After a string of bungled attempts costing £250,000 and following a 4,000-strong protest march and 1,800 public objections, "grandiose" council plans to sell off a historic parkland home for housing and a care home have been rejected.
Shops were closed and businesses put on hold in Sidmouth yesterday as more than 100 campaigners packed out a council meeting to oppose outline plans to abandon the authority's Knowle headquarters and move to new offices in Honiton 10 miles away.
The proposals for 50 new homes, which would have led to the loss of 71 jobs and the felling of much-loved trees, have provoked fury in the small resort.
Prior to debate by the development management committee yesterday, a dozen members of the public spoke one after another to condemn the plans, as "wretched", "seriously flawed" and "an act of corporate vandalism".
A scaled-down planning committee of nine, reduced after many members were involved in drawing up the plans, were "swayed by the eloquence" of a series of heartfelt appeals, including one from the grandson of a former keeper of the parkland, wearing his grandfather's frock coat.
Jubilant protesters from the campaign group Save Our Sidmouth (SOS) hailed the decision as a victory for common sense. Richard Thurlow, SOS spokesman and member of the Sid Vale Association – the UK's oldest civic group – said the plan was "sheer madness", adding that a similar proposal from a private developer would be "rejected out of hand".
"We feel justified and the decision has exposed the fallacy of the argument and the strength of our case," he said. "When 4,000 people march – that's 20% of the town's population – it shows you the strength of feeling.
"The plans were ill-conceived, badly thought out and wrongly portrayed. The plans will come back again and I hope there is a sensible compromise in-keeping with what people want."
East Devon District Council first submitted an application to its own planning committee in September.
Since then a series of blunders, including miscounting the number of staff in Sidmouth and Honiton by officers, has seen the plans resubmitted to itself three times.
Critics branded the process a "farce" after a net gain of three jobs was recalculated as a loss of 33 then revised upwards again to 71. The council says its current headquarters it antiquated and expensive to maintain, with job losses in Sidmouth offset by "a proportionate benefit to the economy of Honiton".
But the public and its own planning committee were unconvinced.
After a three-hour meeting the committee rejected the plan by 6 votes to 3.