MP Neil Parish says he will be ‘banging down the door’ to ensure a vision for the future of Axminster has a viable future.
A masterplan for the town features 800 new homes and a long-awaiting relief road and was agreed last January.
However, the bid suffered a huge blow when £10million in Homes England Housing Infrastructure Funding was turned from a grant to a loan.
Homes England believes that the project could afford to repay the cash.
But East Devon District Council (EDDC) is convinced it cannot – and developers have no interest in progressing down the route of a repayable loan.
The money would have been used to forward fund a £16.7million north-south relief road that aims to end congestion, pollution and HGVs having to travel through the town centre.
EDDC’s Strategic Planning Committee this week agreed to send a letter to Neil Parish, MP for the Tiverton and Honiton constituency, to seek further help in securing funding towards the Axminster North East Urban Extension Masterplan.
The authority says the funding is under threat of being withdrawn and lost forever.
Mr Parish said: “I will continue to support EDDC in getting the funding they need for the Axminster relief road.
“Together with our excellent local councillors in Axminster, we will be banging down the door of the Housing Minister and Homes England to ensure the Axminster Masterplan has a viable future.
“We met with Homes England last year on this matter – but it is clear further discussions must take place to get this sorted.”
Speaking at Tuesday’s meeting, Councillor Ian Hall said it was imperative to get help from the MP and ‘doing nothing is not acceptable’.
He added: “I want the best for Axminster and for it to be a resilient town in the future.
“We must unlock Axminster’s potential. I believe that the agreed masterplan was nailed-on the best for Axminster and East Devon.
“We have already wasted too much time and I will not watch Axminster stagnate and die, or at best be a retirement area. Can we hurry up and get this done.”
Cllr Andrew Moulding added: “We have concerns over the masterplan at the moment as it is not deliverable as we don’t have the grants for the upfront delivery of the relief road.
“The case for us is very clear as delivery of the masterplan and relief road is essential for Axminster.”
Cllr Moulding expressed concern that plans for the southern parcel of land within the scheme could be permitted soon.
He said that, unless the relief road is forward-funded, it could be delivered without the infrastructure needed.
Cllr Moulding added: “It is essential to get upfront delivery of the relief road, stop the gridlock and get the cars out of the town.”
Cllr Sarah Jackson disagreed with the wording and the content of the letter.
She said this was because it heavily leans on a discrepancy in land values between the parties – and the committee had not been privy to valuations and viability assessments.
Cllr Jackson added: “I would hope that members seriously consider if they have the information in front of them before they send the letter and what we ask the MP to do on our behalf.”
The letter states: “Expecting the developers to pay the full cost of the road does not leave a reasonable incentive for the land owners because the costs of the relief road are so great.
“The relief road is also not just about servicing the proposed development but about addressing a wider issue of resilience in the road network and current congestion and air pollution in the centre of Axminster.
“To expect the development to cover the full cost of the road is unrealistic and unreasonable.
“In Axminster, we have a project to deliver an urban extension of 850 homes which has already been masterplanned with planning applications that will be ready to be determined by Easter 2020.
“The developers could be on-site within a year and delivering these homes if only we could deliver the relief road.
“All we need is for Homes England to release the money as traditional grant funding as originally indicated they would.
“All we are asking is that the viability work undertaken by Homes England reflects the values previously negotiated with land owners on the evidence now provided which shows that these are reasonable.
“Without this public investment the relief road will not be delivered but we are in real danger that some of the housing will have to come forward without it.
“We may soon be in a position where we cannot resist the applications for the southern part of the site and are forced to allow this to proceed despite the communities’ clear requirement that the relief road be delivered first.”
Councillors voted by eight to four, with two abstentions, to send the letter.