The character of Budleigh s seafront has been altered forever by members of East Devon District Council s planning committee.
The character of Budleigh's seafront has been altered forever by members of East Devon District Council's planning committee. What an unedifying spectacle their meeting was, not just in terms of the outcome, (approval of the Longboat application), but also in terms of the unprofessional process of achieving it.
The chairman advised councillors to ignore the difference in number between residents' objection letters (in the vast majority), and letters of support (mostly from visitors). So what is the point of writing to express our views, if they count for nothing?
His comment prompted the first heckling from the audience, setting a disrespectful, confrontational tone to the meeting.
Objectors' views were summarised misleadingly to imply that they wanted no change in Budleigh. Vociferous residents criticised this misrepresentation, reiterating they could support modern design and an increased Longboat footprint, but not the mass, scale and height of this proposed building (aspects which could have constituted legitimate grounds for refusal); this clarification was ignored.
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Implicit in approving the 'design', was approval of the size and scale, yet obfuscation on this point caused some councillors to conclude, mistakenly, that if the 'design' was signed off, objectors would be appeased by the 'detail' still being subject to further negotiation (eg building materials, air extraction structures).
This confusion side-tracked some councillors until they realised they were being bamboozled into voting away further negotiation over the two critical aspects of size and scale.
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When councillors did express serious reservations, there was no systematic process of questioning or discussion to reach conclusions - issues were left dangling.
Flippant remarks from the Chair undermined open exploration of concerns; despite this, some councillors had the courage to speak and to vote against the application. The public will remember their integrity at election time.
The deputy chairman said: "The need for something eye-catching for Budleigh Salterton goes without saying". So are the stunning natural views of our coastline just not 'eye-catching' enough?
The chairman said we "had to understand" that Budleigh is not regarded by EDDC as unique - it is merely "part and parcel" of East Devon. So does this mean the views of the town council and residents will always be subordinate to the district council's commercial priorities?
What a fiasco when the vote came! How hard can it be to count to 15? Yet they messed it up and had to re-count to verify the smallest of margins in favour, (8 : 7); the chairman voted alongside councillors in favour, unsurprisingly.
The seemingly stage-managed, perfunctory nature of this meeting, with its transparent alliances, failed all tax-payers, irrespective of their views on the Longboat application.
The duty to provide discipline and effective process in a meeting falls to the chairman; this committee could take a lesson from the Budleigh Salterton Town Council - their meetings are well-chaired and have a structured, professional process, which allows serious, respectful discussion of opposing views.