An Ottery St Mary good cause’s bid to demolish its community centre and replace it with six ‘affordable’ flats has been turned down.
The Ottery Feoffee Charity’s proposals for its Brook Street building were rejected by East Devon District Council’s Planning Committee, writes Local Democracy Reporter Joe Ives.
Councillors recognised the desperate need for affordable housing, but concluded that the scheme fell short in some respects.
They argued that the proposed building would be at risk of flooding and that mitigating this by building it higher would add to the negative visual impact of the large development.
It was pointed out that the building would be contrary to the town’s Neighbourhood Plan, which ‘strongly resists’ the loss of community centres of value.
The charity, which helps people in need in Ottery, says it is struggling to pay the costs of maintaining the community centre and cannot afford to replace the ageing timber structure.
Its chair Diane Passey told the meeting: “Although it is accepted that the removal of the centre means the loss of a community facility, they [the charity’s trustees]consider this is more than compensated for by the building of more affordable accommodation for the community.”
The charity currently lets several flats nearby for just £50 per week including utilities.
Demand for more affordable housing in East Devon is soaring – a recent report from Devon Home Choice found more than 2,300 households in the district are in housing need.
Ottery representative Councillor Geoff Pratt said: “Members of the council and members of parliament and councillors up and down the country are screaming for affordable housing for communities to be provided and this is an important issue that needs to be dealt with.
“There is every need for this development to go through.”
Fellow Ottery ward member Cllr Peter Faithful supported the charity’s work, but was worried about flooding. He added: “The name, Brook Street, tells you pretty much what happens there – it floods.
“This particular application I find rather overbearing for the site.”
Cllr Mike Howe said: “It’s one of those where you want to support a charity, but in this respect the charity has just not done enough.
“There are too many policies this is against, too many question marks over it.”
Cllr Howe said he hoped the charity would take another look at its plans, make the proposed building smaller and take it out of the flood plain completely.
He added: “There is an opportunity for the charity but this certainly isn’t it.”
The Ottery Feoffee Charity is a medieval organisation dating back to 1440 when land was bequeathed to a dozen trustees for charitable purposes.
It became a registered charity in 1970 and in the same year acquired the community centre, originally built by the Devon County Council educational authority as a temporary classroom for a nearby girls’ school.