Futures Forum: A history of the East Devon Business Forum, part one....... "It was the intention to go to the Overview & Scrutiny Committee with a strong team representing the Forum and refute the allegations made."
In fact; the story of the EDBF and its relationship to the District Council's planning process goes back a long way...
The comments on the blog entry of indpendent Cllr Claire Wright are very revealing:
EDDC must distance itself from East Devon Business Forum
Friday, 13 July 2012 15 Comments by Claire
The influence of the confusing tangle of councillors and major landowner/developers on East Devon Business Forum (EDBF) is of increasing concern to residents in East Devon.
Today, a letter by Sidmouth resident, Barry Curwen, published in today’s Sidmouth/Ottery Herald, calls for an inquiry by Hugo Swire MP, into EDBF’s influence over EDDC’s Local Plan.
The EDBF is chaired by Cllr Graham Brown, with former EDDC councillor and Ottery Town councillor, Roy Stuart, as its vice-chair.
Cllr Brown represents the National Farmers Union on the business forum, and is the business champion at EDDC. There are a number of EDDC councillors who regularly attend meetings, some of whom wear other ‘hats’.
Cllr Brown runs a planning consultancy and a building firm.
And Cllr Brown chaired the Local Development Framework Panel during 2008/09.
The majority of the remainder of members appear to be landowners and developers, many of whom have submitted their land for major development in EDDC’s Local Plan. The forum has an openly stated priority as planning issues.
EDDC contributes £5,250 towards EDBF’s running costs, including minuting of meetings, room hire and a contribution to its website - link here: http://www.eastdevonbusinessforum.org.uk/
Minutes can be found at EDDC’s website here: http://www.eastdevon.gov.uk/east_devon_business_forum_minutes
I believe that the time has come for EDDC to distance itself from this group.
I have submitted a notice of motion to be debated at the full EDDC meeting on Wednesday 25 July.
I expressed concerns in May, over the implications of the significant influence of this group to EDDC’s monitoring officer and deputy chief executive, Denise Lyon.
My paper detailing my concerns was discussed at EDBF’s meeting last month and vice-chair Roy Stuart made a response to it.
These blogs can be viewed here:
Notice of Motion
“This council recognises the need for fair and independent representation from businesses in the district.
It also recognises that East Devon Business Forum has among its members, a high proportion of major landowners and developers. This has prompted concern among members of the public and business community, that the forum is neither independent nor representative of business in East Devon.
In addition, council budgets have been slashed by 30 per cent and we are in a time of financial austerity.
For these reasons this council will now withdraw financial, officer and administrative support from East Devon Business Forum, with the aim of encouraging the evolution of an independent, representative, self-financing body, managed by a chairman, independent of this council.”
The full council meeting where this motion will be debated, starts at 6.30pm on Wednesday 25 July and members of the public are welcome to attend and make representations at the beginning of the meeting. If you are concerned, I urge you to attend and/or speak.
1. At 10:38 am on 13th Jul bob chown wrote:
Agree Claire. I have no problem with landowners and developers having a lobby group. But don’t see why our council tax should pay for it
2. At 11:38 am on 13th Jul Chris Wakefield wrote:
It looks like Roy Stuart’s contribution to East Devon’s development debate may not have quite the impact he imagined. EDBF is a tiny group of people - their website shows a membership of 19 organisations, 6 of which are corporate groups themselves, leaving just 13 trading entities - and one of those is in Somerset. So the suggestion that they speak for the business community of East Devon is off the wall. We might be amused if it stopped there, but the fact that such a small cadre of unelected interested parties have been able to dis professional analytical studies and tweak public policy to suit themselves is deeply worrying, and I very much hope Barry Curwen’s (and your own) efforts to shed light on this area are successful.
In response to Roy Stuart’s adendum to the EDBF minutes (published elsewhere on this blog) might I suggest that putting profit above everything and letting the market decide is an economic, social and moral experiment that has now gone seriousy wrong. It is depressing that Mr Stuart, along with some others in EDDC and the business community, have not yet spotted the deficiencies in their outlook on life. What EDDC frequently refer to as their “vision” for East Devon is a tired reprise of old and failed ideas - more of the same that led us to the pretty pass we are in at the moment. Sustainable growth is fine - we need it, but I don’t see much new thinking about where and what sort of sustainable growth would be beneficial (or even sustainable) for local communities in the longer term. It should be fairly obvious by now that markets, particularly those that deal in short term investments and large, fast returns, need to be kept under tight control, with property development near the top of the list.
