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Peterchristie

By North Devon Journal  |  Posted: December 06, 2012

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THE town council planning committee has now considered the application to build a McDonald's drive-through cafe, a 70-bed Premier Inn and a Brewers Fayre restaurant in the woodland opposite Atlantic Village.

The application came with a community consultation held in June-July.

Some 125 response forms were received by the developers of which 93 supported the proposal while 25 raised concerns with seven mixed.

The main issue raised was the loss of the woodland though it was noted: "Many people did not appreciate that it was plantation that had been grown to be felled and that the existing quality was extremely poor."

Also highlighted was the impact on businesses in the town centre though we read "the proposal was not to take trade from the town but to pull back trade that is currently lost to Barnstaple" – which seems to be playing with words.

The conclusion was that "There was overwhelming support for the proposals with many attendees wanting it to happen as soon as possible."

In the event the committee split with four in favour and two against. The application now goes to Torridge for a final decision.

I attended the finance committee meeting of the town council as an onlooker when councillor Annie Brenton raised the issue of why we had some £600,000 in our reserves when the recommended amount is £100,000.

There was no answer to this and it seems all the stranger when one considers that no other parish council of our size has anything similar.

Luckily the committee did come up with one idea to spend some of it – the purchase of another 18-carat gold link and some linkage for the Mayoral chain to mark the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.

Given that Bideford's chain is already the best in North Devon this might be seen to be over-egging the pudding a little – or as councillor Steve Clarke put it "Who would see this as a good way of spending taxpayers' money?"

The chain was originally funded by former mayors and council officers each purchasing a link – with the large enamel badges given by well-wishers – but no one has offered to fund additions lately.

Councillors voted unanimously to spend £3,000.

The last meeting of Torridge's community and resources committee lasted an energy-sapping seven hours.

Much of this was taken up by a report on the localisation of council tax support, which follows new Government legislation moving the payment of council tax benefits from central to local government with an order to cut the bill by 10 per cent (although in Torridge's case this is really 12.46 per cent).

The aim of this new scheme is two-fold, The first is "reducing the national welfare bill" which seems ok in principle though in reality it means extra hardship for the poorest.

The second is to "provide positive incentives to work", which given the lack of jobs and the lowest wages in Britain here in Torridge strikes me as almost satirical if the inspiration behind it wasn't so nasty.

Councillor David Lausen reckoned that the localisation in the title "really means Central Government control with local councils being left to take the flak."

Geoff Lee said: "It is wrong to penalise people who are unable to improve their lot in life."

After being told that 1,800 of the poorest households in Torridge will have to find £250 or so extra per year for council tax payments Chris Leather asked how they could possibly do this.

I said the Government can find huge sums for nuclear weapons and allows massive companies to pay virtually no tax yet seems indifferent to the problems faced by those living on Micawber-style budgets where every penny is vital.

I did ask that our MP plead our case to the Government – but I won't be holding my breath.

There isn't much we can do about this diktat from Whitehall, because if we don't implement it we would end up having a Government scheme imposed on us which could be even worse. Only Chris Leather and I voted against it.

You probably read the account of the discussions over entrance charges to Northam Burrows – and the good news that Torridge are to try, for a year, lower entrance fees.

What wasn't noted was the report on the possible impacts of the schemes on offer – which included the seemingly innocuous question: "What is the potential impact on different groups, giving the reason and evidence?"

The answer covers things like age and disability but does include, bizarrely, sexual orientation – and you might like to know that: "We do not have data on the sexual orientation of burrows users but this is not believed to have an impact on current users or in the proposed options" – well thank goodness for that.

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