Plans to build a care home on old council offices in Sidmouth are turned down over ‘prison block’ design

Plans for a care home and retirement flats on old council offices in Sidmouth have been rejected after the design was likened to a ‘prison block’.

East Devon’s former headquarters at Knowle in Sidmouth can’t be knocked down to make way for a care and retirement development, writes local democracy reporter Will Goddard.

The old offices, which were also once a hotel, were severely damaged by fire in a suspected case of arson last March.

Retirement homes specialist McCarthy and Stone wanted to build a 70-bed care home, 53 assisted living apartments for over-70s and 33 apartments for over-60s on the site, as well as four semi-detached homes and a terrace of three townhouses which would not have been age-restricted.


The care home design has been likened to a ‘prison block’.
Image: EDDC planning documents/McCarthy and Stone.

A former caretaker’s building would also have been kept, and another purpose-built structure erected, for bat habitats.

But now planning permission has been turned down, with one Councillor suggesting the plans reminded him of a prison.

The decision followed strong opposition by members of the public at an East Devon District Council (EDDC) meeting this week to consider the plans.

Objector Michael Temple said: “[The] design is undistinguished, off-the-peg, alien, like an urban institution with large side walls without windows… all out of keeping with the town and immediate area and failing to reflect the town’s vernacular.

“This prime historic parkland site needs something much, much better than this poorly designed and very damaging overdevelopment.”

Sidmouth Town Council supported the non-age-restricted houses, but not the care and retirement parts of the proposed development.


Computer generated image of over-60s apartments.
Image courtesy EDDC planning documents/McCarthy and Stone.

Its chair Cllr Chris Lockyear said: “We were opposed to the very large care home and retirement apartments. They are simply too big for that site. They are out of keeping with the area and architecturally very different.

“They will dominate the surrounding parkland and the surrounding houses. They will be visible from Peak Hill and from Salcombe Hill and therefore will change the appearance of Sidmouth both locally and from afar.”


Computer generated image of townhouses, homes.
Image: EDDC planning documents/McCarthy and Stone.

But a spokesman for the developer addressed the potential benefits of the redevelopment. He said: “The council can’t demonstrate a five-year supply of housing and this obviously helps and contributes towards that overall provision.

“In addition, this is a job creation. There are jobs being provided in the care home and the extra care as well as retirement element.

“That type of accommodation, the mix of accommodation, you’ve got a variety there in terms of care, extra care, open-market housing, there is a balanced community there.

“Commonly, residents will have family, friends, or will be living within the local community. And this does provide them that opportunity to remain part of that. It enables the downsizing of properties.

“So people, worker residents, will be moving in there. Yes, there may be some from outside, but predominantly it will be from within the local area.”

EDDC planning officers had recommended Councillors approve the plans, warning it could be difficult to defend an appeal.

A previous application for assisted living properties at the Knowle was allowed at appeal.

Councillors nevertheless voted to refuse the application on the grounds the design and shape of the two most southerly blocks would not have been acceptable and would have failed to recognise local distinctiveness. They said the scheme would lead to ‘overlooking’, been too overbearing and would have had an adverse impact on the local landscape.

Cllr Ian Barlow (Independent, Sidmouth Town), describing the proposed development as “monolithic”, said: “When I first saw [the design]I thought it perhaps had been the same architect that designed the Bibby Stockholm because it looks about as interesting as that.

“Do we not like our old people? Do we want them to live in what can be best described as a prison block?”


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