East Devon is largely an amenity area for tourism mixed with a little farming. Our economic resources, from which we might reasonable expect to turn a profit, are 1). glorious countryside and 2). a spectacular coastline (a world heritage site no less). Plastering the place with uninspiring ecoboxes will not generate long term jobs (those will go to Exeter) and will diminish and undermine our economy - our tourism profits will shrink and the place will look a mess. It will of course inflate EDDC’s income and offer them even wider scope for inappropriate use of public funds. Their “vision” would eventually have the Exeter metropolitan sprawl reaching across to Aylesbeare and Whimple and, unless we mount firm resistance on the West Hill bluff, to Ottery and beyond. We have to work out what kind of “market” we want to run in East Devon, and how we can make that sustain our wider local interests in the long term. EDDC are not properly engaging in that debate. They ask for advice from professionals, then, if they don’t like the answers, they change them willy nilly. Where guiding principles for future development are concerned, they prefer to spend their time and our money flogging a dead free-market horse, and hiding their mounting failures behind misleading publicity and reputation management. They really are a shabby organisation and the holes are becoming increasingly obvious.
The growing extent of public distrust in just about everything that regulates and controls our lives - Politicians, press, big business, even in some cases the police - together with the stress of recovering from a disaster made elsewhere and working out how to stop that sort of thing happening again - all this coming together could mean we are entering a potentially rather nasty period of realignment of power. Roy Stuart’s neanderthal free market views are a portent of the debate that we must get stuck into. To just keep calm and carry on is no longer an option.
3. At 11:41 am on 13th Jul Dick Beardsall wrote:
I entirely agree. I read the correspondence on this with surprise and alarm and fully support your action.
I have two concerns:
1. As Bob Chown says, why should ct payers subsidise this group?
2. Whilst councillors should be able to work in pressure groups, it is inapproriate if a group has the aim of directly or indirectly benefitting financially those involved.
4. At 12:38 pm on 13th Jul John Sheaves wrote:
Steady on everybody !!!! Firstly, Chris Wakefield’s comment that “East Devon is largely an amenity area for tourism mixed with a little farming”, seriously undermines the importance of farming as an economic activity. Farming as an economic activity alone is responsible for 80% of the countryside - so this is certainly not “little”. I would like to see a balanced debate here - whilst the political outcomes off this group might not be what you want, the original brief of this group is just what it says - a ‘business’ forum which represents business interests - thank god someone does! That aim and the group’s outcomes must of course stand up to scrutiny.
5. At 03:12 pm on 13th Jul Hugh wrote:
EDDC & EBF are a shame & a disgrace.
They are exploiting & ruining East Devon like robber barons with no regard for the welfare or wishes of the populace.
Time and again I hear it said that EDDC wish to turn East Devon into “The New South East”.
It is time for this appalling behaviour to stop.
6. At 05:45 pm on 13th Jul Sandra Semple wrote:
I have studied the EDBF for many years. It may be helpful here to re-state the objectives of the EDBF as they appear on the EDDC website
1 To act as a forum in which business organisations, major employers and the District Council can meet on a regular basis and agree, so far as possible, a common approach and policy on matters relating to the ecomony, prosperity and well-being of East Devon.
2 To facilitate the communication of views and opinions between the business community and the District Council (and any other relevant local government and public bodies) and through an effective partnership with local government to promote the prosperity of the District.
3 Specifically, to advise on the preparation, adoption and performance of an Economic Development Strategy for East Devon and the Council’s annual service plan for Economic Development; to facilitate development and implementation of the East Devon Community Plan; and identify or promote by other means, issues relevant to the economic well-being of people living and working in East Devon.
My comments on the above are:
(1) states that EDBF should represent major employers in the area - it does not do this, except perhaps for Flybe (where the former district councillor and current county councillor Ms Randall Johnson holds a senior position). It mostly represents a number of businesss that councillors and ex-councillors are involved in and those where councillors and ex-councillors own where land which was permitted to be changed from agricultural land to industrial land (e..g. Greendale and Hill Barton).
(2) EDBF should be interacting with other government and public bodies - read the minutes, this does not happen. Specifically, they have not forged links with the South West Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), the replacement for the Regional Development Agency and probably the most influential organisation in the South West at the moment.
