Tuesday, 18 February 2014

How to alienate your electorate and lose influence

It can't be easy being a politician these days - and there's been a lot of 'anti-politics' in the air:
Futures Forum: Who to blame when everything falls apart: the politics of planning decisions

However, East Devon has not done itself much of a service, having been referred to as “the wild west” where, if you rock the boat, “the clique makes your life a bloody misery.”
Council is highlighted in democracy report | Exeter Express and Echo

And planning seems to be where most issues occur, as the Leader of the District Council recognises:

"Our satisfaction ratings are the highest they have ever been with the exception of planning..."

East Devon District Council - Life and Work in East Devon

When it comes to 'satisfaction', the Chief Whip of the majority party at the District Council agreed with a prominent Independent Councillor that perceptions needed to be challenged:

There is a view that electors in the wards where candidates were returned unopposed were satisfied with their representation, although personally I agree with Roger that I hope that there will be contested elections in all wards in 2015 to redress the perceived issue of lack of representation...

Have whip, but don’t ever use it - Letters - Sidmouth Herald

But how 'satisfied' is the electorate with its representatives at the District Council?
There does of late seem much to be desired...


The latest episode in the controversial move to relocate its headquarters has raised yet more questions:
Will EDDC Leader weather the Skypark storm? | East Devon Alliance
In my opinion: Council move is ill thought-out and financially reckless | Western Morning News
Why Skypark? | East Devon Alliance
Unreliable statistics again, from EDDC? | Save Our Sidmouth
Visitors to the Knowle - a Freedom of Information request to East Devon District Council - WhatDoTheyKnow
SOS to EDDC Councillors, re Skypark | Save Our Sidmouth


The proposed move to Skypark has pleased almost no one, with a Honiton Councillor claiming that the District Council has 'sold out' by not choosing Honiton for its new headquarters, thus opening the now-rejected Honiton site for development as another supermarket:
Midweek Herald - 12/02/2014 digital edition
Skypark: “it’s a sell-out” says Honiton councillor | Sidmouth Independent News
Asda for Honiton Heathpark? That would explain EDDC not choosing the site | Sidmouth Independent News


The question has been raised whether the likes of the SOS campaign is just another pressure group
Streetlife | Gods Waiting Room/Old Peoples Dog Town. | Page 1
or indeed if it is the usual crowd who are making the complaints, with the 'silent majority' unnoticed:

Home - Sidmouth Herald

And yet it does seem that the proposed sale of Knowle has alienated a large number of people:

Town takes to streets over beauty spot threat as council faces scrutiny - Telegraph

In fact, people are very keen to hold on to the 'beauty spots' of Sidmouth - as a District Council sponsored consultation would have it: 

In April 2012 East Devon District Council published a report by (yet more) consultants Bennett Leisure & Planning Ltd and JPC Strategic Planning & Leisure Ltd on Open Spaces which you can find here. A few choice highlights from the 140 page document:
Paragraph 5.88 The consultation asked people their opinion on the quality of different types of open spaces, with regards to local recreation grounds or parks, around 70% stated they were very good or good. Many of the parks in tourist areas (e.g. Sidmouth) are excellent, and this may well contribute towards this very high satisfaction level.

East Devon and open space | Sidmouth Independent News

With questions also raised about the proposals for a large area of employment land at Sidford contained in the District Council's draft local plan - including from the Town Council and Chamber of Commerce:
Groups slam employment land allocation in Local Plan - News - Sidmouth Herald


The District Council has been keen to focus on the 'success' of its newtown project:
Community survey finds Cranbrook is a good place to live | Exeter Express and Echo
Cranbrook: good news or bad news – it depends on who is spinning! | Sidmouth Independent News

Doctors and their patients are not so sure:
"Struggling to cope": Health chiefs' warning on effect of East Devon's population boom on GPs | Exeter Express and Echo
Planning … not going well at Cranbrook | Sidmouth Independent News

