Planners give the green light to a new farm shop in East Devon

Plans by an East Devon country estate to open a farm shop next to its existing garden centre have been narrowly approved, writes local democracy reporter Bradley Gerrard.

The 4,000-acre Combe Estate at Gittisham, near Honiton, wants to open a shop next to Combe Garden Centre on Hayne Lane, in place of its existing farm shop in a nearby housing estate.

East Devon District Council’s planning committee debated the scheme for around an hour, eventually approving it, with five votes in favour, two against and an abstention.

Some Councillors were concerned that the new shop would be harder to access on foot than the current one, while others questioned Devon County Council’s highways assessment about whether the scheme was suitable.

There was also disquiet that the report prepared by officers appeared to emphasise a contrast and comparison between the proposed and existing shops, even though there was no condition for the current one to be closed, and the fact it existed is not a planning matter.

Cllr Mike Howe (Independent, Clyst Valley) said he was concerned about making a decision because of the report.

“I am struggling to understand how to make this decision given the way the report is written as half of it relates to something that should not be considered,” he said.

“The current farm shop is not relevant, and I’m worried about this being approved or refused due to the wording.”

Cllr Alasdair Bruce (Independent, Feniton) agreed, saying he did “not believe the comparison should be in the report. It’s important we get this right, either we can compare a current operation or we can’t.

However, Cllr Howe said he was concerned that the existing shop might close. “It would be removing a vital resource form what is currently a new, sustainable community,” he said.

“Those people in Hayne Lane will now be abandoned [if the farm shop closes]and have to drive to Honiton or go down a dangerous lane to the new farm shop, which I think is wrong.

“We shouldn’t be abandoning a brand-new community, the shop ought to be kept in the current location surrounded by housing, which is where you need shops.”

Justin Lascelles, estate manager at Combe Estate, claimed the location of the existing shop was “sub-optimal” as it is in a repurposed agricultural building, with an inefficient layout and inefficient energy usage.

He noted the new scheme had 26 letters of support, and that the new location was the “best option available”.

He continued: “It will have a very positive effect on the locality and underpin existing jobs and create skilled and unskilled employment.

“It will be a betterment in terms of what is on offer, and benefit local businesses and suppliers, giving customers genuine local choice of food.”

The new cafe will be larger than the existing one, and more efficient and modern offering, according to the applicant.

Planning officers noted that the land for the cafe would is allocated for employment such as light industrial or storage and distribution.

While a cafe did not meet this requirement, no part of the allocated land had been developed since it was adopted for employment use in 2016 and there were no plans in place.

The committee passed the application by a majority vote.

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