A property developer has accused East Devon councillors of “ageism” after refusing dozens of new retirement apartments in Exmouth.

Earlier this month, the council’s planning committee rejected plans for a new retirement block in the town centre, arguing more homes need to be built with younger people in mind.

Churchill Retirement Living had applied to build 54 apartments along with six retirement cottages, communal facilities, car parking, landscaping, and commercial space on the site of builders’ merchants Jewson on Fore Street.

East Devon planning officers recommended approval, concluding it would be “sustainable development,” and help improve housing supply.

But the majority of the planning committee voted against the plans due to the lack of a “mixed balance” of properties, a loss of employment land, and because the site hasn’t been marketed for the required time of at least a year.

Justifying their decision, one councillor claimed Exmouth is at “saturation point” with homes for older people, while another said the town’s population is getting “older and older.”

Exmouth Town Council also objected, describing the town as being “awash” with retirement properties when “we’re in desperate need of affordable homes for young families and couples.”

Exmouth Journal: Spencer J McCarthy has described the decision as “ageism, pure and simple”.Spencer J McCarthy has described the decision as “ageism, pure and simple”. (Image: Churchill Retirement Living)

The meeting heard that East Devon has the third highest proportion of pensioners of any local authority in the country, which the council’s economic development officer described as “not economically sustainable.”

Now the chairman of Churchill Retirement Living has hit back, demanding councillors apologise to older people for their “insulting and frankly discriminatory” comments.

“It is ageism, pure and simple, and betrays a very worrying mindset indeed,” Spencer J McCarthy said in a statement.

“Age is an immutable characteristic. Can you imagine the outcry if councillors elsewhere declared their local area had ‘too many’ people with other characteristics over which they have no control?

“The fact is one of the reasons Exmouth is so popular probably lies in the number of older people there who invariably keep the places where they live clean and tidy, spend money on the local economy and contribute to their community – not least when they are looking after their grandchildren.

“It’s a shame their elected councillors have so little respect or appreciation for older people and the positive part they play in a civilised society.”

In response, a spokesperson for East Devon District Council said the planning committee refused the application on “planning grounds alone.”

“These were based on the loss of employment land and the impact of that on the local economy, as well as insufficient affordable housing being proposed within the development.”