Cross party call for end to ‘planning vacuum’ that favours developers

A bid for 280 homes at Yelland Quay is just the tip of a planning 'vacuum' that has left North Devon open to developers because there is no local plan in place.

That was the message from a cross-party group including North Devon MP Peter Heaton-Jones when they met at the estuary site on Friday.

It included UKIP's Steve Crowther and Michael Pagram, Liberal Democrat Councillor David Chalmers, Labour's Mark Cann, Ricky Knight of the Green Party and Jim and Joanne Bell of Yelland Action Group.

Mr Heaton-Jones said he was opposed to the application by Yelland Quay Ltd for 280 homes plus a maritime employment campus and marine energy park.

But he said until North Devon (NDC) and Torridge councils got their local plan in place to govern development, it allowed developers to take advantage of such a site.

He said: “In common with a lot of other applications we have seen, this is purely speculative and it's been put in place because of the vacuum of the local plan.

“Like so many other developments, it is going to spoil this lovely estuary, which has been here for generations and is such an important environmental area.”

He also queried whether they should be building on a site with asbestos, which had been 'well documented' and said the developer's response that it was capped with concrete 'was not good enough'.

Mr Heaton-Jones said he had taken NDC councillors and officers to Whitehall to meet housing minister Brandon Lewis, who told them 'just get your local plan in place'.

Mr Cann added: “Until we get this plan adopted it is just a developers' free-for-all.”

Mr Crowther said: “The plan is two years behind schedule and every time we get towards concluding it there's some new problem and it seems to me it's just going to go on, because the vacuum is conducive to Government policy.

“The North Devon landscape is our biggest asset, but it is delicate and we have got to guard it for the future.”

Ricky Knight said: “This is larger than a single application, this is about a plethora of planning applications based on the premise that North Devon needs more homes. I was on the Taw and Torridge Estuary Forum for nine years and I am acutely aware of how fragile the estuary is.”

Both Torridge's community and resources committee and North Devon's executive has now agreed the final parts of the plan. Subject to ratification by both full councils, it is expected to be submitted to the secretary of state by the end of May.