Sunday, 5 January 2014

Persimmon, Sidmouth and "promoting well-designed housing that is sustainable and provides much-needed new housing..."

In October 2009, the Vision Group held a meeting at Woolbrook to consider the issue of housing for Sidmouth - but particularly to discuss the concerns of residents vis-a-vis the plans of Persimmon to build on AONB:

Vision for Sidmouth housing debate

Thursday, October 22, 2009 
SIDMOUTH residents will have the chance to discuss their vision for the future of housing in Sidmouth at a public meeting next Friday, October 30.
Organised by the Vision Group for Sidmouth, the meeting at St Francis Hall, Woolbrook, from 6.30pm, will consider the sustainable development of the town and Sid Valley.
Secretary Jeremy Woodward said: "Housing is becoming quite a hot issue in Sidmouth and, of late, we've had several people approach us asking us to look into this. We've therefore decided to call another meeting to which all are welcome to discuss these issues and propose ways of carrying any actions forward."
There will be topics such as whether the AONB under threat, if Woolbrook has become the dumping ground for Sidmouth's problems, and whether affordable housing really affordable.
Questions on whether council tax should be raised on second homes, how to build more sustainable homes and how many empty homes there are, will also be considered.
Vision for Sidmouth housing debate - News - Sidmouth Herald
Housing questions raised at Sidmouth Vision meeting - News - Sidmouth Herald 
Vision Group for Sidmouth - Woolbrook Meeting 

This is the feedback from the meeting attended by 50 members of the public.
Here is the press release.

Following the meeting, the Vision Group submitted the following set of questions to District Council planning officers:

A: To approach the EDDC, asking them to:

  1. Consider how its Empty Homes Strategy for Sidmouth is being implemented, to improve the use of its present stock of housing:
  2. Consider raising Council Tax on Second Homes:
  3. Consider Compulsory Purchase on empty homes: 
  4. Ensure that Affordable Housing is made available for local people/young families/key workers:
  5. Consider the overall infrastructure of the town when proposing new housing:
  6. Consider sustaining the vitality of the centre of town when proposing new housing:
  7. Consider the conflicting demands of housing and ‘green belt’:
C: To explore the possibilities:

  1. That inviting applications for/granting planning permission to build on presently-designated AONB land could set a precedent:
  2. & Mechanisms for the establishment of a community company/Housing Association bid for & purchase of building land for housing:
  3. & Mechanisms for the establishment of a community company bid for & purchase of building land for preservation as a carbon sink:
For references to District Council policies, see: Affordable & Sustainable Housing

The Vision Group also contributed to the District Council's consultation:

Persimmon submitted an application to build 100 houses at Woolbrook:

New homes plan for Woolbrook

4th December 2009 By Huw Hennessy

DEVELOPERS have targeted one of Sidmouth’s Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), which, it has been alleged, was a former landfill site.

The land is between the A3052 and Higher Woolbrook on the northwest side of the town. Persimmon Homes has owned the land for some years, and now plans to build 103 homes in two fields on its northern perimeter.

A spokesperson for East Devon District Council confirmed that it has received a planning application from the building company, whose head office is based in York. “Persimmon Homes has submitted an application to build 103 homes on two fields between Higher Woolbrook and the A3052. We cannot say when the application will be completed; the planning department is snowed under at the moment, but they are deliberating on it now”.

The building project was discussed at a recent housing meeting of the Vision Group for Sidmouth.  According to a member of the public who attended the meeting, and was a former engineer for the then Urban Council, this site used to be landfill more than 30 years ago. When the landfill was closed, a sewer was laid from Green Lane to near Bradfords yard. The Vision Group raised concerns about the risks of subsidence and escape of poisonous gases at the site. It also questioned the development of land now protected under AONB status; how long the authorities are obliged to wait for such infill ground to settle; and if they are monitoring potential toxic run-off.

East Devon’s  planning policies for AONB land, are outlined on its website. With regard to building projects, it says its aims are to: “Ensure development has regard for the purposes of designation and does not diminish the historic and landscape character of the area. Encourage local design initiatives for new development, rural settlements and the appropriate re-use of rural buildings that are compatible with the character of the AONB” Overall, it adds that: “In considering both policies and individual applications, the EDAP‘s (East Devon AONB Partnership’s) main concern will be the purpose of statutory designation of the AONB – the conservation and enhancement of the natural beauty of the landscape”.

