An anonymous poster called "Diplomat" has attempted to put on this site the reply from Kate Little to my letter of 2 October 2006. Just one problem: I myself had not seen the letter - I have only just picked it up from my letterbox at 12.50 on Tuesday 14 November 2006 and the posting was done at 12.35 pm - 15 minutes before I picked up the letter myself!!!
To Diplomat I would say: sorry, this is a moderated blog which cannot be manipulated and I intend to report this matter to the relevant authorities.
Just who has access to a digital version of my personal correspondence with East Devon and is trying to manipulate this site? I would imagine only someone in East Devon District Council who has access to Kate Little's files, or to whom she copied my letter digitally.
Fortunately, Diplomat has done me a favour as he or she sent the digital copy (which can only be on EDDC's private intranet) so I don't have to type it out word for word.
However, here hot off the presses is Kate Little's reply to me
Dear Ms Semple
Seaton Town Design and Seaton Regeneration Area Meeting – 27th September 06
Thank you for your letter of 2nd October 2006 which we received and acknowledged on 3rd October. I am sorry to take so long to reply to you and I note that you wanted a reply by the end of the month but unfortunately due to the workload in the Department it is simply not possible to always get to letters as quickly as I would like.
I would like to respond to some of the points that you have raised within your letter because it seems to me that there is a misinterpretation of what I have been saying and it is one that seems to have got into the wider public domain and therefore it needs rectifying.
First it is not the case to simply say baldly that EDDC supports the developer in his desire to make as much money from the site as possible. Under planning legislation a landowner is at liberty to make the best of the land that he/she has available and this includes, where appropriate, obtaining planning permission for particular uses suitable for that site. If that increases the value of that land, which it inevitably does, it is the landowner that takes the benefit. The purpose of Section 106 Agreements, which are the legal agreements supporting planning applications, is to secure on behalf of the Community sufficient funds to negate any adverse impact that flows from any development secured through planning permission. There has to be a balance between understanding what it is a developer has to achieve to secure the community benefit and simply trying to outstrip the capacity or viability of a site to deliver the community benefits. It is this balancing exercise that the Planning Authority will undertake in the negotiations. To take an unrealistic stand and attempt to secure benefits that (a) aren’t a direct result of the development taking place and are simply being sought to secure existing shortfalls is not a reasonable use of the Section 106 Agreement and (b) to attempt to over compensate and seek any community benefit that occurs to one is similarly unlikely to gain support should the matter be tested at appeal. A practical understanding of development costs associated with developing sites is an important prerequisite to understanding what a site can deliver in terms of benefit and in this case the site has some extraordinary constructions costs relating to the need to raise the levels across the piece in order to overcome the flood risk issues associated with it at its current level and taking into account the need to accommodate climate change requirements. That cost involved in creating that increased level across the site impacts on the availability of profit margin from which the Council can draw down the community benefit. Therefore to describe it has you have is far too simplistic an interpretation and should be caveated by the points I have made above.
In looking at how to prioritise the community benefits, first and foremost, in line with Council’s number one priority, is as you rightly say, the delivery of affordable housing. The need within this District to secure housing for rent and for home buy which is a form of shared equity ownership is very important to the District Council Members and the local authority has made it its key priority in order to try on behalf of the residents of East Devon to overcome this iniquity. Secondly we are looking to achieve the requirements set out in the Supplementary Planning Guidance adopted by this Council for this site and that includes the provision of a Visitors Centre, the regeneration of the retail centre of the town, the economic viability of the town and the general activeness and sustainability of Seaton. The marshes project has come into the picture at a later date but it clearly achieves some of the requirements that the Supplementary Planning Guidance set out in that it has environmental, cultural and social benefits associated with it which will all contribute to the overall aims.
You say that there is no plan for EDDC to either insist on or encourage tourism operators onto the site. At this stage I have had no approaches by a tourist operator and I would be interested to know what form of tourism you believe might find it attractive to come to Seaton and secure a successful business. The tourism objective that we have we believe is being dealt with by the proposals for the World Heritage Visitor Centre and by the Marshes project. If we were approached by say a hotel operator who felt that they could build a reasonable business on this site then we would be more than willing to discuss it and to put them in contact with the landowners/developers.
You go on to say that it’s no part of EDDC’s plans to insist on community or community leisure facilities on the site. In terms of the community provision the public hall facility for Seaton exists in the Town Hall and it is only of a quite late date that the leisure facility within the holiday camp has been used for that purpose. The town will retain the Town Hall and its community rooms which are available for meetings etc and I am not sure that I could argue that there is a loss of a public facility in that the community have been able to rent some rooms within a private leisure facility. The Council cannot prevent the closure of the leisure camp which will effectively mean those rooms could be lost to the community. Again one has to balance what can be achieved and put them into priority order.
This late suggestion for a community centre doesn’t seem to be based on any project that I am aware of that has been drawn up, a business plan prepared for or costings undertaken. I can usually draw down money towards community facilities if there are reasonable plans in position to which other parties have committed funds and it is in a build programme. This appears to be simply a wish at this stage and there is no other information that I can rely on to undertake the negotiations.
You say that you are concerned about the lack of tourist, leisure and community facilities in the regeneration but as I have explained the provision of the Heritage Visitor centre, the Marshes development, the Wessex Cycleway Terminus, and indeed an improved Tram facility can be viewed as important tourism and leisure facilities that are being increased, upgraded or newly provided within the regeneration area and the Council will have to take into account in determining any planning application. Further there is the provision of a substantial amount of retail floor space and if one ignores the supermarket which will have a beneficial effect upon the town centre in that it will help prevent the majority of the town residents who presently choose to leave Seaton to shop, then there is the second unit which may have some sort of attracting power in its own right. Shopping is now a leisure activity itself and this could be counted against the facilities that the regeneration package will secure. I am not entirely sure what exactly you want to achieve but whatever it is it has to be commercially viable for any private operator to even consider looking at a business plan for a project. The capital costs and the revenue implications of running such businesses have to be looked at seriously before any project can come forward and it isn’t simply a matter of providing facilities for the benefit of the community without securing the relevant support and these days, this has to be done via the private market as the Council is in no position to put money in to it itself. If you wish to mobilise the community to assist in developing a project and securing funding from other sources I am sure that the Council will be willing to assist.
Therefore I feel that your letter does not accurately reflect my position as a result of the meeting and I have attempted to rectify that by this letter. I have also copied it to Heather Sanham of the Town Council, although I note that you did not send your original letter to her.
Head of Planning & Countryside Services