Futures Forum meets with District Councillors and Officers to look at ‘Development for Sustainability’
With representatives from across East Devon, it proved an excellent opportunity to network between local government and community groups.
Tuesday 24th September’s meeting kicked off with the former head of the Local Plan Panel, Cllr Mike Allen, presenting how sustainability is at the heart of long-term planning at the District Council.
> We need to recognise the ‘Limits to Growth’, with increases in food and resource prices as well as population pressure across East Devon.
> The current price of houses in East Devon is 14 times earnings: the ‘flight of young people’ has to be stemmed by making more housing and workspaces available.
> Sidmouth is unique among local towns in that more people commute into Sidmouth to work than commute out – which gives a priority on affordable housing for key workers, rather than new employment opportunities.
> Most economic activity in Devon is based on rural and agricultural business: the Coalition government has inverted the previous administration strategy, with the aim now to make villages viable working communities rather than focus development in urban centres.
> There is a need for a ‘sequential approach’ to allowing development, with highest quality farming land and AONB areas most protected.
[See full presentation here; and
East Devon’s Planning Policy Manager Matt Dickins outlined how the Sustainability Appraisal was put together, whilst stressing the difficulty of defining ‘sustainability’.
> There is substantial ‘in-migration’ of families into East Devon – increasing demand for both market and affordable housing.
> Sidmouth has very few ‘brownfield sites’ and low wages compared to Exeter – issues for employment land and job creation.
> The 7 economic objectives, 10 environmental objectives and 3 economic objectives, need to be balanced – but are not mutually compatible.
[See full presentation here; and
Dave Bramley, chair of the VGS, agreed, saying that this would mean there would have to be trade-offs – with Cllr Allen pointing out the paradox of community not wanting development and yet national policy had determined that there should be ‘sustainable growth’.
Jo Mitchell, of the VGS and independent consultant on sustainability, asked exactly how ‘objectives’ were measured – for example, that there should be ‘no increase in flooding’ at Sidford – with Officer Dickins saying that these figures could be challenged either at the Examination of the Local Plan or during any future planning application.
Margaret Day of SOS questioned how any development on the flood plain at Sidford could be classed as ‘sustainable’ – and yet, whilst Cllr Allen’s personal view was that this site was not viable, it had nevertheless been judged the ‘most appropriate’ site, taking into consideration the need for new homes and new jobs.
The new Devon Manager for Sustrans (‘Sustainable Transport’) Paul Hawkins then spoke about his determination to undertake a feasibility study for the Feniton cycle path. It was vital to engage positively with landowners as well as meet up with local groups over the coming months – and he asked for anyone with knowledge of the route to contact him on firstname.lastname@example.org or Tel: 07917 612782.
Derek Chant, head of SVEAG, pointed to practical schemes, including an annual Sidmouth College shield for energy projects and making use of an Open Homes grant to help with energy efficiency. Significantly, SVEAG will be hosting the event ‘Back to the Future’ together with the Observatory on 14th November– looking to when Sidmouth produced enough energy to satisfy its own energy needs and considering setting up a community company to do so again.
Derek Smithers of Exmouth, representing the wider Transition Town movement in East Devon, called for greater liaison within the District and highlighted two sessions considering central sustainability issues – including climate change, on 30th September with Prof Challenor of Exeter University, and sustainable tourism on 16th October, sponsored by Exmouth’s Chamber of Commerce. Cllr Allen welcomed the innovations coming out of the TT movement – especially the ‘energy descent plan’.
Emily McIvor of the East Devon Alliance engaged Cllr Allen in debate on the issue of East Devon’s ‘carbon footprint’ (‘three and a half planets’) in comparison to the rapidly growing economies of China and India – and the impacts this will have on development for sustainability.
Finally, looking to immediate steps, Cllr Allen said groups should contact Jamie Buckley, the Officer in charge of Community Coordination, to help with the likes of grant applications.
He also suggested contacting Phil Townsend, DCC Highways Development Management Officer, to ensure that the transport and road traffic issues at Sidford were well aired and understood.
Moreover, Cllr Allen welcomed and encouraged community engagement in dialogue with the District Council, urging representations on the Local Plan to be sent in before 7th October for consideration by the Inspector.
In thanking the main speakers the Chair Robert Crick ended on the positive note that population scientists have evidence that humanity globally is developing in a way that should enable us to survive the challenges of the coming century so long as we ensure stability and share resources equitably.