Sunday, 25 October 2015

Redeveloping East Devon >>> of 'income streams' and 'regeneration'

Much of the 'development' in East Devon is council-led.
And yet it does not seem to be particularly sensitive to local need, let alone the 'localism agenda':
Futures Forum: Redeveloping East Devon >>> the alternatives to a heavy-handed approach

This piece from the EDW blog suggests that this is because the council now has to address certain questions, namely, What effect does this have on our income stream and our ability to sell off assets to the highest bidder?


22 OCT 2015

It is now widely accepted that councils are no longer viewed as “public services”. A council used to be elected to represent the interests of its area and its councillors were supposed to represent the views of their electors (though this was not always the case). Council tax was seen as the price we paid for our public services.

Now councils are seen as businesses. They exist to make a profit. They are no longer guardians of public assets but are looking to sell off as many of their “unprofitable” assets as possible whilst retaining cash cows. They do not see a responsibility to council tax payers or to future generations and now developers are what they call their real “customers” that they are there to serve. Indeed, a few years ago, one of EDDC’s senior officers said that, yes, developers are their real customers as they pay large sums into council coffers, more than council tax and therefore they should be considered the council’s most important customers – far more important than council tax payers.

Now we have the situation where the “council businesses” no longer has the interests of electors at their heart and they are increasingly attempting to be simply profitable businesses. But the problem then arises when what is best for the business is not best for electors.

Take the situation in Exmouth. The district council does not want Marks and Spencers Food to be sited near the railway and bus stations (on land owned by Devon County Council) but on its own land which is currently designated as a rugby field. Marks and Spencers knows what it wants and would have been aware of the choice of sites and they chose the one that suited their needs.

This now pitches council business against council business – EDDC against DCC. Some might say this is a good thing as it stimulates competition. However, there is a BIG stumbling block. One of these businesses (EDDC) holds the right to allow or refuse the planning application on the other businesses’s land. Today it is EDDC which holds the trump cards, tomorrow it may be DCC (for example, Straitgate Quarry, where DCC wants it to continue and EDDC does not).

In the past, the deal-breaker would have been: what is best for the district? Now the deal-breaker is: what effect does this have on our income stream and our ability to sell off assets to the highest bidder?

Increasingly, councillors are playing no part in these decisions, except to follow government guidelines that services must be slashed and developers must be encouraged and they must toe the party line on this.

We, the electors, are not just marginalised but practically eradicated from the decision-making process, since our interests are not those of the businesses which our councillors now serve.

Is this what we should accept? If not, how do we ensure that we get what is best for our district and not what is best for EDDC plc or DCC plc?

One thought on “Is what is best for East Devon District Council best for East Devon?”

T Green says:
23 Oct 2015 at 9:49am

The hijacking of EDDC by the business ethic and by businesses was perfectly illustrated by the activities of the East Devon Business Forum (2004-13) . This lobby group for landowners and developers was subsidised by the council, had a senior officer as its Honorary Secretary and a councillor (Graham Brown) as Chair.

It had other councillor-members, some of whom represented businesses with interests in development. It had considerable influence over council planning policy, and succeeding in relaxing planning rules which benefitted its developer members.

When critics suggested that this cosy relationship between council and entrepreneurs could lead to serious conflicts of interest, they were dismissed as “anti-business”.

The Daily Telegraph sting of March 2013 which revealed the Chair of EDBF boasting he could obtain planning permission in return for money caused a national scandal, and led to the dissolution of the Forum.
Its leading members continue to be important “customers” of EDDC.

Is what is best for East Devon District Council best for East Devon? | East Devon Watch

It's about generating place-shaping, capital receipts or longer term income streams:
How developers should smooch local authorities | East Devon Watch
Local Government Lawyer - A question of place

And it seems the most favoured vehicle for such development is 'regeneration':


1 OCT 2015

A correspondent writes:

“For years Exmouth and Seaton have had regeneration areas and Regeneration Boards. Until recently, all the Regeneration Board meetings were secret – now they are published but often with redacted parts.

But are these meetings, Boards, plans, consultations worth the bother?

Seaton’s regeneration area began life with a relatively small supermarket, housing, community and leisure facilities and a hotel, with 40% affordable housing in a total of over 400 houses. What they got was an enormous Tesco, less than 300 houses and no affordable homes.

Exmouth is now going the same way: it started as a purely seafront-themed “upgrading” but changed into expensive housing and cloned businesses.

So, we must ask ourselves: what were all these plans, meetings and consultations actually FOR? What we are ending up with on both sites is nothing like what was initially planned, or discussed or consulted on.

Regeneration Boards are top-heavy with the developers on each site, who appear to use them to push forward their plans, unchallenged either by councillors or officers – in fact, the total opposite, leaving said officers and councillors to ram through their development agendas.

Surely, this makes a total mockery of our officers, councillors and Regeneration Boards but, more importantly, the electors of East Devon, who were sold pups – coincidentally just before two major district elections.

“Regeneration plans and meetings” – are they worth the effort | East Devon Watch

And yet there is very little transparency about this:


22 NOV 2014

The Exmouth and Seaton Regeneration Board meetings have always been secret. Many people have attempted to get their meetings, agendas and minbutes made public but no-one has succeeded, even with Freedom of Information requests.

And, when those meetings are discussed in Cabinet, they are again always secret.

Always the reason is “commercial confidentiality”. This has been the case for years and years.

So, all regeneration matters are kept secret between developers and the council – or rather a few councillors. We are not even allowed to know who exactly they meet with or why or what is discussed. Anything that gets into the public domain is sanitised “good news”. Any “consultation” is done against a backdrop of those few priviledged councillors and (presumabky) developers operating in the shadows until they decide what we can be told of decisions that have been made in secret.

