Exmouth is at “saturation point” with homes for older people and the level of East Devon pensioners is not “economically sustainable,” a meeting has heard.

On Tuesday, June 13, councillors rejected the advice of officers for a new retirement apartment 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 retirement 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, deciding 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.

The committee’s decision came after several objections were heard at the meeting, including from Exmouth Town Council. It raised concerns about the loss of employment land, perceived “overdevelopment,” and criticism about more housing exclusively for elderly residents.

“It puts a very particular type of development – retirement properties – in an area awash with them when we’re in desperate need of affordable homes for young families and couples,” a statement from the council said.

Speaking in favour on behalf of the applicant, Rosie Roome claimed there was a “clear local need” for such a development, stating: “Retirement housing is not for everyone, but it is important to provide choice within the housing market.”

She added: “The proposal will have benefits throughout the whole housing market; freeing up larger properties for families which in turn frees up homes for first-time buyers.

“The proposal will create new jobs on site. There will also be an increase in local spending in the town centre as residents will be basket shoppers and use the services and facilities during the week when they are quietest.”

Ms Roome revealed there would be “no loss of employment” from the current Jewson store, with all staff transferred to nearby Withycombe Road.

Exmouth Journal: Churchill Retirement Living had applied to build 54 retirement apartments along with six retirement cottages.Churchill Retirement Living had applied to build 54 retirement apartments along with six retirement cottages. (Image: Churchill Retirement Living, planning documents)

However, East Devon’s economic development officer Tom Winters told the meeting there will be “more economic harm than benefit deriving from this particular application.”

He explained there is a “chronic lack” of employment land in East Devon, while the district is “currently losing many employers because they cannot find sufficient space.”

And whilst it was estimated the application would lead to 12 jobs on the site, Mr Winters believed guidance suggested “23 jobs is the right amount of jobs which should be accommodated at this type of site for this type of use.”

He added East Devon has the third highest proportion of pensioners of any local authority in the country. “That’s not economically sustainable.”

A number of councillors then criticised the plan, including Councillor Olly Davey (Green, Exmouth Town). “The local plan says there is a need for balanced communities, securing employment provision, reducing the need for commuting, and encouraging development for younger people and families.

“Well, Exmouth already has a high proportion of older people,” he said, adding: “I think a better use could be found for this site. A better use would be a mixed residential and commercial – say an office development.”

Cllr Davey also believed the level of developer contributions was lower than it should have been.

Meanwhile, Cllr Brian Bailey (Conservative, Littleham) said: “Exmouth is in a situation where we’re all getting older. The population in Exmouth is getting older and older on a daily basis.

“We have a housing need in Exmouth for one- and two-bedroom flats and houses,” he added. “We need those types of housing. Why are we getting this? We don’t need this. There is no demand for this.”

This was further echoed by Cllr Steve Gazzard (Lib Dem, Withycombe Raleigh). “Do we need anymore [retirement homes]?” he asked. “I don’t think we do. I think we’ve got to what I would call saturation point in Exmouth for these types of developments.”

The committee rejected the plan by a margin of six votes to one, with three abstentions.