The abandoned Winslade Park site at Clyst St Mary is a sad reflection of a once vibrant employment site
Why would the Insurance Group abandon to dereliction, dilapidation, disrepair and deterioration what (until recently) would have been considered, by many, to be one of the most sought after idyllic, rural employment sites in this area? The answer lies in the Group’s future vision for a substantial re-development of the entire site primarily for residential purposes. What better way to grab everyone’s attention than to let the area “go to rack and ruin” so that ultimately a decision must be made on the future of the site.
In and around 2013, there were initial discussions that 500 houses could be accommodated on this large site, on both green open parkland and sports fields and previously developed areas, known in planning terms as ‘brownfield sites’. However, such inappropriate proposals resulted in extensive objections from the residents who successfully protected the green open parkland and fields from inclusion in East Devon’s Development Plan to 2031. It could be foreseen that their small rural village with the limited services of a small school, one shop with post office, a pub and a garage could metamorphose into a town which would not only lose the special identity and character of the village but such disproportionate growth would detrimentally affect the social cohesion of the community, which was valued by all of the existing residents. Furthermore, such expansion would be considered unsustainable and inappropriate under national and local planning legislation and policies.
Planning Applications for around 300 houses were refused permission but East Devon Planning Authority had allocated up to 150 dwellings on the brownfield areas in their Development Plan to 2031 because they needed to prove sufficient future housing quotas over a five year period for the whole of East Devon to validate the Local Plan for adoption and the allocation of 150 dwellings at Clyst St Mary certainly assisted in reaching the required target figure!
Normally, under good planning practice, such excessive numbers would never be contemplated for a small village; but East Devon Planners created a proviso under Strategy 26B in the Local Plan that Winslade Park “formed an exception to policy for development at villages in East Devon as otherwise set out in the Plan”; leaving the village disadvantaged and outside of the protection of planning laws and guidelines specifically in place to safeguard its future.
The residents are not NIMBYs and the community is socially inclusive, being aware that people need somewhere to live. Consequently Clyst St Mary has already approved nearly 100 new dwellings with 80 houses currently under construction by Cavanna Homes plus a smaller development at Bridge House in the old village centre. However, currently the cumulative figure for approved and allocated new housing now totals almost 250 dwellings, when other villages and towns have more proportionate allocations and some have no allocations whatsoever!
The current planning application is provisionally scheduled for presentation to East Devon Development Management Committee on Monday 2nd October 2017, although many residents feel arbitration is necessary. They intend to make their voices heard on the unsuitability of both the hybrid application and the continuing emphasis by the Authority that a Development Plan cannot be adapted and modified to secure sustainable development for this community.
Consequently, the abandonment is not solely restricted to the Winslade Park redundant office complex because the residents of Clyst St Mary also feel they and their village have been abandoned in favour of proposals for unsustainable over-development. They fear that this current application will be the precursor to encroachment on to the open parkland and sports fields and once that is secured the village of Clyst St Mary will cease to exist. Could there be a more inspired, desirable vision for the future of this abandoned site at Winslade Park? Those people who actually live in this village truly hope for one.