Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Transparency and lobbying: District Council "agrees with the principle" of "declaring any contact with developers or campaign groups"

The independent Cllr Claire Wright has been attempting for some time to have the District Council consider seriously the issue of lobbying.

This is from February this year:
Futures Forum: District Council meets to consider issue of Lobbying ... Weds 26th February

The latest attempt was last week:
Futures Forum: District Council meets to consider issue of Lobbying ..... Tues 28th October

EDDC standards committee to debate lobbying on planning matters on Tuesday (28 October)

Monday, 27 October 2014 2 Comments by Claire

EDDC’s standards committee will debate a motion of mine that I lodged back in February, following months of trying to get the standards committee to discuss it after I had raised it at the overview and scrutiny committee…. AGES ago!

The motion was: “Openness and transparency in the planning process is vital. This council therefore agrees to include an item on the agenda of all development management committee and planning inspections committee meetings, requiring members of those committees to declare if and who they have been lobbied by, about items on the agenda.”Tomorrow’s agenda item follows a postponement from a scheduled meeting in July.

A paper from the new monitoring officer is included with tomorrow’s agenda, containing much information on the code of conduct and rules governing planning committee members, which the report implicity seems to suggest, are adequate so the motion is not required.

There are no recommendations on a way forward, simply a request to review the information and make a recommendation to cabinet. There is however, an interesting suggestion on page 18 of the papers - about setting up a public central register to record all lobbying approaches received by planning committee members.

This is an excellent suggestion, however, we need to remember that the motion I originally put forward, could quite easily be implemented, by planning committee members simply, as part of the agenda, stating whether or not they had been lobbied, and if so, whether for or against the application.

I see this as a transparency issue and one that in the circumstances of an ongoing police investigation into a former councillor’s planning activities, to be very much in the public interest and also one which will help with trust at the council - at a time when trust is at an all time low.

See two previous debates below -




1. At 12:22 am on 28th Oct Jo Frith wrote:

I would think that there might be a great increase in the lobbying of local Councillors by neighbours in the future given that they will probably not get a chance to speak at DMC on an application. So might this make the Agenda item rather unworkable?

2. At 08:18 am on 28th Oct Janice Owen wrote:

This seems like an excellent suggestion. I think a lot of people feel that developers have discussions with council members regarding forthcoming planning applications and that they are ‘done deals’. There must be transparency and openness as being able to trust ones elected officers is very important, but unfortunately many people do not.

EDDC standards committee to debate lobbying on planning matters on Tuesday (28 October) - Claire Wright

This is the report from the Herald following that meeting, together with comment on Cllr Wright's blog:

Standards committee agree principle of transparency on lobbying planning cttee

Monday, 03 November 2014 3 Comments by Claire

Below I have copy typed an article on page 4 of this week’s Ottery Herald ....

District planning chiefs could be required to declare any contact with developers or campaign groups, if a new rules being considered by a council watchdog are adopted.

East Devon District Council’s standards committee met last week to debate whether existing regulations provide enough scope to cover lobbying of - and by - councillors.

Current rules say that councillors must, at the start of meetings, publicly state if they have personal or financial interests in any planning applications being considered.

The committee discussed a previous request by Cllr Claire Wright, ward member for Ottery Rural, for greater transparency in the planning process.

Cllr Wright said, in addition to the existing rules, members sitting on the council’s development management committee (DMC) should be required to declare if they had been lobbied on applications - and if so, by whom.

At Tuesday’s meeting Mrs Wright said: “I don’t see that the current rules provide a facility for councillors on the DMC to say whether they have been lobbied.”

She said that in order for EDDC to address concerns about a perceived lack of transparency in the planning process, it might hvae to “go a bit further” than other authorities.

“I think people would appreciate that,” she added.

Budleigh Salterton councillor, Alan Dent said it was not uncommon for DMC members to receive emails from developers, but added that such correspondence was “taken at face value.” He said: “I tend to ignore that and wait for the officers’ report.”

Cllr Ray Bloxham said that although the word “lobbying” conjured up images of improper conduct, most lobbying was “perfectly reasonable” and done by members of the public who objected to planning applications.

He warned that trying to adopt a “catch all” policy could result in limited meeting time being taken up by councillors listing every person they had spoken with about each application.

The committee agreed with the principle behind Mrs Wright’s request but resolved to revisit the issue later.


1. At 06:38 pm on 03th Nov Sandra Semple wrote:

So if Councillor Dent ignores emails and Councillor Bloxham thinks lobbying is ” perfectly reasonable” why would they object to Councillor Wright’s request? Councillor Dent just has to tell people which emails he has ignored and Councillor Bloxham simply has to list those “reasonable” lobbying aporoaches and we can all be happy!

2. At 11:47 am on 04th Nov Paul wrote:

I don’t think that anyone has said that lobbying is unreasonable - at least in principle, though it would be easy to imagine examples where it was not appropriate.

However the issue is about transparency, about what may have influenced a councillor to take a position. Councillors are rightly expected to declare a non-pecuniary interest (like a planning application within sight of their own home) and lobbying seems to be very similar.

3. At 01:16 pm on 04th Nov Tim Todd wrote:

I find Councillor Bloxham’s thought processes most concerning- yet again.

Of course most lobbying is “perfectly reasonable”. The problem is that you need a procedure in which to differentiate between the reasonable and the corrupt. Or does he think it is “reasonable” to allow the corrupt to slip through unchecked along with the bona fide?

For goodness sake, nobody on East Devon District Council should need the potential for corruption in planning explained to them. They, more than any other council in the country, need now to be seen to be squeaky clean.

Had such precautions and procedures been in place ten years or more ago, I am quite sure that a good few planning applicatiions would not have gone through as they did.

In any case, are councillors Dent and Bloxham not aware of their leaders promises of transparency- or do they recognise such idle promises for what they are?

Finally, if the above doesn’t work for them, Councillors might like to read their own Anti- Fraud, Theft and Corruption Policy, dated 15th March 2012. (http://www.eastdevon.gov.uk/anti-fraud_theft_and_corruption_policy-2.pdf)

Given the events that followed this policy’s introduction, in a little under twelve months, it demonstrates how naive the council has been and how weasley were its words.

Standards committee agree principle of transparency on lobbying planning cttee - Claire Wright

See also:
Futures Forum: District Council meets to consider issue of Lobbying ... but "What is lobbying?"
Futures Forum: "What is lobbying?"... "Openness and transparency is vital."

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