3) EDDC’s economic strategy was prepared by Cllr Graham Godbeer’s unminuted ‘think tank’ which was heavily influenced by EDBF - controversial proposals for loosely controlled expansion of industrial estates as well as industrial land in villages found its way straight into Local Plan policy.
As can be seen, EDBF has a very wide remit and it is as well to reiterate that this is the ONLY group that has this type of close link with EDDC. One might think that EDDC would be better served having as strong a link with the Chambers of Commerce and the tourism organisations, given the important economic areas they represent, as well as EDDC forging a strong link with the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) for the South West (the replacement for the Regional Development Agency) directly and not through this intermediary. However, none of this takes place, ONLY the link with EDBF. The business community in East Devon is not adequately represented and no attempt has ever been made (until the last month or so when it has had the spotlight shone on it) to increase membership by, for example, a publicity drive or outreach activity.
EDBF instead seems to have spent an inordinate amount of time discussing how to influence EDDC’s planning policy and making visits to sites of members wishing to have large-scale expansion and how to best present these planning applications for the Local Plan, rather than promoting the economic wellbeing of the district as a whole.
I find the whole relationship between EDDC, its councillors, ex-councillors and EDBF to be far too close and EDBF’s influence far too powerful.
7. At 11:21 am on 14th Jul Lawrie Brownlee wrote:
I am astounded that it is legal for EDDC (i.e.. the taxpayer), to fund developers. Good luck with your motion.
Proud to be a “Same old” campaigner. (See Diviani in the Herald).
8. At 10:53 am on 15th Jul Sandra Semple wrote:
I should add that I very much doubt that EDDC will do anything about this. The ruling party has now become a sort-of club or society which exists more to promote the interests of its individual members rather than the electors they represent. This happens when a group has had too much power for too long.
It is not likely that the people who voted them in will be radical enough to vote for other minor parties in East Devon (Lib Dems, Labour, UKIP).
My suggestion would be for people who want to change this situation to consider standing as independent candidates at the next elections. These are some time away (2015) but those who really want to change things could start planning their strategy now and getting the feel for their areas in order to defeat self-serving incumbents in each ward.
You only have to see the work of Claire and Roger to see the benefits of having an independent councillor, not tied to a party line and not being part of the “in crowd” to see how much they can do to change a system which has become institutionally entrenched - and in a bad way.
The more truly independent district councillors we get the more likely we are to see ourselves represented as we should be.
9. At 05:19 pm on 15th Jul Lynn Tompkins wrote:
Well done for putting yourself in the firing line once again. Thank you for all the hard work that you do.
10. At 02:14 pm on 28th Jul John Sheaves wrote:
With further reference to the comments above, I would like to add that it might actually be quite helpful for EDDC to be advised by a business forum which represents business interests just as presumably it is helpful for EDDC to be advised by those who are firmly against business or indeed development of any type!! Again, let’s have a balance please….
11. At 08:17 am on 29th Jul Chris Wakefield wrote:
John Sheaves comments don’t follow what preceeds them with any consistency. I don’t find remarks that are “against business” or indeed against “development of any type”. Where it has been mentioned, commentators have made the point that business, and indeed development, is important for the local economy. What they object to is the manner in which some businesses and business organisations conduct themselves, and the questionable decision-making that has got us where we are now with local development.
We should recall that banks are high profile businesses which demand the trust of those who use them to look after their money. This is surely the place where we should expect the utmost probity and transparency in business conduct, but this is precisely the type of business that has utterly failed in those areas and has been largely responsible for the economic turmoil and pain we are enduring at the moment.
The remark by a councillor at a recent meeting which discussed EDBF’s conduct that objectors simply “do not understand business” was warmly welcomed with approving noises in certain quarters of the council’s membership. But the boot is on the other foot surely. Those objecting to the way things have been organised in East Devon are the very people who now DO understand the implications of excessive influence of business. Trying to dismiss objectors as “anti-business” is facile and unlikely to move the argument forward. The business community now has to show it fully appreciates that its responsibilities go beyond the single minded pursuit of profit. Most small businesses have no trouble with this, and never have done. The larger ones are less secure in this respect, given the laissez-faire attitude to regulation that has been promoted by governments of all persuasions over recent decades.
If John Sheaves plea for balance is to be honoured (and I’m very much in favour of that), he needs to put something more weighty than hot air on his side of the tipping point.
12. At 08:32 am on 29th Jul Claire wrote:
I would like to see some of the EDBF members put forward their views here.
