COUNTY and district councillor for Axminster, Cllr Ian Hall, has spoken out on his support for the recently agreed Axminster masterplan.

Cllr Hall says he “makes no apology” for speaking out on what he believes to be a “once in a lifetime opportunity” for the town.

His latest comments follow a decision by East Devon District Council’s strategic planning committee to support the masterplan, which sets out how the town should be developed.

Cllr Hall said: “The world around us is changing and we need to evolve as well if we are to avoid our town stagnating or dying.

“We all know about the impact of globalisation and technology on traditional businesses like carpet-making. We must think strategically and become more resilient.

“We need to promote a sustainable infrastructure for education, employment and good health, as well as a vibrant town centre, through a focus on managed regeneration.

“We want to ensure a viable sixth form at Axminster Academy, with education running from pre-school age right through to preparing for work, college or university.

“The town centre must be free of heavy vehicles and congestion, attracting people in and inviting investment from retail and food outlets trading during the day and into the evenings.

“We have to look to the future – and that means embracing ideas that can bring new blood and fresh ideas to our town.

“We welcome those from elsewhere who have been attracted to Axminster and have become our neighbours. They make a rich contribution to the community and its cultural, civic and business life and they will continue to do so.

“The masterplan provides an opportunity for a healthy mixture of homes for newcomers and for young people growing up in the town who are going to need somewhere to live if they are not going to be forced to move away. Having this template will help us ensure that the planners have clear guidance about how Axminster wants to grow. It will also help us have the all-important five-year land supply that protects us from a harmful planning free-for-all.”

Cllr Hall insisted he made no apology for standing up for Axminster and for what he believes is beat for the town that he loves and where he lives.

He added: “I am an Axminster patriot. I entered local politics because I want to make a difference. I am not in it for personal gain or personal glory. I am a working man and I joined the district and county councils so I can help deliver good things and stand up against bad things. That is why I have been active in the County Lines battle against drug dealers moving into our area from the big cities.

“I believe that we all need to stand up for our town. If I can provide some leadership in that cause by putting my head above the parapet, then I will sleep soundly at night. By acting that way, I understand the risks.

“I know my head is there to be shot at, but I will fight for what I believe in and for what the people who elected me want for their future.”

He said he encouraged people to attend the consultation events, which he also attended in person, so that everyone had an equal chance to see the plans and influence the outcome.

Cllr Hall said: “I went along myself to talk to people, so I could hear all sides of the argument. It was only after listening to the varying points of view that I came to the conclusion that I should support the masterplan document and speak out in its favour.

“When I talk about leadership, I don’t mean expecting people to follow me, or to lead from the back, I am talking about leading from within so we can find a consensus and then deliver it together.”

Members of the East Devon Strategic Planning Committee resolved to endorse a masterplan for the Axminster urban extension, subject to minor changes.

The committee debated the item for more than two hours at a meeting last week and heard from nine concerned residents, as well as a representative of Persimmon Homes who spoke in support of the masterplan.

Concerns express by residents included issues of whether the proposed additional 200 homes, which are more than those allocated in the local plan, were needed, whether they would meet the needs of local people, whether the masterplan would genuinely address traffic problems in the town and if it was worth the environmental cost.

The committee also heard from Axminster Town ward member, Cllr Andrew Moulding, who expressed his support for the masterplan, which he said was vital in securing the delivery of the relief road.

Planning officers assured members that the wider issues associated wit traffic at Weycroft bridge to the north of the proposed relief road and the junction with the A35 to the south of the relief road were being looked at with Devon County Council as the highway authority.

Members were also assured that it is the council’s intention to deliver the relief road in the early stages of development to help alleviate the traffic and pollution issues in the town, prior to the majority of the new homes being built.

The masterplan has been prepared following consultation events and provides a template for development of the area to include a mixture of housing, employment and community uses as well as a range of public open spaces and the proposed north/south relief road.

It aims to determine a distribution of uses across the site, the route of the relief road and to provide design guidance for developers to follow when submitting planning applications on the site.

The masterplan will now form a key document in helping the council to consider planning applications for the site.

Cllr Ian Hall, East Devon District Council’s Axminster Rural ward member, said: “I am glad that residents had an opportunity to express their concerns to the committee and hopefully through the debate it was clear that members understood the issues being raised and accepted that there is still a lot more work to be done.

“I am, however, really pleased that the members of strategic planning committee could see the merit in having the masterplan in place for the urban extension and that this will help to shape a bright and prosperous future for Axminster.”