therefore reviewed the collision data for a section of the A38 extending 250m either side of the site which provides no evidence of a collision pattern relating to driver distraction.

“This would therefore suggest that the potential driver distraction from this additional feature is unlikely to lead to an unacceptable safety issue in this case. Highways England offers no objection to the proposal.”

However, in his response, Paul Bryan, Landscape Officer for the council, said that as a publicity stunt it is successful, however as a permanent structure it has an adverse effect on the landscape and it erodes the rural character of the Devon countryside.

He added: “The proposed development would contravene Local Plan policies that aim to achieve good design and conservation and enhancing of the natural environment and so there is a landscape objection.

“The proposal brings questionable benefits. As an element to benefit the further promotion of Ashburton, should this be considered necessary, alternative approaches could be found that would be less harmful to the countryside.

“If the planning officer is minded to approve the application, I would suggest that this is time limited.”

No decision has yet been made by Teignbridge District Council, although if planning officers do recommend refusal, it will be discussed by the council’s planning committee. If they wish to approve the application, it is likely to be done under delegated powers.

The model is made of steel and took welder-fabricator Dean Harvey 400 hours to create for his daughters four years ago. He made it as a den and slide for his daughters and put it in his garden, but as they have grown out of it, he loaned it to Paul.

Teignbridge District Council hopes to make a decision on the planning application by the end of January.

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