Hugo Swire: A difficult year for East Devon but very successful
EAST Devon MP Hugo Swire has given his opinion on some of the main issues facing his constituency throughout 2012 and into 2013.
The MP recognised the prospects of the evolving town of Cranbrook, which has just received £20m Government funding, and the surrounding Growth Point area including the Science Park, as a integral means to dealing with the need for affordable housing and employment in the district.
As previously reported by the Echo, the support package, in the form of a repayable grant, includes £6m to deliver the roads and infrastructure needed for the town centre, with the remaining funds supporting the construction of a new secondary school and a second primary school as part of the next phase of development.
It is expected to accelerate the delivery of new homes from 300 a year to up to 500. So far 47 households have moved into Cranbrook since the first phase of development started 18 months ago.
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"Cranbrook is the interesting story," he said. "I've been there to look around a few times and it's coming along extremely well and benefited recently from a visit from the Minister for Housing MP Mark Prisk who has authorised additional funding which will unlock the next stage of the development sooner than anticipated, which is very good news.
"We need to attract big business down here and well-paid jobs which are desperately needed, and the Science Park is a means to that end. Funding has recently been granted to improve the slipway at M5 junction 30, so this is an exciting area."
While recognising the concerns of many Exmouth residents, the MP described East Devon District Council's regeneration proposals for the town, including the controversial sale of the Elizabeth Hall site to Premier Inn, as "exciting".
"Exmouth is looking at a period of regeneration," he said. "Which in my view is long overdue. People are concerned that places they're familiar with, like the Elizabeth Hall, may be lost, but if we look at the wider proposals, which are for a radical revamp of the seafront, the plans are an extremely exciting prospect and will provide facilities for local people and attract visitors to the town.
"This is what Exmouth needs, and I hope people will get behind that."
Mr Swire has also pledged his on-going support for the Rolle Centre at the former Plymouth University campus in Exmouth, Rolle College, which closed in 2008. Not-for-profit social enterprise company Rolle Exmouth Ltd is leading the initiative to ensure more than half of the site is retained for educational, business and community purposes.
However the directors recently revealed that £6m is needed for the scheme – £3m to buy the site and up to £3m for initial refurbishments.
"Establishing the Rolle Centre and ensuring the site is kept for the community is an ongoing problem," said Mr Swire. "We hope to find out soon if the bid for European Development Agency funding has been successful.
"I remain determined to keep Rolle for the town. I think we need to find a commercial partner to help develop the project but we're also relying on the patience of Plymouth University.
"We've got a long way to go but this is an exciting prospect for Exmouth."
The MP described the situation of rapid erosion of the cliffs in Sidmouth as a "nightmare" and backed the call by Cllr Stuart Hughes who is the chairman of Sidmouth Town Council as well as a county and district councillor and Devon's lead member for flooding, for urgent consideration. As previously reported by the Echo, many residents who live on Cliff Road have lost several metres of their gardens over the last few years because of+ the erosion.
Following a meeting between a senior engineer from the district council and the Environment Agency, surveys on erosion at Pennington Point are due to be carried out this month ahead of the drawing up of a Beach Management Plan, estimated to cost £80,000, which would include options for tackling the problem.
"The cliff erosion at Pennington Point in Sidmouth is a nightmare and very worrying issue and one that needs to be carefully looked at, not least because of the threat to the town," Mr Swire said. "I've been to speak to some of the home owners who are watching their gardens disappear. One option is to put rock groynes at the base of the cliffs but careful consideration needs to be done."
The MP also noted the controversial nature of East Devon District Council's proposals to relocate its headquarters from Knowle in Sidmouth to Honiton with the hope of saving running costs. After a series of errors were found in a consultant's report regarding the authority's plans for a 60-bed care home and 50 homes at the site, the planning application for the proposed redevelopment of its headquarters has been delayed and is due to be considered in February.
Mr Swire has called for the figures to be scrutinised to ensure a move is the most cost-effective option.
"The figures need to be looked at very carefully, these things can often start off cost neutral and then it turns out not to be," he said.
"But there can also be a huge waste of money in trying to maintain a building that is being used for something it was not originally intended to be and the offices at Honiton would be purpose built and energy efficient."
While recognising the enduring difficulties posed by the enduring economic downturn, the MP praised the achievements of the region's Olympians during London 2012 and the community spirit evident across East Devon throughout the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
"2012 has generally been a concerning time for people – we don't have large local employers in East Devon other than the council and the NHS but the economy does remain an incredible challenge and the deficit we inherited caused deep structural damage and people are still hard pressed for the immediate future," he said.
"But in spite of these difficulties we had a hugely successful year with the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations which brought communities together.
"And the Olympics and Paralympics were a chance for us to celebrate our own regional heroes including Exmouth sailors Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes.
"I had the pleasure of seeing Sidmouth equestrian eventer and silver medalist, Mary King ride up to Kennaway House in the town when she thanked the community for their support, where she was nearly thrown from her horse when it caught sight of Cllr Stuart Hughes' electric blue suit!"