Saturday, 21 December 2013

Transparency and process in East Devon..................... continued: part two

One issue following on from  
Futures Forum: Transparency and process in East Devon... a summary


Ottery St Mary:

Following on from accusations of 'breaking confidentiality'
What brings a council into disrepute? | Sidmouth Independent News
Kangaroo courts and secret meetings | Sidmouth Independent News
Private meetings with developers: the law and the honourable way of dealing with this | Sidmouth Independent News
Ottery Town Council have decided to release their 'secret' notes from their meeting with potential developers:

We have nothing to hide, says council

Wednesday, December 18, 2013 

Councillors have defended their decision to hold a private meeting with a developer, saying their only aim is to keep residents informed.
Members of Ottery Town Council are set to meet informally with representatives of Persimmon Homes, who are understood to be interested in building on land in West Hill.
But at last week’s council meeting, concerns were raised over the ethics of holding a ‘closed door meeting’ with no record of what was discussed.
Mayor Glyn Dobson said the council ‘did not take such meetings lightly’, and that the goal was to persuade the developer to hold a public exhibition. He said: “We have probably had six meetings with different developers in the past five years – and we have been successful in every one to get them to hold an exhibition.”
Councillor Ian Holmes added: “When a developer comes to us, we ask if it can be a public meeting – but at this stage they said no.”
And councillor Paul Lewis said it was rare that questions were asked of the developer. “They are purely presenting information to us,” he added.
But West Hill resident Jennie Elliot said there was an ethical issue of holding a ‘closed door meeting’. “How does this bring balance to a process that is going to be controversial anyway?” she asked. “And how do we know what incentives are going to be put on the table?”
Higher Metcombe resident Carol Royal said she thought the council ‘needed to be transparent in this day and age’, and Councillor Jo Talbot said she felt the council was ‘selling residents down the river’ by meeting developers in private.
A spokesman for East Devon District Council (EDDC) said no specific advice had been given to Ottery Town Council regarding when and how to conduct informal pre-application discussions with developers. “Our advice was merely that there was no reason not to have such a meeting,” they added. “National planning guidance encourages councils at all levels to engage in informal talks with developers – and vice versa. The major objective is to ensure that local community needs and preferences are taken fully into account when an application is submitted. EDDC engages in so-called pre-application talks with developers and it is entirely proper that developers should expect a degree of confidentiality when discussing proposals that could well be the subject of land values that would interest their competitors.”
We have nothing to hide, says council - News - Sidmouth Herald

Ottery Town Council meeting with Persimmon -  the notes

Despite the recent furore over Ottery Town Council’s private meeting with Persimmon, and a resolution by the town council not to take notes, nor make them public, the notes have been published after all.
See the link below ...................


1. At 05:10 pm on 19th Dec Susie Bond wrote:
Wow, that was a short meeting ... and it had to be held in private because ...?
2. At 05:48 pm on 19th Dec Sandra Semple wrote:
Because that’s what Persimmon wanted.  The council didn’t have to agree.
3. At 08:02 pm on 19th Dec Paul Arnott wrote:
So why on earth did some Ottery councillors rough up Roger Giles when the almost immediate outcome was that they have now actually published “informal” notes of the meeting?
It looks as if the council owes Roger both thanks and an apology for forcing their hand and - more by accident than design - setting a precedent for other councils in the district.
In other words, when landowners or developers in East Devon wish to influence a council by meeting them notes should always be recorded and issued for public scrutiny. (Although from these notes there seems to have been zero reason for this meeting not to have been attended by the public in any case.)
I hope Ottery now amends its standing orders to reflect a new era of transparency, and that they and the district monitoring office and Devon Association of Local Councils will share this advance with town and parish councils across East Devon.

Secrets …

20 December
Secret meetings are important to the people of Sidmouth, as they take place with alarming regularity at the Knowle, not only for relocation meetings but also meetings such as Asset Management – our assets.  In any given week  there are often as many closed meetings listed as open meetings.
Sidmothians may have followed the saga of Ottery Town Council HERE which had an undocumented meeting with developers (at the request of the developers) regarding development in West Hill.  They did not inform the district councillor for West Hill (who is also the county councillor).    When an Ottery councillor (Councillor Giles) informed the district councillor (Councillor Wright) he was called to a “kangaroo court” of councillors for breaking confidentiality and found guilty.  In an almost fantastical twist, the same councillors who had found him guilty voted AGAINST the sanction for his guilt!  Such is local politics.
However, this has implications for all town and parish councils, as well as the district council, indeed nations are currently debating how much information must be concealed from their citizens.  Why should developers be allowed to meet town or parish councillors in secret?  Councillors say that the developers are simply “information gathering” but why should town councils be used for such purposes when there is public consultation?   Often, as we have seen particularly in Feniton, the general public has a completely different take on developments to their councillors.
After a public outcry, Ottery Town Councillors changed their minds and released “notes” of the meeting.  However, this (if you are going to be as nit-picking as the council was regarding Councillor Giles) is unconstitutional, as a council cannot reconsider a decision made by full council until at least six months has elapsed.
The notes even show that the council asked Persimmons’ permission to publish them!  Can you imagine it!
The man who can keep a secret may be wise but he is not half as wise as the man with no secrets to keep (E. W. Howe)

Budleigh Salterton:

The long battles over planning permission at Budleigh suggest that the District Council "faces the real risk of legal challenge from objectors whenever they attempt to push procedural boundaries to support their recommendation."

