Wednesday, 14 May 2014

District Council: to vote on restricting public speaking: Thurs 15th May

Within the context of a couple of provocative postings:
Futures Forum: The uses and abuses of power: “The larger and more authoritarian the organization, the better the chance that its top decision-makers will be operating in purely imaginary worlds.”
Futures Forum: Localism: The uses and abuses of power: "No politician willingly surrenders control downwards."

... it seems that the District Council is indeed unwilling to allow for a greater say by the public in planning decisions:
Futures Forum: District Council: to vote on restricting public speaking at planning meetings: decision postponed

From last week's Herald:

Latest local news & information in Sidmouth | Sidmouth Herald 

From Cllr Claire Wright's blog:

Public speaking restrictions at planning cttee meetings back on the table for debate, this Thursday

Sunday, 11 May 2014 2 Comments by Claire

Controversial proposals to dramatically limit public speaking rights at EDDC planning committee meetings, are back up for debate this Thursday (15 May), at the overview and scrutiny committee meeting.

The report in the papers gives a summary of the fiery debate that took place at the last full council meeting in April, which can be read in more detail here - http://www.claire-wright.org/index.php/post/stormy_debate_stalls_public_speaking_restrictions

Outraged members of the public staged a demonstration outside the Knowle prior to the meeting.

The paper states that there have been “concerns” about my amendment to the proposals submitted at full council, which had attempted to mitigate the restrictions.

It says that elements of my amendment could result in “serious unfairness.”

At the full council meeting on 9 April many members said that they had noticed that some planning committee members tended to repeat each other’s views and talk for much longer than necessary. However, the paper which will be discussed on Thursday’s overview and scrutiny committee meeting, disagrees.

The report cautions against “seeking to reduce the length of the committee debate,” and asserts that no one had criticised the length of the planning committee debate until the committee of 1 April.

So the recommendations on severely restricting public speaking rights at planning committee meetings remain unchanged, or at least virtually unchanged. There are slight changes apparently, but not that I can detect - and the really damaging ones, such as only being allowed to address the committee if you have commented previously in writing, and giving the applicant/developer an extra speaking slot, in addition to the allowable number of slots for supporters, still feature.

And there follows dozens and dozens of pages of examples of other authorities who are apparently far less generous in their public speaking rules, than EDDC.

The meeting starts at 6.30pm on Thursday 15 May and will be held in the council chamber. Here’s a link to the papers -http://www.eastdevon.gov.uk/os_agenda_150514_combined.pdf

Photograph: Members of the public demonstrating outside Knowle about public speaking restrictions, before the full council meeting in April.


1. At 09:15 am on 12th May Sandra Semple wrote:

So, now we will see whether the Overview and Scrutiny Committee works for everyone or just for the Executive Board.

And as for no-one mentioning that DMC members repeat each other: well, of course, that was only pointed out when the attempt to silence the public came up. Let us all remember that Councillor Bloxham took 27 minutes to tell us all why we, the public who are given 3 minutes each, spoke too long .....

Basic democracy is already dead and buried in East Devon and this is just more earth being scattered on its coffin.

2. At 10:27 pm on 13th May Emma wrote:

Having been at last week’s DMC meeting, I can see why they are trying to curtail public speaking. Essentially it is a waste of the public’s time.

One or two looked like they might be listening but the majority most certainly did not, and the air was one of bored indulgence, just wanting to get representations out of the way before they could get to making the decision.

Incredibly, several councillors then stated that they had been “reassured” on certain topics by the developer/officers, despite objectors having clearly raised further questions about these issues that warranted further questioning and debate.

The only councillor who raised any questions in response to the representations made (the feasibility of the footpath upgrade, which DCC say cannot be achieved) was quickly assuaged by the officer stating that £25k ‘sounds like quite a lot of money’ and ‘would probably go some way’ towards the upgrade.

Many misconceptions, half-truths and outright falsehoods were stated but could not be corrected by the public as our opportunity to speak had passed.

It would make more sense for the councillors to debate the issues based on their preliminary views, and then the supporters and objectors have their opportunity to speak in order to correct any misconceptions as well as make their case. Councillors could then take their final vote with all the facts in front of them.

