THE old Leaderflush Shapland site will lay vacant for at least another three months, after North Devon Council’s planning committee voted to defer a decision over whether to grant planning permission for a supermarket and 350 homes at the site.
The plans for an Asda, 350 homes, a pub and other retail units was before the council committee, and around 30 members of the public, yesterday afternoon.
It was hoped a decision would be reached after negotiations over how best to develop the site began in November 2009.
However, thanks to a second planning application for a Morrison’s supermarket on land at Evans’ Transport yard, at the other end of the Taw Bridge, the decision was put off.
The plans hadn’t even come up for decision when Tory councillor Jasmine Chesters stood to ask why the two plans were not being looked at together.
Mrs Chesters also complained she hadn’t had time to read the 120 pages of “bumf” which council officers had put forward in a report for members on the application.
She also claimed she and other members of the committee had received letters from solicitors acting on behalf of the developers behind the Morrison’s plan, which threatened a judicial review should the Asda application be granted planning permission.
The council’s legal adviser Ken Miles sought to allay those fears, when he told members he believed the council would be on legally sound footing if it went ahead and determined the application.
Planning manager Keith Bines also weighed in. He said: “We were originally going to consider the two together.
“The reason we aren’t seeing them both together today is Morrison’s pulled out of a Devon County Council Development Management Committee meeting in March.
“But although today’s special meeting was set up to consider both plans we can still proceed as they are separate schemes and aren’t intrinsically linked.”
But Mrs Chesters wasn’t satisfied and moved the decision be deferred.
Councillor Joe Tucker disagreed with the motion. He said: “The legal advice is clear.
“They are separate applications and we should proceed.”
He sought to amend the motion so the application would be determined but that amendment fell 7-4 in a vote. Mrs Chesters motion, supported mainly by Conservative councillors, was passed by the same tally.
After the decision to defer was made Mrs Chesters and two or three other councillors were seen chatting to the owner of the Evans’ transport site, David Evans.
But the general feeling among everyone else in the room was one of frustration, with both supporters and opponents of the scheme upset they will now have to wait until the end of June before the application can come before the planning committee again – unless Asda appeal against the decision.
The retail giants could appeal against the decision on grounds of non-determination, since North Devon Council legally should have made up its mind on the plan by this stage.
The project communication manager for Asda, Lucie Brailsford, said she couldn’t yet indicate whether an appeal would be forthcoming. She said the company will make a statement shortly.
Barnstaple town centre manager Craig Bulley said he wished a decision had been made one way or another.
“I wasn’t quite expecting that,” he said.
“As you know the town centre management are against this scheme and we were all geared up to have our say.
“Now we’ll have to do it all another day.
“It would have been nice to have it sorted, as the uncertainty goes on now, which is frustrating.”
Sue Tucker, who has suffered from spinal muscular atrophy since birth, was also disappointed by the decision.
She has been campaigning for years to secure round the clock specialised toilets for disabled people in Barnstaple.
And Asda had agreed to include such a facility on its site.
“I would have liked to have seen it determined,” she said.
“At the moment people like me are snookered.
“It’s as if North Devon Council doesn’t think we’re supposed to go out.”
And Mr Tucker said he was disappointed to see his motion to hear the application today fall.
“It shouldn’t have been deferred,” he said.
“The Asda and Morrison’s plans are two totally different applications.
“One is a regeneration project and one is just a supermarket.”
He also said he was shocked to hear the council could face a judicial review and fears that by not determining the application the council has now “left itself completely open”.
“If it were just two plans for two supermarkets then fine,” he said.
And another councillor, Glyn Lane, said he was also frustrated. Having voted to hear the application during the meeting the Conservative Mr Lane afterwards said: “I think it needs to be determined.
“Dealing with this application would go some way to sorting out Barnstaple as a whole.”
Journal reporter Will Topps was at the meeting. You can follow his live updates from the meeting in the box below: