Sunday 7 September 2014

The East Devon Business Forum, housing numbers and greenfield sites

There has been considerable pressure on greenfield sites lying outside Sidmouth's building line:
Futures Forum: Persimmon, Sidmouth and greenfield sites

And with further pressures on the draft Local Plan for the District, it is clear that there will be demands to up the number of houses to be built over the coming years:
Futures Forum: Housing numbers in East Devon ...... and the Local Plan ...... more reports on planning meeting of 26th August

The question remains as to what extent the campaign by the East Devon Business Forum influenced these numbers: by inflating the amount of employment land 'needed', it seems that the amount of matching housing was therefore exaggerated:

From the minutes of the EDBF from April 2004:

It was also noted that there was a link between industrial expansion and the allocation of land and affordable housing and also that larger businesses migrating into the area generally offer higher rates of pay than the established traditional smaller businesses. [NB: contradicted in: Futures Forum: Can supermarkets ever be sustainable? ... 'Localising economies is a better way of making an economy more transparent and giving people more control.']

It was agreed that Exeter Airport land allocation should be driven by employers’ needs and not by Devon County Council, East Devon District Council etc. Market forces drove land value, with housing being the most expensive, followed by employment land and then, agricultural land. It was agreed that there is a need to ease planning restrictions to facilitate growth.


A news item promoting the EDBF agenda from 2009:
East Devon Business Forum, Graham Brown | This Is Exeter | Exeter Express and Echo

Observations from independent Cllr Claire Wright from 2012:

East Devon Business Forum’s influence over the Local Plan

Friday, 06 July 2012 0 Comments by Claire

I have copied and pasted below a report I submitted to EDDC’s Monitoring Officer during May.

I have not published the report before because it is sensitive and I do not wish to be accused of political point scoring. To me, this is much more serious because of its implications for the Local Plan.

I believe it also raises questions about EDDC’s links with major developers and landowners in the district, which dominate the membership of East Devon Business Forum. I appreciate that this can be a difficult balance to get right, but in this case I believe the balance was very far from right.

On Wednesday East Devon Business Forum’s latest minutes were published, link here:http://www.eastdevon.gov.uk/140612edbfmis.pdf, where members debated my report and agreed on a response, which I will publish in a subsequent post.

I will also publish planning policy manager, Matt Dickins’ response to my paper.

My full report is below.

Report for Monitoring Officer and Deputy Chief Executive, Denise Lyon

1. Introduction

As a member of the former Local Plan Panel, I have taken the decision to write this analysis motivated by a deep concern that East Devon District Council’s excessive proposals for industrial estates or ‘employment land’ in the district, could result in an ‘unsound’ verdict at inspection.

I have spent considerable time researching the evidence connected to proposed development within East Devon over the life of the Local Plan period until 2026.

This is an issue that I have raised at Local Plan Panel meetings and in my response to the Local Plan consultation in January this year.

What I have found disturbs me greatly. The written evidence, publicly available in minutes of meetings during 2007 and 2008, shows that there has been significant influence from one group of landowners and developers. This is the East Devon Business Forum (EDBF) chaired by Cllr Graham Brown.

The EDBF recommendations were adopted by Corporate Overview Committee in November 2007.

EDBF’s proposals are vastly out of line with the views expressed by two independent consultants commissioned by EDDC.

The two independent reports (Atkins 2007 and Roger Tym 2011) both advised that significantly less employment land is required in the district, have been disregarded in favour of proposals from the EDBF group, who clearly cannot be described as independent.

Many members of EDBF, including those who were selected to be a member of the employment land task group (see EDBF mins 25 January below), are major landowners and developers in the district.

It is possible that the countryside has already been unnecessarily damaged by allowing inappropriate proposals to become council policy immediately, as well as by incorporating the recommendations in long-term strategic policy - initially the Local Development Framework and subsequently the Local Plan.

I also believe that there is a real prospect that a planning inspector, once made aware of these documents, could decide that EDDC’s Local Plan is unsound, based on lack of evidence to support the large amount of employment land.

Clearly any ‘unsound’ verdict would place the council in a permissive position for some time with regard to determining planning applications, with further risk to our countryside, on which so many businesses, particularly tourism businesses, are dependent.

An unsound finding would also cost the taxpayer tens of thousands of pounds in wasted inspectorate fees and also in resubmission fees.

My concern has been further heightened by the publication of the National Planning Policy Framework, which, at paragraph 22, clearly encourages the change of use of land allocated for employment if it has not been developed.

Significant overprovision of employment land surely would play into the hands of developers, who would far rather have lucrative housing on sites, instead of industrial units.

In addition and to exacerbate this problem the Economy Think Tank has prepared proposals, now incorporated in the Local Plan, to provide employment land in villages.

I have had concerns about this for some time, not least the way in which the proposals came about (no minutes were taken of the Economy Think Tank) and proposals appeared in the Local Plan Panel papers and were subsequently approved by the majority of the Local Plan Panel and Development Management Committee.

Paragraph 22 of the NPPF outlines the danger our villages are in, if these proposals continue to be supported.

EDBF chairman, Cllr Graham Brown, also chaired the Local Development Framework Panel during 2008 and part of 2009. In addition, Cllr Brown led the EDBF TAFF’s study into employment land.

This could be considered to be a conflict of interests.

Below set out in date order, are the minutes of EDBF meetings, as well as the relevant Corporate Overview Committee minutes, to support my concerns.

Where I wish to draw attention to a piece of text I have underlined it. Where a particularly significant piece of text is included, I have also highlighted in yellow.

