Thursday, 15 December 2016

Knowle relocation project: latest report to Cabinet >>> >>> the District Council’s 'commitment' to sell its HQ has been 'stymied' by a decision of the planning committee

The District Council's cabinet met last night to consider a report on its relocation project:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: Cabinet meets today: 5.30pm: Wednesday 14th December >>> new hiccups question the 'desire and need' to move >>> and raise the prospect of a 're-run of the business case'

The report focussed on plans for Exmouth Town Hall - and was presented by the Deputy CEO, who is in charge of the relocation project:

The Save Our Sidmouth blog reports:

Relocation update: “We have been stymied twice”, officer reports to EDDC Cabinet

December 15, 2016 by sidmouthsid Leave a comment

The Relocation lead officer, Richard Cohen, reporting last night to EDDC’s Cabinet meeting at Knowle, found himself roundly rebuked by Cllr Cathy Gardner (East Devon Alliance, EDA) for his subjective stance. Cllr Gardner was “shocked to hear Mr Cohen being scathing about the Development Management Committee (DMC) decision”, as these comments were wholly inappropriate for an officer’s report. She was certainly not the only one to think so.

Referring to the DMC’s refusal of the PegasusLife planning application for Knowle (6th December 2016) , “We have been stymied twice” was the turn of phrase chosen by Mr Cohen, who is also EDDC’s Deputy Chief Executive Officer. “You languish in old buildings’, he told councillors. He appeared to belittle the DMC’s decision, describing the refusal as “purely about planning”, “because of a listed curiosity”, and “arguments about Care Provision”.

The outcome of yesterday’s Cabinet meeting was an agreement to “decouple’ the twin aspirations to relocate to Exmouth and to Honiton. In a unanimous vote, it was decided to fast-track the refurbishment of Exmouth Town Hall (despite estimated costs having already increased by almost 70% , and borrowing being necessary) to provide a new ‘hub’ , accomodating 90 new desks for staff.

The mood was more muted about Honiton. Uncertainty about PegasusLife’s future intentions regarding Knowle, could continue, according to Richard Cohen, for around 6 months. In any case, delay in obtaining finance for newbuild offices at Heathpark is inevitable.

So the Council has turned its focus on how best to manage its office space at Knowle, acknowledging the site’s “potential capital appreciation”. The intention is to identify areas that “can be mothballed”, although Richard Cohen’s comment that Knowle’s “more modern buildings are in a more decrepit state ” than the former hotel, was somewhat surprising.

Next week’s Full Council Meeting (21 December, 6.30pm, Knowle) has the DMC report on its agenda. There are sure to be more, probing, questions to answer on this emerging relocation rejig.

Relocation update: “We have been stymied twice”, officer reports to EDDC Cabinet | Save Our Sidmouth

The East Devon Watch site provides further observations - together with comment:


15 DEC 2016

As expected last night’s EDDC Cabinet meeting unanimously rubber stamped the decision to raise another half million or so of taxpayers’ money to fund the refurbishment of Exmouth Town Hall as part of their Relocation Plan.

But, in an extraordinary outburst, Deputy CEO Richard Cohen, in charge of relocation, made a scathing attack on last week’s Development Management Committee’s decision to refuse planning permission for Pegasus Life’s application to develop 113 “assisted living” apartments on the Knowle.

He said the Council’s “commitment” to sell its HQ had been “stymied by a decision of the committee, (taken) purely about planning” (sic!) It hadn’t considered “the future of the Council, nor the independently proven savings” of relocation but made its decision “only because of heights (of buildings), a listed curiosity and arguments about care provision.”

So much for the myth that EDDC leaders, pursuing the relocation agenda, will allow the planning committee to serenely make its decisions on planning grounds alone, and won’t try to pressure it!

East Devon Alliance councillor Cathy Gardner was shocked, and said it was “inappropriate” for a council officer to criticise a planning committee in such a way.

But then Richard Cohen has form when it comes to arrogance and a cavalier attitude to convention. He handled the Council’s appeal in 2014 against the Information Commissioner’s call to publish documents about secret aspects of relocation. The Tribunal described the Council’s failure to cooperate properly and its economies with the truth as “discourteous and unhelpful”.

One thought on “Officers of the council are neutral – aren’t they?”

Paul F says:
15 Dec 2016 at 10:11am

The DMC refused the Pegasus Life planning application on sound planning grounds – it was Pegasus Life’s fault that they didn’t make a planning application that confirmed with the Local Plan, not something that RC should criticise DMC for.

This is not the first time either that senior EDDC officers, who are there to SERVE our elected representatives, overstep the mark and seem to think that they are in charge and making the decisions and not our elected councillors.

Perhaps one of the councillors on DMC will ask the CEO, Mark Williams, to remind Richard Cohen of his position – or perhaps even to suggest that Richard Cohen should “consider his position” i.e. resign.

Officers of the council are neutral – aren’t they? | East Devon Watch

Looking at the standards of behaviour expected by Officers:

Although the Code of Conduct covers Members [All elected councillors (and any co-opted members) are subject to the code of conduct for councillors.]
the Standards Cttee site specifically says: The Standards Committee promotes and maintains high standards of conduct by councillors, co-opted members, and council officers.

Looking at the Constitution as of 5.2 CODE OF CONDUCT FOR EMPLOYEES
it states: "3.3 You must follow every Council Policy and not let your own personal or political opinions interfere with your work."

on page 195 it states: 
"1.8 Officers involved in the processing and determination of Planning matters must also act impartially and in accordance with the Council’s Code of Conduct for Council Employees. In addition those that are members of the Royal Town Planning Institute are required to comply with the relevant sections of the Royal Town Planning Institute’s Code of Professional Conduct."

And on page 204, Members are given the following advice:  
"Do recognise and respect that officers involved in the processing and determination of planning matters must act in accordance with the Council’s Code of Conduct for Officers and their professional codes of conduct, primarily the Royal Town Planning Institute’s Code of Professional Conduct. As a result, planning officers’ views, opinions and recommendations will be presented on the basis of their overriding obligation of professional independence, which may on occasion be at odds with the views, opinions or decisions of the Committee or its Members."

Finally on page 212, it states: 
"39. Officers have a contractual and legal duty to be impartial. They must not allow their professional judgment and advice to be influenced by their own personal views"


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