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Planning inspector allows multi-million pound business park in Sidford

Thursday, August 22nd, 2019 7:17am

By Daniel Clark, Local Democracy Reporting Service

Despite East Devon refusing plans.

Cllr Stuart Hughes, who represents the Sidmouth Sidford ward, has called the decision to allow 8,445sqm of employment space built on the outskirts of the village ‘a very disappointing outcome and a sad day’.

East Devon District Council last year refused the plans, for agricultural land east of Two Bridges Road, on the grounds of harm to highway safety relating to increased heavy goods vehicle usage of the area’s narrow roads.

Applicants Tim and Mike Ford challenged the refusal of the council, and following July’s inquiry, planning inspector Luke Fleming has allowed their appeal.

The news has disappointed local councillors, as well as the Say NO To Sidford Business Park campaign, who collected 1,500 signatures from residents on a petition against the plan.

Cllr John Loudoun, who represents the Sidmouth Rural ward and who was involved in the Say NO To Sidford Business Park campaign, said it was a sad day for local residents whose voices might haven’t been listened to.

He added: “This is incredibly disappointing news for all those who live near to the planned Business park site and also for all those who live in and nearby to Sidford and Sidbury who, as a result of the Planning Inspector’s decision, will have to put up with significant increases in traffic, particularly HGVs.

“However, a big thank you must go to all those local residents who have actively supported the local campaign to oppose the Business Park which remains the wrong thing in the wrong place.

“If the county and district councils had originally effectively scrutinised and challenged this site being included in the local plan then this site would never, and should never, have been included in it.

“Ever since the site was allocated as employment land within the local plan everyone who has opposed the proposed plans to build the business park have effectively been fighting with one hand tied behind their backs.

“This is a sad day for local residents whose voices might have been heard, but they haven’t been listened to.”

Cllr Hughes, who is also Devon County Council’s cabinet member for Highways, who had objected to the plans on safety grounds, added: “This is a very disappointing outcome and a sad day particularly for the residents of Sidford and Sidbury who if the B8 and distribution element of the application goes ahead, will have to suffer even more HGV’s movements on very narrow sections of highway without footways.

“I am surprised at the inspectors comments that there would be significant benefits which outweigh the effects and inconvenience of the increase in HGV traffic, because that was exactly what the appeal was about – the increase in HGV,’s and the effect of the two communities.

“This is basically a two fingers up to the Sid Valley.”

He added that he felt that the inspector may have got the wrong end of the stick with the appeal as the whole point the rejection of it was that the business park would lead to an unacceptable impact on highway safety and that the benefits of the scheme, such as the flood risk improvements and the cycle path would be happening anyway.

Cllr Hughes said: “He says the gains outweigh the traffic issues, but that doesn’t make much sense and all the other stuff is going to happen as anyway and there was no objection to that, and the whole point is that the traffic issues would be detrimental to the people in Sidford and Sidbury.”

As the plans were only an outline application, a further application for the detail of the scheme will need to be submitted and approved by East Devon District Council, and Cllr Hughes said: “The only crumb of comfort is that the community will have a say on the design etc of whatever is going on the site.”

He added that the decision mean that something can finally get moving on the long awaited Sidford to Sidbury Cycle/Foot Path.

Devon County Council have plans for a Sidbury-Sidford cycle and walking route which would finally provide a safe route between the two East Devon villages, but the plans have stalled while the fate of the business park application has been up in the air.

Now though the application has been approved, and the site’s development will secure a cycleway to the employment site, Cllr Hughes said he has already asked officers at County Hall to get the planning application moving.

He added: “I want us to get moving on this as a priority and see what other ways we can improve the situation for the residents of Sidbury and Sidford.”

Cllr Mike Howe, chairman of East Devon District Council’s Development Management Committee, said: “I am very disappointed that the Planning Inspector feels that it is appropriate to allow a significant element of B8 (Storage and Distribution) uses on the site leading to an increase in HGV’s in the area.

“The other uses proposed for the site would not lead to HGV’s using the roads and this is why the local plan allocation for the site limits the uses that can be accommodated. This decision goes against the Local Plan allocation and imposes the impact of additional HGV’s on the local community when the Council was trying to avoid this.

“It is a great shame that the Inspector did not agree with our concerns. I can only hope that our worst fears are not realised and the predicted accidents do not occur.”

The outline scheme would see 8,445sqm of employment space built on the outskirts of the village and create 250 new jobs.

In his report, Mr Fleming concluded that the proposed development would help meet the significant employment needs of the area, the drainage and flood attenuation measures would reduce the risk of surface water flooding elsewhere, and the proposal would also contribute towards a section of the Sidmouth to Sidford Cycle route.

He added that: “These are significant benefits that outweigh the effects and inconvenience of the increase in HGV traffic in the area. Thus, on balance, the appeal should therefore be allowed.”

He said that he walked considerable lengths of both Sidford and Sidbury during parts of the morning and evening peak periods and admitted that at the pinch points, the highway would not meet the ideal minimum widths required for vehicles to overtake cyclists in comfort and would not allow vehicles to pass side by side based on typical dimensions.

But he said that while on-coming traffic and other road users would have to wait for a HGV to pass through these pinch points, ‘there is no substantive evidence to suggest that a HGV is not able to carefully and safely pass through any of these specific locations at low speed’.

Mr Fleming added: “Personal Injury Accident records show on average less than two reported collisions a year in the area. Those incidents are dispersed such that they do not point to any safety concerns at any particular location. On average there would be four additional HGV trips per hour spread between the routes to the north and south.

“The blockages which occur at pinch points are clearly undesirable with delays causing much inconvenience and the proposal would marginally increase the risk of these blockages occurring more frequently leading to further inconvenience. However, there is no substantive evidence before me to suggest that this marginal increase in HGV’s would make any part of the route to the north or south unsafe.”

A further application for the detail of the scheme will need to be submitted and approved by East Devon District Council.

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