Hundreds of protesters marched through Feniton amid fears the Government’s controversial planning policy has declared “open season” on East Devon and could see the area swallowed up by mass development.
The peaceful protest, which was supported by Conservative MP for Tiverton and Honiton Neil Parish, was staged to highlight the effects of the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) which came into effect last year.
The new policy guide has reduced thousands of pages of planning guidance to around 50 and has been branded a “developers’ charter” by critics.
Mr Parish told the 300-strong gathering on Saturday, which included many young families, that he opposed his party’s planning shake-up as it failed to give enough weight to the need for improved infrastructure to deal with large numbers of new homes.
He told the crowd that Feniton was a “test case” for the new guidelines and said he had raised the issue with planning minister Nick Boles, whose family live in the district.
“The NPPF is not taking enough consideration over the local infrastructure,” he added.
“And the problem we have in Feniton is that the drainage and sewerage systems are overrun – you wouldn’t expect London to increase by 4%.”
In a rallying cry to the residents fighting three simultaneous schemes from developers planned for Feniton, he added: “I will see it all the way through with you and I believe we will be successful in stopping these homes.”
The demonstration was organised by the East Devon Alliance and action group Fight for Feniton’s Future, and comes as the village is in the middle of a ‘super inquiry’ launched by the Planning Inspectorate to determine appeals launched by developers.
Campaigners say the case of Feniton, where developers want to build 235 new homes - an increase of 42% - compared to a target number of 35, highlights a weakness in planning rules created by the new policy framework, which house builders are attempting to exploit.
Under the NPPF local authorities must demonstrate they have enough land to satisfy the likely demand for housing over the next five years, something the district council is unable to do.
This and the absence of a finalised local development plan leaves East Devon in a “vacuum of uncertainty” they argue.
Ian McKintosh, chairman of the East Devon Alliance, said the protest represents the struggle of local communities everywhere to have a say about their futures.
“It’s about making localism matter, at the moment it’s a sham,” he added.
“In the absence of a Local Plan or a five year land supply, it’s a case of an open shoot on the grouse moor for developers.”
He added: “The number of people at the protest from across the district shows the apprehension at what is happening throughout the country.
“This is the people of East Devon lending support to the people in Feniton. The alliance formed so we could all support each other.”