I know they follow postings closely as several have signed up to for receive notification of posts.
I would welcome some (or any) comments from EDBF members so we can have that balanced debate!
For the record I don’t delete any comments, although sometimes I do moderate comments that may be construed libellous or abusive. I am aware however, that sometimes the system rejects comments.
To avoid losing a comment completely, try typing it first elsewhere and then copying and pasting it, for an easy resubmission, if it gets rejected.
13. At 09:21 am on 29th Jul John Sheaves wrote:
I think Chris Wakefield has completely missed my point, i am not on any side of the tipping point!!!! That is why we must have a reasoned debate-this is what i am arguing for. I am not quite sure why he has brought the big banks into the debate either! Except to say, that yes i agree they need regulation, but this is exactly what Gordon Brown did away with some years ago along with many billions of pounds ludicrously spent on the public sector. And this is my point here, I don’t see much in these blogs to support a healthy and vibrant business community here and what really worries me about this debate is the assertion that the business community is somehow made up of crooks and a community full of greed - how wrong you are! Professionally, I speak with authority, these business communities are full of very hard working and dedicated individuals who are highly innovative, they have to be as they face increasing pressures from all quarters as they meet their employer related obligations in a very tough economic world whilst meeting ever more exacting sustainability requirements.
I have absolutely no problem with these groups and forums lobbying EDDC any more than I have no objection to ‘other’ ‘anti-development’ groups doing the same. Indeed, i would argue that surely this is healthy in a democracy, thank god for freedom of speech.
We live in a world where information can be gathered, assimilated, communicated very effectively and where modern communications can be used to not only galvanise opinion amongst members of the public but also to deliver a very powerful lobbying group against a particular viewpoint. Contrast this, the business community which tends to be insular by definition, made up of lots of very small and very busy businesses with very little time for these types of communication, hence why they need these types of forums and groups and support by which they can run them. The day society doesn’t look after its business community is a sad day for enterprise, innovation, employment and the regional economy.
Let us not forget that while we have some of our elected councillors visibly representing some of society’s views, then it surely is equally acceptable for others to do the same for opposing views, again this is healthy in a democratic society and I fully support it.
So please - lets have a proper debate with views respectfully communicated with knowledge from both sides because at he moment this is not happening.
14. At 07:51 am on 31th Jul Malcolm Macdonald wrote:
I don’t know anyone who is opposed to a successful East Devon economy and wouldn’t support a transparent and independent business forum - but many people have concerns about the way that EDBF operates so closely with EDBC and the fact that it is the only ‘lobbying’ organisation funded by our Council Tax.
It would be helpful if Mr Sheaves could please tell us whether he is, or has been, a member of EDBF.
I feel that John Sheaves is being incredibly naïve here and that the room is so full of elephants, as they say, that I’m in danger of being trampled to death. Because there is a lack of transparency residents have naturally started to ask questions such as:
Why does EDDC fund and service EDBF but not other groups?
Were planning applications submitted by EDBF members actively promoted by EDDC officers who attend EDBF meetings?
Why does it appear that most of the regular commercial EDBF attendees are developers or landowners? (please see Tony Green’s facts on ‘Tories embrace EDBF’ 26 July blog entry + EDBF minutes)
Which sites included in the Local Plan, for either residential or employment use, were proposed by EDBF?
Which of those sites proposed by EDBF were owned by EDBF members or were such that a member had a pecuniary interest?
Which of those sites proposed by EDBF were owned (or there was a pecuniary interest ) by East Devon District Councillors?
Which other sites included in the Local Plan are owned by members of EDBF or EDDC Councillors (or there is a pecuniary interest)?
If owned by an EDDC Councillor (or a pecuniary interest), were proper procedures followed and an interest declared?
If there were any incidences where an interest was not declared when it should have been, what sanctions were brought against the member?
Until all these questions have been answered most ordinary people – not ‘anti-business’ or ‘anti-development’ Luddites as the leaders of EDDC would portray them – will continue to have suspicions about EDDC planning procedures and will continue to challenge them and ask ‘awkward’ questions. Council Tax payers are entitled to know how their money is being spent and to be reassured that EDDC behaves in an accountable manner.
PEOPLE WANT DEMOCRACY!!
15. At 09:22 pm on 03th Aug John sheaves wrote:
No I have not been or am I a member of the EDBF, but I do want a sensitively debate, and this isn’t one!
"EDDC must distance itself from East Devon Business Forum" - Claire Wright