Lee Collins spoke about the welcomed response from Councillors at their previous meeting on the issue, which felt rational and realistic. On reading the report provided for this meeting, his impression was that the Council did not want to help. He asked Members to consider other solutions, wider than the immediate issue to include building affordable homes. He said that the old rules cannot be applied to these new problems. He explained that the vans had to park together for reasons of safety, and advised of the impact on those residents if a solution cannot be found.
Sarah Begleri spoke on the report presented to Cabinet, as showing little knowledge of their situation. There were also terms used that were not acceptable. She outlined how for many, the lifestyle was not a choice, but a necessity. Housing was unaffordable, and the worry of debt was a serious mental health issue. Light pollution was not related to the vans, only the street lighting which remained on all night.
A statement was read out on behalf of Polly Anderson, requesting that Councillors look again at an Exmouth Residents Campervan Pass along the same lines as the current EDDC car parking pass. This residents pass would allow people with a strong connection to Exmouth to park motorhomes at a reduced price in overnight carparks.
Councillor Whibley gave this thanks to the Portfolio Holder for Coast, Country and Environment; and the Portfolio for Finance, for their efforts and compassion in dealing with the issue. In particular he commended the Portfolio Holder for Finance in his good grace to speak with Exmouth Town Council on the matter. He explained to Members that to reclaim the lorry park, and evict the residents, was a no win situation. The £11 overnight charge on the Maer was not an affordable option, but that the current residents were willing to pay something. He made clear that the ‘vanlifers’ had cooperated from the start, and the situation would only increase as the cost of living crisis continued. Whilst the Council had no legal obligation to find a location for the motorhomes, they had a moral one. He requested a further period of grace, and agreed with the suggestion of permits. He appealed to any landowner to accommodate them, and warned of exasperating the homeslessness situation if eviction went ahead.
The Parking Services Manager presented his report that gave an update on the occupation of the Estuary Lorry Park in Exmouth. Cabinet had previously considered the situation at their meeting on 7 September 2022, where agreement was made to seek out alternative sites for van lifers in Exmouth. In response to the public speakers, he apologised for any offence caused by his reference to terms in the report in inverted commas. He recognised that this was a difficult and contentious issue, but reiterated the work undertaken as set out in the report.
The Portfolio Holder for Finance outlined for Members the previous decision made in September, and the work undertaken since that date to try to provide a solution to the issue. Private landlords had been approached, but none had come forward to offer an alternative site. He had spoken to a number of the residents on the site and there was recognition that, in occupying the site, it was a temporary arrangement whilst works took place on the estuary. He took great regret in his proposal, but he emphasised the need to take action and to carry out the next step from Cabinet’s decision in September 2022.
· Appreciation of the predicament of the ‘vanlifers’, whilst aware of the breach of planning, was a difficult decision to take;
· Awareness of the national issue that must be taken up with government;
· The lifestyle was a direct consequence of the housing crisis;
· Eviction from the site could result in some of those residents presenting as homeless, which in turn impacts on the Council already dealing with high demand for homes;
· Maer Road motorhome spaces were intended to be provision for visiting motorhomes in the tourism season, charged at £11 per night;
· Public perception was not a true reflection of why some of the ‘vanlifers’ had taken up residence in a motorhome – many faced financial pressures that meant this was the only means of residency they could afford;
· Examine the period of notice; the suggestion of the parking place order being enforced from 31 March was not sufficient notice for the current occupants, particularly including the call-in period for any decision made by Cabinet
· The option of moving to another car park would present the same planning breach issue
1. that the planning, parking and equality implications of the current ‘vanlife’ occupation of the Estuary Lorry Park are acknowledged, and the reintroduction as a parking place for lorries and coaches be agreed as at 1 July 2023, with notice to leave the site given one month before that date;
2. to write to the local MPs, with copy to Devon County Councillors, on the issues facing the authority in regard to ‘Vanlifers’ need for locations to park.
Due consideration has been given to the availability of alternative sites and the planning considerations relating to the current occupation of the site. Local commercial land lowners have been contacted but not responded to provide a site; and no suitable land owned by the Council has been identified to accommodate this community.