• Chairman: Business Forum does not influence policy

    23rd August 2012 | News | Claire
  • The Western Morning News today contains the following story…………………………….. 

    Fresh questions have been raised over a district’s plans to develop swathes of employment land after a neighbouring council raised “serious concerns” that it is too much.

    Dorset County Council has poured oil onto the fire of a row raging around East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) proposals for how much land should be designated for industry.

    Critics claim that the council has given too much weight to recommendations put forward by the East Devon Business Forum, which counts landowners and planning consultants among its members. The organisation’s proposals were adopted instead of recommendations for lower levels of employment land from independent consultants.

    EDDC Independent councillor Claire Wright said: “It’s incomprehensible that the council is still relying on this information. It’s pretty worrying. My concern is what will happen at the Planning Inspector stage. He will be looking for evidence that this amount of land is needed, but that evidence doesn’t exist.”

    But Graham Brown, chairman of the business forum and EDDC’s business champion, said: “The business forum does not influence policy. It’s ridiculous, and the whole thing is getting out of hand.”

    The issue will be discussed by the authority’s overview and scrutiny committee next month.

    In 2007, the council commissioned a report by Atkins Consultants, but the findings were believed to be flawed. In 2010, Roger Tym and Partners were recruited.

    But their conclusion has been swept aside in favour of the business forum’s recommendations.

    In Dorset County Council’s consultation response, senior planning officer Gill Smith said the 180 hectares of employment land proposed “considerably exceeded” both county and region-wide requirements of 100 hectares.

    She also criticised plans for 650 homes and eight hectares of employment land at Axminster, saying neither proposal had been clearly explained, and impacts on schools, traffic and roads had not been considered.

    In 2010, Devon County Council also warned that the amount of employment land “may not be considered sound”, but the concern was removed in the latest round of consultation. A spokesman said the size reduction of a site earmarked for Exeter Airport has made the difference.

    A spokesman for East Devon District Council said the strategy aimed to accommodate jobs and homes and protect the district’s “economic vibrancy”.

    He said much of the land allocation was for major schemes which would have an impact across the region.

    “We do of course take note of feedback from all parties, especially fellow councils. If there is enough evidence that any allocation needs refinement, we can review it.”