Whilst much of the marketing of the 'success' of the newtown seems to be coming from the developers themselves...
Cranbrook - Imagine. Discover. Believe
which is indicted on the 'official' District Council website for the newtown as 'The Cranbrook Website'
Cranbrook - Exeter and East Devon Growth Point
... how far exactly will the town be allowed to 'grow'? Should there be any limits?
East Devon Green Party | EDGP press release October 16th 2013 - 590 more homes at Cranbrook

But at least the project is employing lots of people:
How many workmen does it take to change a lightbulb? Worker climbs up ladder as SIX colleagues watch - Yahoo News UK


The District Council opposed the planning applications for hundreds of new houses 
- but have failed to put together a Five-Year Housing Plan [see Seaton-Colyford below]
Groundhog Day in Room 101, Super Inquiry, Day 10 | Susie Bond
It’s over … Super Inquiry, day 11, final day | Susie Bond

The planning consultant Charlie Hopkins has been representing Feniton:

Feniton, Devon. Appeal by Feniton Park Ltd et al for housing developments in East Devon. I represented Feniton Parish Council, for whom I prepared an inquiry opening statementarguing that "these proposed developments are not sustainable, they will not positively improve the quality of peoples’ lives or that of the natural environment, and will not perform a positive economic, social or environmental role".

Charlie Hopkins: Planning and environmental consultant: Cases, campaigns, and public inquiries


Plans to develop on the greenfields between the two towns were rejected:
AXMINSTER TODAY | NEWS | COLYTON: Campaigners win in green wedge appeal | 2014
Victory for ‘green wedge’ protesters - News - Midweek Herald

District Council officers were congratulated for their part:
East Devon District Council - News

However, campaigners did not see it quite that way:

The winning of this appeal was NOT the result of East Devon District Council’s work whose officers recommended approval of this application. Local people raised huge sums of money and won the right to be represent themselves at the appeal and put up a very robust argument. 
East Devon District Council, on the other hand, were castigated by the Inspector for not having some of its key documentation in order. Without the intervention of local people through their lawyer it is quite possible that this would have been allowed.

East Devon Win Key appeal as 5 year Shortfall is ‘Short term’ as Local Plan EIP opens | Decisions, Decisions, Decisions


A petition with 12 thousand signatures to prevent the Elizabeth Hall from being pulled down to make way for a Whitbread hotel on the seafront was not taken on board by the District Council:
12,000 battle to save Exmouth hall facing sell-off in seafront shake-up | This is Cornwall
Friends of Exmouth's Elizabeth Hall get ready with petition | Exmouth People

The response was considerable:
Elizabeth Hall Site | exmouthvision

The District Council was obliged to reveal information about covenants which covered the seafront:
Further background papers re £50k Covenant - a Freedom of Information request to East Devon District Council - WhatDoTheyKnow
Demolition job | Sidmouth Independent News
Exmouth Seafront Covenants: “an unfortunate public airing” | East Devon Alliance

Exmouth's plight was seen as part of a larger betrayal:
The great British seaside sell-off | Travel | The Guardian

The building site which was the Elizabeth Hall is still a source of controversy:
‘Whitbread should pay graffiti bill’ - News - Exmouth Journal

This has lead to considerable doubts about the District Council's sincerity when it comes to 'consulting the people':
Consultation pledge over demolition threat - News - Exmouth Journal
Councils listening to the people? Well,not in Exmouth…… | Sidmouth Independent News
Exmouth Splash “consultation” – “wide range of views” says EDDC | Sidmouth Independent News

There are questions as to what extent previous consultations have had a real effect:
Residents to have a say on East Devon’s future - News - Sidmouth Herald

Or to what extent it helps to be an actual consultant:
Video: 'If I can’t get planning, nobody will' says Devon councillor and planning consultant - Telegraph

In the immediate wake of this scandal, an observation from a year ago:

"In fact, dissatisfaction with EDDC is no longer confined to criticism. The founding of the non-party-political East Devon Alliance on February 16 possibly marks the first step towards a much-needed spring clean at the Knowle.”

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