Exmouth councillor praised

Alan Darrant of Save Our Sidmouth handing over a petition to Mark Williamson at the Knowle in Sidmou

Alan Darrant of Save Our Sidmouth handing over a petition to Mark Williamson at the Knowle in Sidmouth, also Mike Temple handed over his at the same time. Photo by Terry Ife ref shs 6537-23-12TI To Order a copy of this photo visit www.sidmouthherald.co.uk and click on myphotos24 - Credit: Archant

Exmouth’s Mark Williamson, the chairman of the district council’s planning committee, has been praised over his stewardship of a controversial debate.

At the last development management committee meeting, district councillors adopted a new policy that protesters fear could lead to thousands more houses being built in East Devon.

Councillors endorsed plans to approve applications totalling more than 2,000 extra new homes - on top of the 4,500 already in East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) draft Local Plan.

EDDC says it was ‘forced to act’ to show it has a list of sites available for new housing up to 2018.

To help increase housing, the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) requires planning authorities to keep an up-to-date deliverable five-year housing land supply - if they don’t, even the draft Local Plan can be ‘amended’.

The Planning Inspectorate has overturned recent decisions by EDDC to refuse large developments because EDDC could not show it had land supply for new housing over the next five years.

However, more than 150 residents turned out to a debate about the issue, with some mounting a demonstration – but they were told they would be unable to speak at the meeting.

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Planning chairman Mark Williamson said the report delivered to the committee was for councillors only, to a chorus of heckles from members of the public, who said they were being “gagged”.

Council leader Paul Diviani then subsequently sent an internal email calling Councillor Mark Williamson ‘masterly, restrained and a credit to the council’ for the way he handled the debate.

He said: “May I just say that the quality of debate yesterday was excellent and you followed a logical path in your deliberations.”

He even compared the meeting to a new television show about council planning departments, adding: “Perhaps if the BBC had covered your meeting, they might raise the standards of ‘The Planners’!”

On the complaints from people over the lack of debate or public speaking Cllr Diviani said there was ‘obvious (if sad) politicking over the housing numbers’.

“There will be criticism over ‘democratic deficit’ in terms of the rules of debate, but that is, sadly, what we have come to expect,” he added.