2. EDDC consultants' view

East Devon District Council has commissioned two consultant studies into the future provision of employment land in the district.

Atkins, the first consultants, were commissioned at a cost of £30,000 in 2007. Following a lengthy investigation and a report that ran to hundreds of pages, the conclusion was there was only a slight undersupply of employment land available until 2016.

In 2011 Roger Tym consultants were commissioned to advise on housing and employment provision in the Local Development Framework.

Roger Tym, on page 54, table 5.6 states that the required floorspace for B-use use is 32.3 hectares or 80 acres, which broadly accords with Atkins recommendations.

From studying the list of the land submitted on page 79 of the Roger Tym report and elsewhere in EDDC’s Local Plan West End chapter, it appears that EDDC is proposing at least 263 hectares or 657 acres, although page 29 of the Local Plan only admits to 168.4ha, including existing commitments.

Some proposals, such as the Sainsbury’s distribution centre and three hotels at growth point – are not included in the overall employment figures.

Both sets of consultants advise that existing industrial estates and business parks should be considered for re-development. The consultants also advise that empty units should be better used and that there is existing space available through ‘churn’ or companies vacating premises.


3.9 East Devon Business Forum – 16 April 2009

“Angela Wright, Vice Chairman, proposed that the Business Forum be split into smaller groups to help deliver activities such as discussing Housing Land Supply. The five groups proposed were as follows:

1. Availability of employment land, planning and development including the LDF, led by Roy Stuart;
2. Training & skills led by Councillor Malcolm Florey;
3. Housing including affordable housing and availability of housing land led by Councillor Philip Skinner;
4. Environmental, climate change & transition towns, led by Tim Ford;
5. Tourism, led by Mark Shepherd.

These groups should involve all members of the forum who would be nominated to appropriate sub groups. These sub groups would then report to the main Business Forum.

Following subsequent debate at the meeting, it was proposed that Sub Groups 1. and 3. could be merged and also that a sub group 6 be formed entitled “Stimulating Economic and Business Growth in East Devon” led by Councillor Graham Brown.”

3.10 East Devon Business Forum – 8 July 2009 (page 11)

“Members received the notes of a meeting held on 23 June 2009 to consider the formation of sub groups within the Forum. This issue had been originally raised at the meeting of the Business Forum on 16 Aril 2009 (minute no 11 refers).

The sub group had expressed the desire to move away from the highly structured approach suggested at the April meeting and instead to identify 4 – 5 people who would be responsible for areas of activity and then report on these to Business Forum meetings.

The five individuals proposed and their areas of expertise were as follows:
1. Availability of employment land, planning and development including the LDF, Housing including affordable housing and availability of housing land - Roy Stuart;
2. Training & skills - Councillor Malcolm Florey;
3. Environmental, climate change & transition towns - Tim Ford;
4. Tourism -Mark Shepherd.
5. Stimulating Economic and Business Growth in East Devon – Terry Kingdom.”

3.12 East Devon Housing and Employment Study
(Roger Tym report) autumn 2011

Employment Land Requirements (page 84)
“8.19 In planning for space to support delivery of B-space jobs, some 32 hectares of employment land should be set aside for B-space uses. This includes 22 ha for offices and 10.5 ha for industrial/warehousing uses.

Under the low migration assumption the difference (-2 ha) is not significant to have any value. Also, we would rather be more cautious in planning for
employment space.

We therefore recommend that 32 ha should be the minimum amount of new allocations within East Devon.

8.20 While this may be seen as significantly less than previous allocations, it should be recognised that these are net figures, and there will still be (gross) new space coming through natural churn within existing employment sites, which are not included in this net figure.

Also, as we have seen in the property market profile, the recession has undermined developer confidence and the vacant space depressed values.

Not least, only 6,500 sq m of new employment land developments have come forward in the past two years of annual monitoring (i.e. 2008/09 and 2009/10). Adding further supply by allocating too much new land may only depress values further and undermine market confidence.”

4. I very much hope that all the evidence relating to the strategic provision of employment land will be looked at very carefully and the independent reports examined afresh, with a view to significantly reducing the amount of employment land and achieving a sound Local Plan.

Claire Wright
Independent East Devon District Councillor
Ottery St Mary Rural Ward

East Devon Business Forum’s influence over the Local Plan

From the Sidmouth Independent News website from last year:

Local Plan – EDDC’s justification for employment land

October 17th 2013

Several pages are devoted to trying to match up housing to employment land. This is, of course, now redundant, as the lack of 5 year land supply is resulting in houses being built in areas which were not anticipated by EDDC at the time of this report and other employment and housing changes that have since happened. For example, Axminister lost many jobs when the carpet factory downsized, Seaton lost all the affordable homes on the Tesco site (where housing numbers were reduced), Feniton has had growth well beyond its needs, Ottery’s regeneration has stalled, etc.

Local Plan – EDDC’s justification for employment land | Sidmouth Independent News
East Devon Business Forum airbrushed out of Local Plan employment land sections | Sidmouth Independent News
Too much employment land – so it could be changed into more housing developments | Sidmouth Independent News

See also:

A Freedom of Information request on the EDBF and the 5-Year Housing Land supply:
Employment TAFF and 5 year land supply TAFF agendas and minutes - a Freedom of Information request to East Devon District Council - WhatDoTheyKnow

From the Chamber of Commerce to the chair of the planning committee:
Letter to Cllr M Williamson, Chairman of the Development Management Committee, EDDC | Save Our Sidmouth

Submissions to the draft Local Plan:

Research paper on the EDBF:
Planning in East Devon and the East Devon Business Forum

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