The East Devon Highways and Traffic Orders Committee held on Monday 28th March at the Knowle Sidmouth, rejected the request I had made for a 7.5 tonne environmental weight limit to protect the historic settlement of Axmouth, its residents and properties, from the impact of Heavy Goods Traffic, associated with the construction and operation of a regenerated Seaton.
However well-argued our case, and the quality of supporting evidence, defeat for a small, ‘inconvenient’ settlement was inevitable, when faced with such overwhelming odds. The manner of the defeat was particularly worrying.
None the less I was proud to stand with Parish Chair, Carol Rapley, a former Highways Officer of 30 years’ experience, Morag Stevens and Alan Harrison, Axmouth Parish Councillors.
The Lower Axe Estuary transport infrastructure is ‘mediocre’ at best with four route options to Seaton, Seaton Down Hill and Axmouth Road on the B3172 and Harepath Road and Colyford Road between. The alternate routes are connected by the A3052.
The previous HATOC Meeting on 1st November, voted unanimously to defer a decision on the introduction of a 7.5tonne weight limit ‘with an indication of an inclination to introduce such a weight limit’ as initially suggested by Cllr Randall-Johnson.
The Area Engineer’s report on 28th March was essentially unchanged from that submitted to the previous HATOC. As such there was no reason to change the inclination of the committee.
It drew almost exclusively on the 2007 Liatris paper, of which the co-author stated;
“ …..It is also out of date, so it would be unwise to draw too much from it in relation to the current position”…… (source email 5th October 2010)”
The recommendation, that the weight limit not be progressed, was based exclusively on traffic information from 2006 – five years ago.
It made no reference to the current or future impact of Seaton Regeneration. As such, however harsh this might sound, it is largely irrelevant in planning decision support.
Major Increase in Traffic coming to ALL Seaton routes;
Inaction has been argued; on the grounds that Axmouth has always had traffic, from the former holiday camp and Racal site, therefore could accommodate future heavy traffic.
This argument reflects a lack of the most fundamental grasp of the quantum of future trafficApproved plans generation. for the Seaton site already include, a Tesco Superstore of 5,996 square metres, 427 car parking spaces, a six pump petrol station will generate 1000 car journeys/day, with ancillary buildings, recycling centre, 400-600 new homes for the site with further, commercial development of Axe Riverside to follow.
A major increase in traffic volumes is coming to ALL arterial routes to Seaton, the vast majority would be unaffected by a weight restriction through Axmouth.
Axmouth is simply an ‘inconvenient’ ancient settlement, 17 irreplaceable listed buildings and numerous unlisted heritage assets line the route. Many lie within inches of HGV traffic threading the narrow road. Protection is statutory government guidance, under PPS5. In my view this committee was responsible for ensuring its future.
Condition 17 of the Tesco Pipeline approval prohibited all vehicle traffic access to the site through Axmouth.
More recently, EDDC publically committed to “the best possible HGV protection for Axmouth…….”
The Eleven HATOC members included nine senior Members of EDDC, including the Leader, and portfolio holders. This was their first opportunity to act on that undertaking.
Their failure to do so may prompt question of East Devon’s will to protect our historic assets, our wider environment, and the East Devon AONB.
If you tolerate this, then your village could be next…
Willingness to promote development, as was the case in Seaton with the Tesco Store approval in 2009, without future facing infrastructure, suggests that ‘inconvenient’ communities like Axmouth are in danger of being considered ‘collateral’ damage.
The public had recognised this by returning 76% and 86% in favour of a 7.5tonne weight limit for Axmouth in two recent online polls on ‘trintymatters’ and ‘Pulmans’ websites.
Cllr Randall-Johnson prefaced her opposition to the weight limit, by indicating she was at the meeting as a County Council Representative of Honiton St Michaels Ward, rather than EDDC leader.
Cllr Bernard Hughes discounted the possibility of a relief road as “totally out of the question”, but subsequently softened his view, to suggest there should be pressure for a relief road in the longer term, but consideration given to some solutions being offered for immediate implementation.
Cllr Andrew Moulding confirmed that the problem of the Lower Axe area is not restricted to Tesco’s current work, but is ongoing. He expressed the view that the only long terms solution is a relief road.
Cllr Peter Bowden expressed his regret at the lack of foresight in recognising the additional pressures on Axmouth, and supported the view that the only satisfactory solution is a short bypass and suggested that “we should be looking at this”.
The issues facing Axmouth were widely acknowledged, yet no element of detrimental effect, balance, or sharing of the load was acceptable to any other local body or representative.
A relief road for Axmouth?
The possibility of a relief road for Axmouth was widely supported
Sadly this is a largely empty gesture.
1. I was categorically informed, in April 2010, by DCC representatives, confirmed subsequently, that; ‘there is no money for an Axmouth relief road’ and ‘it will not happen’.
2. MP Neil Parish has suggested that Tesco might be approached for a ‘large contribution’.
This boat has sailed, with recent finalisation of the S106 Agreement for the 09 Tesco Store application approved in September 2009, two months before I was elected.
The opportunity was not taken, rather the final S106 benefits from this agreement reflect Seaton town investment value contributions of around £3Million, including a Visitor Centre, cycle ways, town centre manager contribution, footpaths and up to £50K on ‘local art’.
For Axmouth absolutely NOTHING.
This is indefensible, in the context of matching ‘pain’ with ‘gain’ in modern development planning. It also makes a mockery of any suggestion that Axmouth is merely trying to ‘pass its problems onto Seaton’, as recently reported from a Seaton Town Council Meeting. Rather, if anything, the reverse could be more easily argued.
Mitigation Measures to help Axmouth now?
As it became clear that our support had largely evaporated, despite the woefully weak Area Engineer report, Cllr Roger Giles proposed an amendment to secure short term mitigation measures and provide timely protection.
This was a very pragmatic step at that point in the debate, yet surprisingly was defeated, with support only from Cllrs Eileen Wragg and Brenda Tayor. The substantive motion not to implement the limit was then passed, I believe with the support of all members, including our own DCC Representative, Cllr Jim Knight of Seaton.
Cllrs Giles, Wragg and Taylor abstained.
Where do we go from here?
The understanding of our neighbours in Colyford is appreciated. We have decided to let the dust settle and take stock – for a few minutes at least. Our village will gather on Wednesday 6th April at 6.30pm in the village hall, to report back on the HATOC meeting and consider our options for the next stage.
Axmouth Matters, as do the other ‘inconvenient’ small hamlets and villages of East Devon.
I went to the HATOC meeting with a quote from my fellow Huddersfield ‘lad’ Harold Wilson ringing in my ears…”I’m an optimist, but an optimist who carries a mac…”
I left fortified by Margaret Thatcher…”to win a battle you often have to fight it several times….”
(*With apologies to the Manic Street Preachers)