Persimmon Homes, meanwhile, confirmed that it has submitted a planning application on land it has owned on this site for “many years”. On behalf of Simon Perks, managing director for Persimmon Homes South West, a company spokesman said “We own two pieces of adjacent land in Woolbrook, Sidmouth, which we intend to develop. We recently submitted a planning application to the local authority to build 103 new homes in a mix of two to five bedroom properties at the site. We are committed to developing in Sidmouth and should we receive planning approval, we hope to commence construction in May 2010.”

The East Devon AONB commented on the application:

Previous applications at this location have been refused on AONB policy grounds amongst others. There is increasing pressure for housing through the LDF and SHLAA process, including affordable housing, in East Devon, which is beginning to challenge boundaries and locations in and at the edges of the East Devon AONB and the Blackdown Hills AONB. As these challenges arise, careful consideration needs to be given to the duty of all relevant authorities under Section 85 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 to have regard to the purpose of conserving and enhancing the natural beauty of this nationally important landscape, whilst seeking to encourage the laudable targets for improved affordable housing allocations and other development in the District.


The Vision Group submitted comments:

Discussion at Sidmouth Town Council's planning committee included the issue of potential flooding:

Concern was expressed regarding run off of water. A tanked storage system and attenuation pond would ensure that flood risk is not increased

Since then, fears that the development at Woolbrook would create more flooding seem to have been realised:
Sidmouth flooding latest - Weather - Sidmouth Herald 7 July 2012
Flood report reveals bid to better understand River Sid - News - Sidmouth Herald 19 Dec 2012

Several of the new streets have been named with reference to the poet laureate John Betjeman:
Poetic irony - Letters - Sidmouth Herald
How many new homes in Sidmouth? | Sidmouth Independent News

Then, as early as 2010, Persimmon started showing interest in developing other land which they own at Woolbrook:
Meanwhile Persimmon Homes wait in the wings ready to supply an extra hundred or so houses on AONB land in Higher Woolbrook.

And now in the latest issue of the Herald:

Home - Sidmouth Herald

Persimmon's representation to the current Local Plan process has made a very strong case for more housing:

Persimmon Homes have an interest in land at Woolbrook Road, Sidmouth. Planning Permission has recently been granted for 100 dwellings on land to the north east of Woolbrook Road. As part of the latter approval, land to the south west of Woolbrook Road was identified and transferred to Devon County Council to provide a site for a park and change/ride facility. A site location plan and concept layout plan for a park and ride facility is enclosed. 

This representation seeks the allocation of land to the south west of Woolbrook Road for in excess of 100 additional dwellings that could fully deliver and fund the park and change/ride. Both sites to the north east and south west of Woolbrook Road were identified as expansion options for Sidmouth in the 2009 LDF Issues and Options Report. 

The site proposed for allocation is shown on the enclosed location plan, edged red. Persimmon Homes control all of the land to the south west of Woolbrook Road and the site is considered to be available and deliverable. In urban design and landscape terms that the site would infill the gap between the proposed 
park and ride facility and the current built up form of the settlement. In this respect therefore the proposed development would read as part of the existing townscape rather than an urban extension protruding beyond the existing built up area of the town. 


Persimmon considers that the currently-allocated numbers of housing for the District are inadequate:

> The quantum of housing proposed does not meet projected need for 
housing identified in the Local Plan evidence base and should be 
increased to 17,000 new homes.
> The amount of housing proposed at Sidmouth is grossly low compared 
to its function and size that is likely to undermine the town’s natural 
growth, the provision of housing and affordable housing. 
> The proposed low housing provision for Sidmouth is unjustified and 
inflexible and needlessly prevents further housing developments 
required to achieve the delivery of identified infrastructure requirements. 
> The proposed 50% affordable housing requirement is grossly unviable 
and as such is not based on a realistic evidence base. 

Persimmon will be represented at the public examination of the draft Local Plan with the Inspector next month:
Local Plan inquiry set to start on February 11 - News - Exmouth Journal
Hearing Sessions for the Examination of the East Devon Local Plan | Save Our Sidmouth

There are several areas for discussion, many of which were considered in the Vision Group's comment to the planning application of 2009:
VGS comments on Planning Application 09/2093/mful

Otherwise, the issues include:


The District Council sees this as crucial:

Affordability of homes is an issue in the district with East Devon being in the top 25% of all Local Authority areas for house prices but one of the lowest nationally in terms of wages.
East Devon is in the top 25% of all Local Authority areas for house prices. Alongside this the average weekly wage for those living in the district is £471.60⁶ making East Devon one of the lowest wage areas in England. This discrepancy between wages and house prices puts us in the bottom 25% of districts in the affordability index which is the ratio between average earnings and average house prices. 

