Sunday, 28 November 2010

A big issue on both sides of the pond

A recently built five-bedroom detached house at Clyst Hayes Gardens, on Budleigh Salterton's Exmouth Road, priced at £865,000.
Photo image

It was a former resident of Brewster, MA who told me some time ago that the Cape Cod town and Budleigh Salterton were ideally suited as twin communities because of their equally high house prices.

As readers may know, I'm always keen to point out similarities between Budleigh and Brewster but that particular aspect is not generally seen as a positive. In fact our friends across the Atlantic expressed their concerns about it recently at a forum on 3 November which brought together Brewster estate agents, bankers and local officials and volunteers.

Making Brewster affordable for a range of workers was seen as vital by forum participants. “It’s very critical largely because the Cape cost of housing is higher, and wages are lower so service workers can’t afford to buy a place or rent a place,” said Paul Ruchinskas of the Brewster Community Preservation Committee.

The problem, just as in the UK, is especially severe for young people. “The only way of keeping any of our youth is affordable housing,” declared fellow committee member Elliot Carr, a retired banker and Brewster resident who writes frequently on the environment and economy for Cape Cod publications.

In Budleigh also concerned voices have been raised about the lack of affordable housing. The town's Design Statement published in 2004 stated that "new projects should include an adequate supply of affordable housing of the size and type which allows local first-time buyers to remain in their home town."

That's easier said than done. Town Councillor and former Mayor of the town Chris Kitson has been quoted as supporting the need for affordable housing and the desirability of keeping long-standing Budleigh families to "maintain the town's heritage." Unfortunately, he has pointed out, there is a lack of land for larger developments which would give scope for affordable housing to be included.

As the Design Statement notes, the situation has been exacerbated by the fact that Budleigh Salterton, like many attractively situated small towns, has been targeted by second-home owners. "It is recognised that buyers looking for a holiday home in Budleigh Salterton pose an intractable problem that also affects the town’s vitality and the viability of local business."

Not the most sensible of locations for a house next to a river, yet planners gave the go-ahead

For some planning authorities, the search for sites suitable for affordable housing has led them to develop land which had previously been considered sacrosanct because of its environmental value or even off-limits because of its situation in a flood plain. With Government and politicians generally keen to be seen supplying the need for affordable housing it's no surprise that more and more of our green spaces have been sacrificed to urban sprawl. The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) noted in 2007 that Green Belts have shrunk in most of England’s regions since 2004, despite a pledge by the then Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott that they would grow in every region.

Three years ago SW England was noted in the CPRE report as being an exception to that trend. That may no longer be the case with the publication by East Devon District Council of its Local Development Framework (LDF) consultation document, a summary of which is at One of its key proposals is that from 2006 to 2026 East Devon will see a total of 19,420 new homes being built.

Needless to say many residents are unhappy with such proposals, which they see as likely to damage the character of the region, 66% of which is classified as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Concerns have been raised that the existing infrastructure cannot cope with the increase in population envisaged by EDDC.

Opposition to the EDDC proposals has come from the recently formed Communities before Developers which held a well publicised protest at EDDC offices in Sidmouth on Tuesday 23 November 2010. The group's website at is well worth studying for the depth of feeling expressed by many local residents about EDDC's plans.

One can understand the pressures on the District Council. It claims to be following the example set by "all other Councils in England", in the words of the LDF summary document. It maintains that East Devon must keep pace with Exeter - "one of the fastest growing city economies in the land." It declares that new planning guidelines are needed "that are fit for purpose and satisfy the latest demands of national Government." Its proposals for the region are inspired by the vision of a new, more dynamic and more prosperous East Devon. "For each new home built we want to see at least one extra job provided," say the planners in the LDF summary document.

Such thinking is rejected by EDDC's opponents. “It makes us wonder whether the council has any regard at all for what the majority of residents love about living here," states Claire Wright, Ottery St Mary Town Councillor for West Hill, and Communities Before Developers campaigner. "We believe local people want East Devon to remain largely rural, not turned into a semi-urban district, with light industry.”

According to EDDC's plans as outlined in the summary LDF document Budleigh Salterton will not be especially threatened by what the Council's critics describe as urban sprawl - only 50 new homes are envisaged for the town, described by EDDC as a "hub rural settlement."

Yet I notice from a glance at that quite a number of Communities before Developers supporters are from Budleigh.
It could be that many Budleigh people feel sympathy for the plight of those Exmouth residents in the St John's Wood area horrified by the prospect of seeing 1,000 houses built in what they describe at as a "beautiful and priceless area."
Equally, some Budleigh residents feel that EDDC's plans are too ambitious to be launched during a recession. "During a financial crisis it also seems short-sighted to sacrifice East Devon’s outstanding heritage and swap it irrevocably for urban sprawl and uncertain job opportunities," writes Communities before Developers supporter Dr Anita Jennings.

"Very few planning applications for what on the face of it could be described as a relatively modest proposal can have provoked such a considerable amount of third party interest," admits East Devon District Council in something of an understatement about the application to replace the Longboat café and adjoining shelter, pictured above, with a modern restaurant. Opponents claim that the proposed new building would be an eyesore.

But it's pretty clear that a major factor in the rejection of East Devon District Council's plans for the region by many Budleigh Salterton residents is the Council's handling of the application for development of the Longboat café. As Dr Jennings writes, "This consultation comes at a bad time for both East Devon District Council and the public. The relationship between the two is at a low ebb. EDDC planners take little or no notice of local councils or their electorate. Countless people are outraged by EDDC’s contempt for the local voice."

Such views simply reflect those expressed in the open letter addressed to EDDC and published on 1 November 2009 on behalf of Budleigh Salterton Town Council, where the District Council, in approving the application for development of the Longboat café, is accused of "having little regard for the democratic process, for the views of the town council, and for the views of the majority of local townspeople."

But before dismissing local opposition to EDDC's plans for the development of East Devon as stemming from a storm about a seafront café one should bear in mind that this region is not alone in feeling unease about big Government's plans. Throughout Britain over the last few years local communities have been expressing anger over the way in which urban sprawl has been allowed to spoil a green and pleasant land.

Yes, cities, towns and villages have to evolve, and planners everywhere have to demonstrate their ambitious and dynamic thinking to please their political masters. But in both town and countryside the number is growing of those who mutter darkly about brown envelopes and deals being concluded on the golf course. Isn't this development thing just about money?

Below are just a few of the links to such reports in local media during the current year in England alone.

Bristol 19 August 2010
Berkshire 9 April 2010 Berkshire 2 July 2010 Cheshire 8 October 2010 Devon 1 November 2010
Hampshire 26 May 2010
Hampshire 28 May 2010 Norfolk 4 October 2010 Oxfordshire 27 January 2010
Somerset 11 February 2010 Somerset 25 May 2010
Somerset 10 June 2010
Surrey 10 April 2010
Sussex 15 March 2010
Sussex 27 July 2010
Warwickshire 6 April 2010

The EDDC summary document can be seen at

If you would like to comment, email
The deadline for expressing views to the District Council is 5.00 pm on Tuesday 30 November 2010.

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