Have an inquiry
PUBLISHED: 07:10 16 March 2013
With the ongoing rumpus over Exmouth's seafront, namely the impending doom of Elizabeth Hall and the proposed new Splash development which East Devon District Council (EDDC) is pushing for, it occurs to me that not so long ago, the preferred option would have been for the Secretary of State to call in the proposals for a public inquiry.
Indeed, I remember exactly this happening back in the 1970s when a big marina was planned for the area of Camperdown Gut.
I recall, as a teenager at the time, it was held in the Pavilion and my father gave evidence as a naval expert, on how unsuitable this location would be from the point of view of constant dredging being required due to adverse scouring by fierce local tides.
Needless to say with a strong, local business community in those days and a thriving tourist industry that wasn’t dominated by the big corporates, the inspector ruled against the damaging proposal; so this bucolic backwater, where artists, photographers, tourists and bird-watchers are often to be seen, was allowed to remain undisturbed for a further 40 years!
How fortunate this was, since the current marina in the old dock basin is infinitely more suitable and a thriving village community has grown up around it.
Hardly a week goes by now, without a smiling photograph of an EDDC officer or councillor looking out at us from the pages of this newspaper and propounding on the wonders of local democracy and how, miraculously, over 50 per cent of the population thinks the Splash is a good idea.
I am concerned that EDDC is local government, landowner, landlord, inspectorate, planning department and business forum, all under one large roof.
I have now heard that one councillor is offering consultancy services to developers *.
Unless there is a full, independent public inquiry by an inspector from outside the region, concerning the whole gamut of Exmouth’s seafront and estuary-side, the public is unlikely to have any confidence in EDDC’s statement that the majority of residents are behind their Masterplan.
How can there be over 12,000 real names on a petition to save the Elizabeth Hall and upgrade it for the use of both residents and tourists alike, which was summarily dismissed by EDDC; yet we are commanded to believe that the defining moment is from an EDDC questionnaire concerning the Splash with only five hundred anonymous returns, nearly 40 per cent of which were done online (198 out of 518 returns) and which could be completed from anywhere in the world and as many times as you liked?
I believe local democracy is fast becoming a figment of the imagination.
If they could only gag the local newspaper!
*See page five