A planning application for 550 new homes in Bideford has been approved by Torridge District Council in a meeting where members said they felt ‘backed into a corner’.

Councillors have approved a major new development of 550 homes off Clovelly Road in Bideford after saying they felt ‘backed into a corner’.

Torridge District Council’s (TDC) plans committee met today (Thursday) to discuss an ‘implications report’ on an application they failed to reach a decision on last month.

The outline planning application by Linden Homes, for land south of Atlantic Village, was approved by a majorty of two votes.

‘Hiding something’

The meeting did not get off to the best of starts when deputy Bideford mayor Doug Bushby was told he could not address the meeting as there were no public speakers allowed.

Councillor Langmead told the committee initially the town council had been told they could send a representative.

But senior solicitor Jamie Hollis said because this was a meeting purely for the implications report, it was standard procedure not to allow public speakers.

Councillor Peter Christie then accused the council of ‘hiding something’ because the full barrister’s report prepared on the application had not been made public.

Mr Hollis said TDC did not want to ‘show all its cards’ in case it weakened the council’s position should the matter go to appeal.

“I’m sorry but it just doesn’t sit right with me,” countered Cllr Christie, who said he was ‘very much in favour of transparency’.

‘Backed into a corner’

Many councillors around the table said they felt they had been left with little choice but to approve the application due to the likelihood of an expensive appeal.

How the proposed development could look on land south of Clovelly Road.How the proposed development could look on land south of Clovelly Road.

Councillor Margaret Brown said: “I really object to being told I’m backed into a corner; if we don’t agree to this, it will subject Torridge to a huge legal bill. That doesn’t sit easy with me.”

Members were taken through the implications report by independent barrister David Fletcher, and told all of the objections previously raised were not enough to uphold a refusal.

He said: “It is my opinion the likely outcome of an appeal would be the inspector would find the benefits of the development do significantly outweigh the disadvantages.”

‘Toothpaste tube’

Cllr Christie said the large site would ‘skew’ Bideford: “It’s like squeezing Bideford out of a toothpaste tube; it’s going all one way.”

Councillor Jane Leaper said she felt ‘rather bullied’ into making a decision and added: “I do however accept there’s no point engaging the Charge of the Light Brigade if we’re going to lose on appeal and it means throwing away £75,000.”

But Councillor Robin Julian said he felt the council had ‘not dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s’, and should be more worried about the people affected than the money.

“This is long-term and it’s forever, so we’ve got to make sure,” he added.

Councillor Mervyn Langmead proposed the councillors approve the outline application, with the hope any future issues could be addressed in a future reserved matter application.

Members voted five in favour of approving the application, three against, and one abstention.

How they voted

The councillors who voted for approval were: Mervyn Langmead, Peter Watson, Rose Lock, Philip Hackett and Jane Leaper.

The councillors who voted against approval were: Peter Christie, Robin Julian and Kenny Davis.

Councillor Margaret Brown abstained, and said she did so because she was not happy to approve, but was also not happy that if refused, ‘the public purse would suffer’.

Speaking outside of the meeting, Councillor Bushby said he was ‘very annoyed’ he was not allowed to speak and added: “Once again, it’s local democracy being silenced.”

Do you think councillors were right to approve the application? Comment below and let us know your thoughts.