Developers are naturally concerned with maximizing profits:
Futures Forum: Help to Buy: housebuilders and homeowners benefit...

and are keen to reduce the amount of 'affordable housing' required by local authorities:
Futures Forum: Tesco's in Seaton
Seaton: EDDC votes to share the profits with Tesco but no affordable housing on the site | Sidmouth Independent News

with the pressure remaining on the District Council:
Futures Forum: East Devon and affordable housing: November 2012


The demand for housing comes largely from outside the District:
Futures Forum: Housing: "it would be impossible to build to meet demand because there is a never-ending queue of people who want to move to Devon." 
Futures Forum: Devon County and national planning policy...

But how do we measure 'need'? 
The CPRE has pointed out that population forecasts should be considerably altered - with a 'demand' for 11 rather than 15 thousand new homes:

Lastly, an observation from Cllr Claire Wright:

Considering, therefore, that demand is in fact nearly static across the whole of the District, the question arises as to whether the proposed provision of tens of thousands of new jobs (and houses) is based on the current and projected needs of the local population for work (and accommodation). The District Council must provide clear assurances that the anticipated migration into East Devon will not be the result of the development of new Employment (and Housing) Land, rather than as a response to local needs. The District Council must not be seen, through the Local Plan, to be intent on stimulating demand rather than satisfying it. 


Developers refer to the (now abandoned) Regional Spatial Strategy in promoting greater housing numbers:
East Devon Proposed Local Plan Consultation 2012 

However, the CPRE has pointed out that the RSS figures should be 'rebased':

The economic growth rate in the South West has been significantly slower than that underpinning the draft RSS. There should therefore be caution in using these earlier RSS targets and lower targets are now appropriate.

Besides, it is not clear exactly how much housing the District Council has, to date, either allocated or given consent to:
www.eastdevon.gov.uk/new_local_plan_publication_draft_dec_2011_lowres-4.pdf (December 2011 figures)
www.eastdevon.gov.uk/publicationdraftnewlocalplan.pdf (November 2012 figures)
Information on planning consents - a Freedom of Information request to East Devon District Council - WhatDoTheyKnow
Simple questions about planning consents in Sidmouth and parking revenue, but no such thing as a simple answer at EDDC | Sidmouth Independent News

See also:
Futures Forum: Allocating housing numbers in East Devon
Futures Forum: "Housing supply is poised to become a battleground before the next general election"... The popularity or non-popularity of building more housing


It is clear that the population of Sidmouth and East Devon is older than elsewhere:
Futures Forum: East Devon's population

... the town has long been a retirement haven for the well-heeled.
BBC - h2g2 - Sidmouth and The Sid Valley, Devon, England. - A6092480

Indeed, East Devon has always attracted people from outside the area:

The migration of population into East Devon from other parts of the UK show that in 2011 there were 1130 more people moving into the area than out.
Futures Forum: Migration, Sidmouth and East Devon

and this is recognised by the District:

There are more deaths than births in the District and population increase occurs because of inward migration, largely from elsewhere in England. 

In which case, building more (largely non-'affordable') housing will continue to attract the 'well-heeled' retiree - and not create the 'balanced communities' which the District Council hopes to produce...

3.10 East Devon will provide for more balanced communities where homes and jobs are in better alignment by: 
• providing major employment, housing and community facilities in Exmouth; vital housing growth at Axminster, with more modest growth at Budleigh Salterton, Honiton, Ottery St Mary, Seaton and Sidmouth 
• finding creative solutions to meeting affordable rural housing and employment needs 
• ensuring services are provided to meet the changing needs of an ageing population by maintaining and supporting services that can be delivered locally. 

Consultation Local Plan – Draft Strategy 4 Balanced Communities: 
By balanced communities we mean that in any area or neighbourhood there is a match between the jobs, the homes and the educational, social and community facilities. Ideally also in the range of ages in the resident population.


Measuring 'demands' for both more housing and more employment land are circular:

Whilst the Tym’s Report does explore different future scenarios (constant or low migration population levels over the period of the Local Plan), both current and maximum projected job density does not approach the District Council’s proposals of ‘one person, one job’ when matching proposed new housing to required new employment provision. The Tym’s Report provides well-defined methodologies and evidence; the District Council does not.


This is one of the greatest concerns to local residents:
Futures Forum: "It has not been demonstrated that development in the highly protected AONB landscape is essential."