3. At 08:34 pm on 14th May Conrad Black wrote:
If meetings go on too long it is the fault of the Chairman for failing to control the meeting.  One might have thought that the Inspector gave Councillors the hint when he asked them to either tell him something new or shut up. 
Of course, if Councillors have closed minds and cannot be swayed by argument or oratory then the whole democratic process is bathetic farce.  It was always felt dangerous to allow national party politics to invade local politics - what national party cares about siting a bus shelter or approving a footpath?  Some say that the only people to stand for local office should be those who are totally disinterested, and that rules out party politicians completely (maybe as well as landowners, developers and similar). 
I see from Emma’s submission that EDDC opinion is highly variable.  £25k is a mere drop in the ocean of waste expended on moving from the Knowle, so why worry?  Making statements that the knowledgeable public are prevented from refuting instantly is a dangerous and desperate refuge for the incompetent, because it breeds the distaste (now) and open opposition to (later) the conduct of politics today.  You would have rightly expected that all at the EDDC would have taken steps to ensure that such an accusation could never be made about their conduct.  Curtailing debate is a sure-fire vote loser.

Public speaking restrictions at planning cttee meetings back on the table for debate, this Thursday - Claire Wright

EDDC now to impose restrictions on motions?

Monday, 12 May 2014 4 Comments by Claire

It appears that a restriction may be applied to the notice of motion facility at East Devon District Council.

The day before the debate on restrictions to public speaking takes place, another restriction will be debated at the annual council meeting on Wednesday (14 May), as the council proposes to amend the constitution.

On page 26 - the “annual constitution update” the new way forward for motions (which the independent group use a lot for a way of getting something of public interest to be debated), is that any motion not directly linked to the council’s business, to be first referred to a committee.

This is apparently to “facilitate a relevant and informed debate.”

I would argue that it is a restriction on one of the few ways opposition councillors have of getting something that is in the public interest, debated and decided on by the whole council. The new proposal will mean a delay on any council debating a motion for around three months.

Currently, motions can be submitted around two weeks ahead of any full council meeting. The voting pattern of the conservatives (often a block vote takes place) in relation to many motions, have led to charges that the ruling group has been whipped.

Previous motions appear to have caused a bit of embarrassment for the ruling conservative group, as can be seen from this blog-post - http://www.claire-wright.org/index.php/post/motion_on_cutting_tourism_vat_is_headline_grabbing_soundbites


1. At 08:17 pm on 12th May Conrad Black wrote:

I find it deeply disturbing that it shoul be possible for any public body to seek to amend its constitution without being obliged to obtain the highly informed consent of the electorate by way of putting it to a public vote. If that is not the case then any however temporary majority of elected officials may radicaally and arbitrarily alter the constitution to suit their own political agend, with impunity.

I say that elected officials should draw back from altering a constitution without a specific mandate from the electorate, and that would need more than a simple majority.

2. At 09:32 am on 13th May Sandra Semple wrote:

Oh, boy - are these people scared of the opposition! It just shows how rattled they are. They KNOW that their record on just about everything they handle will not stand up and, instead of seeing how they can change and put things right, their answer is to ensure that no-one can hold them to account.

The Leader and his cronies will long be remembered in East Devon as being one of the most anti-democratic councils we have ever had.

I have no love whatsoever for some of the opposition parties but would urge everyone to vote for ANYONE AT ALL who is not part of this current Conservative administration in the next election. Otherwise this monster will continue to devour our district.

3. At 11:03 am on 13th May Gavin Jones wrote:

Whatever happened to “any other business” on the agenda for meetings? As you imply, the so-called ‘ruling party’ seems to want to stifle rather than encourage debate. What do LGA guidelines have to say about this very dubious way of shutting out important matters?

4. At 11:43 am on 13th May Paul wrote:

Does anyone know what the legal situation is regarding amending the constitution (i.e. is it allowed), what the rules are relating to the process and the ability for local people to speak about it, and (assuming it is legal for the council to amend its own constitution) what proportion of votes are needed for it (as it is sometimes the case that constitutional amendments have a higher threshold than normal votes)??

5. At 11:03 am on 14th May Sandra Semple wrote:
You know what comes next.  Tories put a motion to “make drugs sentencing harsher” - that will be OK as they will say it is part of the district council’s business.  A non-Tory will put a motion to “scrutinise the move to Skypark” and that will be deemed not part of district council business.  We live in very dangerous times for democracy in East Devon - and all because the major party is running scared and simply cannot cope with dissent of any kind - not even from its own councillors.

EDDC now to impose restrictions on motions? Claire Wright

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