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  • Writer's pictureJoemustdobetter - official

Jewson, Retirement Flats, Planning and Ageism….

Just to note: I am not on East Devon District Council’s planning committee, but did chair the Town Planning Committee’s meeting where we objected to this development. I wrote Exmouth Town Council’s response, read out at the meeting and reported in the press. Most members of that committee are above the age of 60.

The plan for refusal of retirement properties on the former Jewson site was refused for many reasons, partly due to a lack of affordable housing in the proposal, the incorrect balance of accommodation, the fact that the site hadn’t been properly marketed as employment land and some problems with the height of the building, if I remember correctly. Despite the words of some councillors in the committee, this was not about age. However, objectors have generally and broadly been condemned by the developer on those grounds. I was one of those objectors, and I did mention age in my response. Because planning consideration or not, it's what a large number of my residents are talking about.

Having been dismayed and saddened to read the comments from Mr McCarthy, of Churchill Retirement living , suggesting that me and my fellow councillors displayed ‘ageism, pure and simple,’ when lobbying against the retirement flats his company are proposing to build on the current Jewson site in the town, I felt compelled to exercise my right of reply.

Surely the very notion of building flats where the main occupant ‘must be 60 years old or older’ is ageist? This cannot work both ways. By building this age-restricted property, Mr McCarthy is accusing the council of the very thing Churchill Retirement Homes has done itself.

‘Can you imagine the outcry if councillors elsewhere declared their local area had ‘too many’ people with other characteristics over which they have no control?”

Of course I can - which is why the younger people of Exmouth, looking for somewhere affordable to live, are in the middle of their own ‘outcry’ over this development, as a quick glance at social media will prove. They have no control over their age either.

This comparison is ridiculous - fortunately, we live in a society where ‘White Only Accomodation’ or ‘LGBTQ+ Free Villages’ are not permissible.

There is no purge of old people, no desire to keep them out of the town - it’s about creating a balance whereby the town can continue function properly.

The situation with the Jewson site is NOT discrimination, it’s a group of councillors, elected to protect their electorate and work for them, looking out for their interests. Nothing more - not be accused of discrimination while carrying out the duties they were elected to do.

The town has two problems - we know that we need more homes, and we know the people that are struggling to find them. Younger people, still living with parents in their twenties; small, new families with nowhere to go; high rents for those that find somewhere, exacerbating the already biting cost of living crisis.

Yet developers refuse to build the properties we need as they’ll not be as lucrative. Shareholder profits, pure and simple.

The second problem is our creaking public services.

There are not enough GP’s. There are not enough dentists.

According to statistics, reported in GPOnline, people of retirement age are 4 times as likely to consult their GP. So a new development for 54 flats brings not just 54 new patients to accommodate, but the equivalent of nearly 200.

Ideally, there’d be enough NHS provision that it wouldn’t matter but when access to healthcare is as difficult as it is, it would be remiss to not consider it when looking at cases like this.

Another highly pertinent question I have, which cannot be answered, is how many people who live in the new complex will be local, thereby freeing up local housing stock when they move in? If there was some way of guaranteeing this, I’d be happier with the concept, but there isn’t.

We need balanced age ranges in our town because it is crucial to the older population. Who will work in the surgeries, dentists, shops, restaurants, hairdressers and pubs that make Exmouth such an attractive place to live? If working aged people aren’t able to live here, the answer, sadly, is nobody!

A quick glance at the Churchill Q & A page on their website shows that property portfolio holders are able to buy these flats and let them out, so long as the occupant is over 60. So this opens the site up to the other main issue the local property market faces - the ownership of any new building will not be with local people, but those elsewhere - taking capital away from the town.

As I say though, none of these factors had anything to do with the ultimate planning decision - this was taken on policy and rules only.

I’m sure that Mr McCarthy will be pursuing an appeal against the decision of East Devon DIstrict Council to refuse permission for the Jewson development, and I suspect I know what the result will be. Planning policy needs reform from the top down, and fast.

But the idea that, as local representatives, we can have no say in the future direction our town will take, makes a mockery of democracy. Do we even have a say in the future of our town any more? If often seems not.

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