Persimmon is a national construction company, and as such has shown interest in other parts of East Devon:
We have nothing to hide, says council - News - Sidmouth Herald
Council’s private meeting notes published - News - Sidmouth Herald

On the other hand, the District Council might consider encouraging local companies to provide housing or even for local people to build for themselves:
Futures Forum: Innovative solutions to the lack of affordable housing... self-build alternatives...
Futures Forum: Self-build: latest government initiative

However, Persimmon owns substantial amounts of land to the west of Sidmouth

and there is considerable pressure from central government for developers not to 'sit on' so-called 'land-banks' - although there is a fierce debate about this issue too:

As a way of solving the problem posed by high prices in the prosperous regions of Britain, a policy of increasing demand is absurd. It may increase supply a little, but only by raising prices still higher than they would otherwise be. If one wanted to increase supply, the solution is evident, but politically unthinkable: make a large quantity of land available for development and impose a swingeing site value tax, to compel building. Back in the 1970s, the UK built an average of 300,000 houses a year. But between 2001 and 2011, building averaged 188,000 a year, even though the population rose by some 3.5m.
It is the supply, stupid! The reason this point is not made the focus of policy is that doing so would be too unpopular and too dangerous.
It would be too unpopular because of stout resistance from the Nimby – “not-in-my-backyard” – brigade. The Campaign to Protect Rural England or, as I think of it the “Campaign for the Imprisonment of Urban England”, would be up in arms. So too would owners of “land banks” available for building and today’s homeowners. These lobbies are far too formidable for any government. It will not tackle them. The government initially broached liberalisation of the UK’s exceptionally tight restrictions on land use, but achieved little.
Buyers beware of Britain’s absurd property trap - FT.com
Futures Forum: Help to Buy: housebuilders and homeowners benefit...

There is no land bank with developers deliberately holding back land. Have a look at the LGA report. It shows a that of the 400k plots with planning permission 250k of these are on sites already being developed. Secondly, local authorities need to demonstrate a five year housing land supply. If the household projections suggest a need for 220k homes a year then the 400k represents just 2 years of supply. We really need a land bank of 1 million in other words. We should be worried that it as few as 400k. Land banking is a diversion tactic deployed by those who really don't want any development.
Spat over building on greenfield sites continues | News | Inside Housing
Futures Forum: Greenfield vs Brownfield


Whilst the press release quoted by this week's Herald refers to Persimmon's commitment to 'promoting well-designed housing', the record seems questionable:
Pickles blocks Lancashire homes on design grounds | Planning Resource
Futures Forum: Designing homes


This concept is open to considerable interpretation:
Futures Forum: Sustainability, Sustainability, Sustainability
Futures Forum: "Building new homes is as much about communities as it is about housing."
Futures Forum: Development for Sustainability: feedback from Futures Forum meeting
Futures Forum: Development for Sustainability: what is 'sustainability'?

The last word on 'the issues' comes from Streetlife:

Persimmon to push for Woolbrook Road site

Page 3 Sidmouth Herald

Is this the site opposite Penrose  Place to Ice House Lane/Bennetts Hill area?  Or is higher up?  If it is around Greenaway Lane this is a large potential site.
Dark Lane seems to have bad drainage at the best of times.

Monday, September 6, 2010 6:00 AM
A DEVELOPER has sized up a piece of Sidmouth land big enough to accommodate hundreds of new homes - over the road from where 103 dwellings are being built.
Back to present:
According to the Sidmouth Herald today, it states "big enough for 257 homes".  The number of homes seems to have increased.


Showing 5 of 5
Little Weed 
Or is this land the section adjoining 3052 to Greenaway Lane?

When you start to consider to build in Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, it could make a all areas of A.O.N.B. at risk.  It may set a precedence.
I anticipate more drainage problems, with more green fields being covered in concrete, and the Woolbrook, already prone to floooding, doing so more frequently.
Little Weed 
Is the potential site by where the Sidmouth Folk Festival camp was held last year?  I know they are moving to another on Salcombe Hill.
I thought the site was earmarked for the Park & Ride scheme. But EDDC like to have more money in coffers rather than protect what used to be 'The Jewel in the Crown' of east Devon.
The words killing Golden Goose comes to mind
Little Weed 
We were 'sold' the development  with the increased traffic, they would put in a Park and Ride scheme............to help with congestion.

The problem is the there is no opposition to challenge anything, we all seem just to forget.

One of my friends, lives in West Hill and Councillor Claire Wright has been brilliant with planning proposals by her and the work she has put in.

Also some farmland is owned by builders as investments and they are wanting to make quick profits.

Streetlife | Persimmon to push for Woolbrook Road site | Page 1
The swamping of Sidmouth | Sidmouth Independent News

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