Residents who had speaking rights included Dr Margaret Hall from the Campaign to Protect Rural England, David Boyle (Tipton St John resident and expert statistician), David Mason (Rockbeare Parish Councillor) and Charlie Hopkins, planning consultant representing Save Our Sidmouth, Mike Temple from Sidmouth and David Valentine, from Gittisham Parish Council.

EDDC councillors with speaking rights were myself, Roger Giles and Susie Bond.

Planning officers from EDDC were present, as well as statistical officers from Devon County Council.

There were around 10-15 developers present, with speaking rights.

The session was about how much housing should be built in the district, what evidence there was for it and whether its distribution was correct.

The first thing I noticed was that Mr Anthony Thickett, the planning inspector, was standing no nonsense from anyone. 

There is certainly nothing wishy washy about Mr Thickett and to be fair to him, he was extremely thorough and asked many questions, often intervening to clarify a point to ensure he was clear.

He was also uncomfortably blunt at times.  EDDC officers bore the main brunt of his bluntness.

The first agenda item was about whether the local plan period was long enough. The developers said not and proposed more development to make it up to a 15 year period. The planning inspector seemed quite concerned about the length of EDDC’s plan period, which is now only 12 years, due to its delay.

EDDC is proposing 15,000 houses across the district until 2026.

The second item was how much development there should be across the district. This proved to be a very technical discussion and unless you were a statistician, or at least a very good mathematician, your eyes were likely to glaze or cross, or even close. (I spotted at least one nodding head in the public gallery).

I tried to make the broad point about comparing regional spatial strategy (housing projection) figures from 2006, the economic growth huge change in 2008 and then how the census and most recent govt housing projections broadly compared with a lower housing number published in 2006. 

But before I had finished my point I was told off by Mr Thickett for raising the issue of the regional spatial strategy, which was revoked.

Fortunately, we had Dr Margaret Hall from the local branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England and Tipton St John resident, David Boyle, on our side, who were arguing with great authority and eloquence in favour of lower housing numbers, using expert and highly technical statistical arguments, facts and figures.

As it so happened this was very fortunate indeed because the developers were mostly making a case for much more development in East Devon. Mr Seaton, who has made many appearances at EDDC planning appeal inquiries over the years, latterly Feniton’s just last week, was arguing for spectacularly more housing. He thought that there should be TWENTY EIGHT THOUSAND houses in East Devon over the next 15 years! 

There was much laughter about this, but the planning inspector told us off for laughing. There needed to be a starting point, he said.

Mr Seaton also kept talking about “backlogs.”

Dr Hall said she found it hard to follow Mr Seaton’s argument and that there had not been large numbers of people queuing up to enter East Devon’s borders. They had simply not come because the earlier projections were too high, she explained.

Dr Hall and Mr Boyle argued for a long-term more reliable approach of a 20 year trend analysis. This argument was backed up by the Devon County Council statisticians who said that this was a much more effective approach and more reliable.

Looking at short periods always meant temporary peaks and troughs that were not indicative of a longer-term trend, they said.

The planning inspector said he was concerned about schools closing, at which point I was able to update him about the total reverse situation in Ottery Rural ward, which experiencing massive pressure from housing.

DCC statisticians once again backed us up and read out some data from schools admissions.  Many families were moving into the Ottery area, it was said.

I also raised the issue of there being no medical centre at Cranbrook and those residents having to register with GP surgeries at Ottery and Pinhoe, causing again, huge pressure on health services locally.

There was a good deal of confusion over how many houses EDDC was allocating on behalf of Exeter under the duty to co-operate rule, and the inspector seemed irritated that no clear answer was forthcoming.

Developers argued that EDDC had not “planned positively” for growth, which is a requirement in the pro-growth NPPF, which EDDC planning officers refuted strongly.

During the afternoon session, developers were challenging the distribution of housing and Mr Seaton claimed that a five per cent growth in villages was equivalent to a “nil growth”

Cllr Susie Bond pointed out the massive pressure on Feniton.

I raised the issue of all the major planning applications that had been approved and how many villages in East Devon were already at, or beyond their housing allocations.

EDDC’s planning policy officer said it was “misrepresentation” to say that EDDC had not planned positively and described all the developments that had taken place in towns and villages over the past few years.

Dr Hall raised the issue of constraints, such as areas of outstanding natural beauty, high quality agricultural land and green wedges.

Someone (I cannot remember who now) was rather critical of allowing the public too much say in the process.

David Boyle talked the inspector through the consultation process for the villages document and praised EDDC for that process.

I backed up both David and Margaret and said that EDDC was entirely right on its five per cent growth in villages policy. I asked what was the point of consultation if it was all entirely ignored? Surely it must carry some weight, I said.

Another developer, Simon Steele Perkins, referred to the totally discredited “Preferred Approach” document, published by the old secret LDF Panel in 2010. This was much more positive about growth generally and in villages, he suggested.

I told the inspector that this document was widely discredited and was a document where development went anywhere and everywhere. All the countryside protections were weakened. EDDC went back to the drawing board after this document and started the process again in 2011, after there was a public outcry, I added.

At this point another developer, James McMurdo, suggested that the local plan process had been taken over by “politics,” which of course, was true, but not in the way he meant.

The usually unflappable EDDC planning policy officer got irritated at this and read out paragraph 1 of the national planning policy framework, which was all about encouraging communities to get involved in the planning process.

He said that communities were the best judge of where development should go.

The planning policy officer added that developers did not have the best interests of communities at heart, but were more interested in land values.

The inquiry continues tomorrow with employment land strategy …