High Court judge gives go-ahead for the demolition of Britain's last Admiralty longboat house in Budleigh Salterton

By Exeter Express and Echo  |  Posted: December 20, 2013

A campaign group has lost its fight to spare Britain’s last Admiralty Longboat House from being demolished to make way for a contemporary re-development along the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site.
Judge Birtles rejected a challenge at London’s High Court by Budleigh Longboat Association representative David Daniel to East Devon District Council’s approval of planning permission for the demolition and redevelopment of the Longboat café.
The ruling potentially clears the way for former Royal Marine and business owner Brent Hushon to carry out the redevelopment with a modern, two-storey, glass clad structure to take its place on the seafront.
The plans have a complex history. His first application in 2010 was approved but Mr Hushon was unable to implement the scheme because the council refused to relinquish the adjacent shelter.
The second smaller design was refused.
The decision to approve the third scheme is under scrutiny because the association submitted a string of issues to the judge, with the main thrust of their argument being that planning officers instructed members of the development management committee to “set aside” the previous decision to refuse an earlier scheme.
Then in May, Mr Hushon submitted a forth application which campaigners branded “almost identical” to the previous plans that were rejected.
This application was subsequently rejected in July and in October Mr Hushon lodged an appeal.
The judge rejected claims by the association that, in granting the scheme permission, the council had failed to properly take into account the earlier planning history and that the 2010 permission could not be fully implemented.
He ruled that there was no “error of law” and that the council had been given factually and legally correct advice in a report from a planning officer.
He said that he was told at the hearing last month that all pre-commencement conditions have now been discharged and that the 2010 permission has been implemented by construction work on the site.
Top officials at both Natural England and the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Team have said the site should be protected as they claim it sits within a World Heritage Site and is within the Site of Special Scientific Interest and an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
But district council planning officers have continued to dispute the environmental experts’ view.
The scheme has also come up against mass opposition in the town, with opponents believing the design of the restaurant to be out of keeping with its setting.
And Professor Mark Horton, who co-presents BBC’s Coast, a creator of Channel Four’s Time Team and professor of archaeology at Bristol University, recently heaped criticism on the project for the second time.
This summer he slammed the council for permitting the scheme in a World Heritage Site and English Heritage for failing to list the building “despite an overwhelming intellectual and historical case to do so”.
High Court judge gives go-ahead for the demolition of Britain's last Admiralty longboat house in Budleigh Salterton | Exeter Express and Echo
Budleigh Salterton Time Team Coast Mark Horton longboat Devon | Western Morning News

Jurassic Coast World Heritage-disappearing Site ..further erosion at Budleigh

21 December
This press release was issued yesterday,  after the announcement of the Judicial Review decision:
High Court Budleigh Salterton Longboat court case fails 
CO/9096/2012 The Queen on the application of David Daniel v East Devon District Council
The Budleigh Longboat Association and its many friends are surprised and disappointed that in a written judgement issued today, Judge Birtles, did not find sufficient merit in its claim to quash the Longboat planning consent of 2012.
We believe it was important and responsible to make this challenge as two other similar applications had been rejected by the planning committee, one a few months before and another quite recently. We felt that members of the planning committee had been misled by the Planning Officers’ report.
When considering planning matters, the East Devon District Council (EDDC) is supposed to act, and to be seen to act, in a quasi-judicial and fair way. By pursuing this action we have made the point that the EDDC faces the real risk of legal challenge from objectors whenever they attempt to push procedural boundaries to support their recommendation. There are already signs that, as a result, EDDC is now paying more attention to the correctness of their procedure.  For example, they are bringing important consultee comments, from groups such as Natural England, to the committee however late in the process they arrive, rather than ignoring them; and they are making full audio recordings of proceedings so that there can be no doubt about what was said.
Jurassic Coast World Heritage-disappearing Site ..further erosion at Budleigh | Sidmouth Independent News

Judge rejects legal challenge over Budleigh Longboat cafe

Many people in East Devon - Budleigh and non-Budleigh residents will find this a disappointing decision. And as someone who observed several of those planning committee debates, a baffling one. I remember well the discussions/arguments over whether the area was in the World Heritage Site, or not.
Many councillors simply said that the two storey glass fronted cafe was “iconic” and that Budleigh “needed it.” 
I think Budleigh Salterton is the most beautiful unspoiled beach in East Devon and I cannot imagine how incongruous this cafe would look, right on the seafront. 


No comments: