Pedestrian safety, the loss of prime farm land and the impact on the area were among a raft of concerns that resulted in the latest rejection of ‘disastrous’ plans to build new homes in Ottery St Mary.
Plans for 63 homes on the edge of Ottery St Mary have been rejected for the third time, writes local democracy reporter Bradley Gerrard.
The scheme was voted down after a lengthy discussion that saw several residents and local councillors raise concerns.
A key focus of the near two-hour debate by East Devon Councillors centred on whether Sidmouth Road, which would provide access to the site, could adequately deal with increased traffic, and whether a proposed footpath was adequate to keep pedestrians safe.
The three-hectare site is classified as good quality, or Grade 2, agricultural land, a factor several objectors highlighted as a reason to reject the application.
Residents also complained that the site was outside the agreed local plan that guides where future houses should be built, that it could be seen from a large area, including from the nearby Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and that Ottery St Mary’s primary and secondary schools are oversubscribed.
ALD Developments, the firm behind the scheme that would have been half affordable housing, had sought to appease concerns about the roads after the scheme was last rejected in 2021.
It proposed a priority scheme that would mean traffic heading towards Ottery would give way to vehicles leaving the town, and had attempted to ensure adequate pedestrian access.
But objectors claimed that the width of the road meant it wasn’t possible to provide safe access for pedestrians and cyclists.
John Pearson, a highway consultant for 40 years, said that in this case, the “constraints are insurmountable.”
“It’s never good to squeeze in sub-standard solutions,” he said.
“The evidence is clear that the footway width is well below guidance, and that the remaining carriageway width prevents anything larger than a car from passing a non-motorised vehicle safely.”
Highways officers from Devon County Council acknowledged that a small section of the proposed footpath was below statutory guidance, but only by eight centimetres, and that it was safer than the current situation on this stretch of Sidmouth Road where no pavement existed.
Richard Grainger, Ottery St Mary mayor, said there had been “hundreds of objections” to the plan from residents.
“This application has already been rejected – correctly – twice and I really feel that there is no grounds for bringing it back to this committee,” he said.
Devon County Council Councillor Jess Bailey (Independent, Otter Valley) said it was the first time in two and a half years that she had needed to attend East Devon’s planning committee in person, which showed how “exceptionally bad” the application was.
“I would go so far as to say that if it is approved, it would be disastrous for Ottery,” she said.
“I disagree with the decision by Devon County Council’s highways officers to withdraw their objections, and my greatest concern is for pedestrians along the proposed substandard pavement.”
In mitigation, Graham Cridland, the agent for ALD Developments, said his client had “worked hard to address all the previous reasons for refusal”.
“We’ve done a great deal of work on specific mitigation measures and all the statutory consultees, such as Devon highways and Natural England, support the application and so there should be no legitimate reason for refusal,” he said.
Wendy Ormsby, East Devon District Council’s development manager, said that the planning committee had to consider the authority’s requirement to demonstrate that it had five years’ worth of land supply for future development.
Given this figure stood at 4.28 years, Ms Ormsby said the council had to assess whether some of its concerns about the development significantly and demonstrably outweighed the benefits of delivering housing.
However, Councillors voted against the plans, citing the loss of agricultural land, its overwhelming impact on the landscape, and that there had been no mechanism to secure the affordable housing or published efforts about mitigating the impact on nearby Pebblebed Heath, a special area of conservation.