By law, all items heard in secret must have reasons given in advance. The usual one (which EDDC uses for Knowle relocation and even the now-defunct Knowle Planning Application) is “commercial confidentiality”.

Who signs off these confidential items? None other than Chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee – Councillor Tim Woods.

East Devon District Council – working for …. well, who are they working for?

One thought on “Why is regeneration in East Devon always secret?”

Paul says:
22 Nov 2014 at 6:28pm

Is this just the EDBF / LDF reborn?

Why is regeneration in East Devon always secret? | East Devon Watch

This is not just happening in Exmouth:
Regeneration projects - East Devon
Exmouth Regeneration Board Meetings - a Freedom of Information request to East Devon District Council - WhatDoTheyKnow
Exmouth seafront trader sad about “regeneration” plans | East Devon Watch

But also in Seaton:
A correspondent writes on “regeneration” East Devon style | East Devon Watch 
Sandra Semple | Seaton, in East Devon | Tesco supermarket | letter | regeneration board | Western Morning News | West Briton
View From Online - News from West Dorset, East Devon & South Somerset

And probably about to happen in Sidmouth:
Futures Forum: Plans for Port Royal: anticipatimg a Regeneration Board

To finish with 'income streams':

Room 151

Richard Cohen, East Devon’s Deputy CEO on opportunities & innovation1
— 13 JAN, 2012

Richard Cohen is the deputy chief executive of East Devon District Council. He is responsible for development, regeneration and partnership, including asset management and delivering major projects.

His career started with the setting up of Inner City Task Forces in London and Plymouth. He then held strategic economic development and regeneration roles in Bristol and with the London Development Agency and was retained as a consultant to London Boroughs to co-ordinate the establishment of a development corridor to the North of London.

Room 151: Is East Devon doing a lot to access new income streams for the council?

Richard Cohen: It is. I turned up here last May, at approximately the same time as a new administration came. They arrived with an ambition to look at what efficiencies and new sources of revenue they could identify. Some of the ideas they wanted to bed down were quite big and some were just in terms of tidying up day-to-day business.

One of my roles is to have an outward focus working with partners and seeking to influence the external world as to the advantages of working with us. We know that the traditional grant funding streams are diminishing so we’re trying to identify imaginative ways of developing our own resources.

R151: Can you give some examples?

RC: The council is reviewing its asset base to identify whether we’re extracting best value. We’ve got a variety of assets ranging from car parks and industrial estates to beach huts, a couple of cinemas. Some make money and some cost money and we’re digging into the opportunities to release assets and invest in assets to increase revenue streams.

R151: What is your demographic like?

RC: There are problems that aren’t necessarily recognised in terms of rural isolation and rural poverty that need to be tackled. Income levels in some of our communities are quite low because they are dependent on things like farming, seasonal tourism and care industries. So on the one hand we have lower than average incomes but at the same time quite high property prices. Our concern is that young people don’t stay but people migrate here to retire. While that has a number of benefits it’s not a demographic that you’d want to carry on in those directions, so we like to find ways to create affordable homes and attract higher paid, higher skilled jobs.

R151: How easy or difficult is it to work with partners on property?

RC: They come in many guises. We have a significant partnership at the West of the district bordering with Exeter, it’s ourselves, Exeter City Council, the County Council, Homes and Communities Agency and a range of private developers. We bring land and the powers of the planning authority to the table to bring about a range of housing and employment associated infrastructure. That is going pretty well and we’re seeing some private investment, Sainsbury’s has turned up with a regional distribution centre and we have a science park we are starting to see some early movement on so there are quite big prospects there.

Further East and to the coast it’s about how do we use our assets to support our coastal and market towns and our rural communities so we’re looking at the smaller scale of asset management: how do we manage car parks to the advantage of retail resilience in town centres; how do we work with the leisure facilities we have. We’ve put those under the management of Leisure East Devon, a not-for-profit company. We set it up and have handed those assets over to them. Leisure centres can be quite expensive but they’re essential assets to communities.

R151: How are you making savings on property?

RC: The big plan is relocating the council from our historically interesting but not entirely fit for purpose headquarters to a new purpose built building. That will make immediate savings in terms of energy use and carbon footprint. That’s the big move for the next two to three years.

R151: Do you have other issues are on the horizon?

RC: Community asset transfer is one. If we know what the value of our assets are and the usefulness of those assets we’re in a better position to negotiate with communities if they are interested in taking on assets. If we don’t know whether they’re a burden or a benefit then we shouldn’t be trying to farm them out. We’re also working on a formula for Community Infrastructure Levy. We’re building houses, the local plan which is going through the process at the moment proposes something like 15,000 new homes so we’ll be looking to draw down Community Infrastructure Levy on those developments.

It allows us a new income stream because in the past with the section 106 agreement any small scale housing development would have flown under that radar. Our district has quite a lot of small scale and infill projects so we’ll be able to increase income from those, which is a bonus.

Then we’ll look to see how we’ll reinvest proportions of that in those local communities which hasn’t been the case in the past. You have tended to see 106 agreements around larger scale development and where there have been up to 50 new homes developed in our more rural communities we haven’t been able to see benefit from that building reaching those communities, which is a shame.

It’s drawing down new income streams into communities which haven’t previously received it. We’ll also use funding streams like New Homes Bonus to invest. It’s all about where there is development opportunity how can you maximise the drawdown and invest back into communities.

Richard Cohen, East Devon’s Deputy CEO on opportunities & innovation | Room 151

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