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Housebuilders slammed for 'cynical' changes to Devon ecotown

A consortium comprising Linden Homes, Taylor Wimpey and Bovis Homes has been accused of a “cynical attempt” to amend plans for a 5,500-home Prince Charles-backed ecotown to make the scheme more “efficient”.

The Sherford New Community Consortium – a joint venture between the three housebuilding firms – has been criticised by the Prince’s Foundation as well as the south Devon site’s previous owner over plans to change the town’s layout and alter parts of the development plan.

Prince’s Foundation senior director Ben Bolgar wrote to the local council to voice “major concerns” over changes to the scheme, which was given the backing of the local Brixham parish council this week.

In the letter, Mr Blogar said: “There are major changes, which will have a major material impact on the scheme and have the capability to erode the ability for the local planning authority to be able to control the form and quality of the development further downstream.

“While the town code may appear visually similar, its ability to influence design/environmental quality and standards has been removed, along with a rigorous process by which those standards are made specific at a development phase.”

The developers have applied to make a number of changes to the scheme including the replacement of wind turbines with “an alternative and more commercially viable energy and carbon-reduction solution”.

Concerns raised by the Princes Foundation include the removal of design standards for public thoroughfares and good street design, changes to the massing of the new homes, and removal of SUDS options.  

Mr Bolgar added: “There is no evidence provided as to why any changes to the town code of process are necessary before auditing them carefully after phase one, when solid information can be gathered.

“This therefore appears as a cynical attempt to remove standards early on to allow a standard model of development to take place.”

The site in south Devon was bought by the consortium from developer Red Tree in 2014 and is expected to deliver 5,500 homes, a new town centre, three primary schools, a secondary school, and approximately 80,000 sq m of employment and retail space.

The original application received 3,000 letters of objection, which were dropped following engagement between the developer, the Prince’s Foundation and the local community.

Planning for the scheme was originally granted in 2011 and the town was expected to take up to 20 years to be delivered.

A letter of objection to South Hams District Council by Red Tree submitted on Monday (24 July) called on the housebuilders and the local council to retain the town code.

The letter said: “Exceptional design was a critical component of the proposal to develop Sherford, which was demanded by all the people who had the greatest stake in its success and sustainable future.

“Why is such a carefully thought-through document, the town code, and a process to oversee good design and compliance to the set of rules expressed in that town code, being sacrificed at this very early stage in the development?

“Why is the Sherford Review Panel, so insistently required by the planning authorities, being circumvented and removed? Why is this happening now when Sherford is hardly under way – with one member of the consortium of housebuilders not even at the stage of opening a show home?”

The amendments were also criticised by the director of social enterprise Create Streets Nicholas Boys Smith, who said: “This controversy is axiomatically important. It goes to the heart of the debate about planning and delivering good developments in Britain. What a development looks like, how walkable it is, how it ‘behaves’ as a town or city is one of the key drivers in whether people support or oppose a new development.

“Here you have a new development where local residents invested serious time in working with the developer to get it working well. Planning consent has been given. It should just not now be an option to rip that up and produce something completely different. If we can’t deliver this I fear for the future for garden towns and villages. It will just be suburbia for ever.

”Bovis Homes, Linden Homes and Taylor Wimpey should be ashamed of themselves. They are behaving like spoilt children who can’t change their toys. If they weren’t interested in delivering this type of development then they should not have got involved.

”Their actions risk undermining any remaining trust in the development and design professions. In our research people want confidence of what will actually be delivered. This will savagely undermine that.”

In a statement, the Sherford Consortium rebuffed the objections to the scheme, stating: “The proposed changes will enable Sherford to evolve to meet feedback from our purchasers, and allow for faster and more efficient delivery to meet market demands.

“The Sherford Consortium is also seeking more flexibility to help speed up decision-making delivery.

“Given much of the planning for Sherford started over 20 years ago, amendments are necessary to better align the development with present-day housing requirements.” 

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