Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Concerns about transparency continue in East Devon...

This is a subject which will not go away:

Motion urges more transparency at EDDC

EDDC councillors will be asked to adopt all the principles in Probity in Planning next week, which was published in April this year by the Local Government Association and Planning Advisory Service.
EDDC has agreed some of the document’s guidance in relation to councillors and officers not being permitted also to be agents for developers.  But disappointingly, the remainder of the document has not yet been supported.
At September’s overview and scrutiny meeting, a discussion was held on making public pre-planning application advice but the majority of the committee voted to kick the decision into the long grass, despite the guidance in Probity in Planning, advising that pre-application discussions should be publicly available. See blog-post of the OSC meeting here - http://www.claire-wright.org/index.php/post/councillors_defer_decision_on_early_planning_advice_privacy/
My motion is as follows:
“This Council acknowledges the importance and supports the principle of complete openness and transparency in local government. The council therefore agrees to accept in full with immediate effect all the recommendations within the Probity in Planning report jointly produced by the Local Government Association and the Planning Advisory Service in April 2013.
“In particular the Council will implement the guidance that pre-application advice issued should be publicly available.”
Proposed by Councillor Claire Wright, Seconded by Councillor Roger Giles and supported by Councillors Trevor Cope, Ben Ingham and Susie Bond.


1. At 06:08 pm on 26th Nov Sandra Semple wrote:
Well good luck with those but given our majority councillors penchant for bending, breaking or ignoring rules and for maximising their perks I doubt they will succeed.
And as for a motion supporting our armed services: what a headline-grabbing, vote-catching opportunist publicity stunt.
2. At 06:58 pm on 26th Nov Tony Green wrote:
At the Audit and Governance Committee meeting on 14 November a member of EDDC’s legal team, assured the public that ALL the provisions of the 2013 Probity and Planning guidelines had been adopted by the Council.

3. At 10:54 pm on 26th Nov Conrad Black wrote:
I was not aware that Probity in Planning was a ‘pick and mix’ where Councils had any autonomy.
I am entirely certain that the legal officer would never knowingly mislead the public about the undertakings that bind the EDDC.
We appear to have a situation where the Chair-persons of meetings allow the minutes of their meetings to be re-written, to the disrespect of members of their committees as well as disgusting the public that go out of their way to attend the meetings at which conclusions appear to have been agreed but subsequently are changed.
One is left wondering if one can place any trust in anything the EDDC state, or do I mean some inner cabal that overrides political democracy by (like most dictatorships) re-writing history to suit a highly perverse representation of reality?
Is it not the first step of every fascist regime in history to deny freedom of speech by stopping anyone from asking questions?
Perhaps we need a doctrine of strict liability - that where agents of the Council (whether employed or elected) have ignored regulation or statutory codes of conduct, that they become personally liable for any harm, including excess expenditure. 
After all, according to law, if there is no remedy there is no harm - meaning if there is no means of suing them they can do just exactly what they like.
Claire Wright - Your Independent East Devon District Councillor for Ottery Rural

Plymouth City Council has taken this very seriously:

A useful guide here meanwhile:

Probity in planning guide issued

The Planning Advisory Service (PAS) has published a guide on probity in planning reflecting changes in the Localism Act. This guide is intended to help councillors understand their role and responsibilities, and how to ensure they can be an effective councillor without getting into probity difficulties.

The guide states that Chapter 7 of the 2011 Localism Act places requirements on councillors regarding the registration and disclosure of their pecuniary interests and the consequences for a councillor taking part in consideration of an issue in the light of those interests. The definitions of disclosable pecuniary interests are set out in The Relevant Authorities (Disclosable Pecuniary Interests) Regulations 2012. A failure to register a disclosable pecuniary interest within 28 days of election or co-option or the provision of false or misleading information on registration, or participation in discussion or voting in a meeting on a matter in which a councillor or co-opted member has a disclosable pecuniary interest, are criminal offences.
The guide goes on to confirm that Section 25 of the Act also provides that a councillor should not be regarded as having a closed mind simply because they previously did or said something that, directly or indirectly, indicated what view they might take in relation to any particular matter.
The guide recognises that some councils have been concerned about probity issues raised by involving councillors in pre-application discussions, worried that councillors would be accused of predetermination when the subsequent application came in for consideration. Now, through the Localism Act and previously the Audit Commission, the LGA and PAS recognise that councillors have an important role to play in pre-application discussions, bringing their local knowledge and expertise, along with an understanding of community views. Involving councillors can help identify issues early on, helps councillors lead on community issues and helps to make sure that issues don’t come to light for the first time at committee. PAS recommends a ‘no shocks’ approach.

Probity in planning guide issued | Planning Resource

And from the Local Government Association:

Probity in planning 

for councillors and officers

This 2013 update to the 2009 version 
of the Local Government Association’s 
Probity in Planning guide reflects changes 
introduced by the Localism Act 2011. It 
clarifies how councillors can get involved in 
planning discussions on plan making and on 
applications, on behalf of their communities 
in a fair, impartial and transparent way. 
This guide has been written for officers and 
councillors involved in planning. Councillors 
should also be familiar with their own codes 
of conduct and guidance. 
This guide is not intended to nor does it 
constitute legal advice. Councillors and 
officers will need to obtain their own legal 
advice on any matters of a legal nature 

concerning matters of probity 

Planning has a positive and proactive role to 
play at the heart of local government. It helps 
councils to stimulate growth whilst looking 
after important environmental areas. It can 
help to translate goals into action. It balances 
social, economic and environmental needs to 
achieve sustainable development. 
The planning system works best when 
officers and councillors involved in planning 
understand their roles and responsibilities, 
and the context and constraints in which they 
Planning decisions involve balancing many 
competing interests. In doing this, decision 
makers need an ethos of decision-making 
in the wider public interest on what can be 
controversial proposals.
It is recommended that councillors should 
receive regular training on code of conduct 
issues, interests and predetermination, as 
well as on planning matters. 

In 1997, the Third Report of the Committee on 
Standards in Public Life (known as the Nolan 
Report) resulted in pressures on councillors 
to avoid contact with developers in the 
interests of ensuring probity.In today's place- 
shaping context, early councillor engagement 
is encouraged to ensure that proposals for 
sustainable development can be harnessed 
to produce the settlements that communities 
This guidance is intended to reinforce 
councillors’ community engagement roles 
whilst maintaining good standards of probity 
that minimizes the risk of legal challenges. 
Planning decisions are based on balancing 
competing interests and making an informed 
judgement against a local and national policy 
Decisions can be controversial. The risk of 
controversy and conflict are heightened by 
the openness of a system which invites public 
opinion before taking decisions and the legal 
nature of the development plan and decision 
notices. Nevertheless, it is important that 
the decision-making process is open and 

See also:
Futures Forum: "Mounting risks for corruption in UK local government" ...further developments
Futures Forum: Town Hall Secrecy Blamed for Decline in Local Democracy
Futures Forum: Concerns for corruption in Local Government: part two
Futures Forum: Concerns about transparency and lobbying continue in East Devon: pt 4

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