Friday, 30 August 2013

Concerns about transparency and lobbying continue in East Devon: pt 1



This is from the District Council's own website:

Local Transparency

Payments Over £500

The following links list East Devon District Council’s monthly supplier spend for all items over £500 for the current financial year. Where items are shown for less than £500 this is where part of a payment is separately identified for information purposes but it is part of an overall payment which is greater than £500. While we aim to be as transparent as we can, there may be some cases where we need to withhold information that could be regarded as sensitive for commercial or security reasons, or to protect personal privacy.
You can contact the Financial Team about Payments over £500 by:
  • phone: 01395 517486
  • email: 500@eastdevon.gov.uk
East Devon District Council - Local Transparency

From the Standards Committee last October:

Openness and transparency on personal interests – A guide for councillors

The Department for Communities and Local Government had published a practical 
guide for councillors on openness and transparency on personal interests. The 
guide was designed to help councillors, including parish/town councillors, 
understand the new standards arrangements introduced by the Localism Act 2011. 
The guide addressed key issues raised by local councils, such as the requirement 
for Councillors’ register of interests to be held online. The Monitoring Officer 
advised the Committee that although the guide was useful it was a general 
guidance document and did not take into account local councils’ adopted Codes. 
The guide had been circulated to all East Devon District Councillors and parish and 

town clerks.

A Member of the Committee raised the issue of misinformation presented, and 
sometimes slanderous comments made, by the public at meetings and in the 
media, which was damaging to both Councils and individual Councillors. The 
Chairman commented that the public now had greater involvement in meetings, 
however were not required to adhere to the same protocol or a Code of Conduct as 
Councillors. Strong chairmanship at Committee meetings was considered to be key, 
however there was a need for Councillors to have a better understanding of 

communications and media (including social media). 


And as reported in the District Council's house magazine:

New standards arrangements for council members
The Department of Communities and Local Government has published a guide for councillors on openness and transparency on  personal interests. This is a practical guide which will help all to  properly understand the new arrangements and shows clearly how these arrangements strike a common sense balance between accountability of elected representatives and personal privacy. All members of the council will want to carefully look through the guide as it will be helpful as you go about your day-to-day business as elected members serving your local communities. The guide gives straightforward information about how councillors should be open and transparent about their personal interests. It makes clear to monitoring officers that any heavy bureaucratic, ‘gold plated’ approach has no place in the new localist standards arrangements. The guide equally makes clear that every councillor should be giving their monitoring officer all the information they need to get and keep their register of members’ interests up to date. The legal requirements mean that sitting councillors, just like newly elected councillors, should be registering their disclosable pecuniary interests. Moreover, a member’s disclosable pecuniary interests, as the guide explains, include certain interests of their spouse or civil partner. But as the guide also explains, there is no requirement that in the register a member’s interest should be differentiated from those of his or her spouse or civil partner or that the names of the spouse or civil partner should be disclosed.
The guide is available on the Department of Communities and Local Government website. It will help all those who have chosen to serve their communities as councillors to ensure that there is openness and transparency about their affairs whilst their legitimate privacy is properly respected.

Openness and transparency on personal interests: guidance for councillors - Publications - GOV.UK


Freedom of Information Requests:

There are several outstanding FOI requests with the District Council. For example, there is considerable lack of clarity over plans to develop the seafront at Exmouth:

FOI requests to 'East Devon District Council'

-- Further background papers re £50k Covenant --
East Devon District Council sent a response to tim todd (23 August 2013)
     "Dear Mr Todd   I am sorry that you feel dissatisfied with our
     response to this request for information. I will deal with each of
     the points you r..."

-- Further background papers re £50k Covenant --
tim todd added an annotation (23 August 2013)
     "Readers will note that EDDC do not address the question of the
     disparity in the matter of whether or not all the seafront
     covenants were bought up in..."

See also: 
Despite a petition that raised 10,000 signatures, the council has sold Elizabeth Hall, a popular community facility on the esplanade that dates from the Victorian era.  It will be demolished and replaced by a four-storey hotel.  The council's  "masterplan" for the redevelopment of the seafront includes more "retail areas" and "a large privately-run play and recreation area.

The Great British Seaside Selloff | Sidmouth Independent News
The great British seaside sell-off | Travel | The Guardian



The chair of the Business TAFF has delayed the next meeting: 

NOTE from Task and Forum Chairman - Postponement of 2 September 2013 meeting:
"Would you please note that I have decided to postpone the next meeting of the Business Taff arranged for Monday 2 September. This is to await the outcome of discussions within the business community on the setting up of a forum. We will invite representatives of the proposed business forum to a future meeting of the business taff with them to outline their plans. The Taff can then refer back to its previous discussions with business representatives and decide on any principles of good practice it would like to recommend in managing its relationship with the business community.
In terms of the Local Plan, further specific consultation has been recommended by the Planning Inspector. The launch of a new consultation exercise was agreed by the Development Management Committee on 20 August 2013. The consultation is in respect of changes to the earlier version of the plan, including
a) the amended wording on the section dealing with the proposed business park at Sidford which is now more restrictive on commercial activity at the site than had been the case in the previous version of the document, and
b) the removal of zones A & E from the proposed development at Knowle.
Members of the Forum need to defer consideration on any employment land issues until the new planning inspector has completed his work."
Councillor Graham Troman
Chairman of the Business Task and Finish Forum
East Devon District Council - Business Task and Finish Forum

This is the response from the Sidmouth Independent News:

Monday 2 September, 6pm – Knowle -East Devon Business Forum Task and Finish group.  See SIN comment of 22 August 2013 for our views on this shameful postponement, designed to allow the “old” EDBF to re-form and have influence on the TAFF.

East Devon Business Forum investigation posponed yet again – for the most spurious of reasons

Details HERE.
Surely it should be up to the current TAFF to decide its own method of investigation – yes – investigation – and whether to invite any members of a new business forum to any of its meetings?  Who took this extraordinary decision on behalf of this TAFF one wonders?  How far was the Chief Executive involved?  Note that the press release does not mention the Overview and Scrutiny Committee.
What is the point of an Overview and Scrutiny Committee manipulated by EDDC Officers?
And, once again, EDDC officers are attempting to postpone any discussion of how employment land came to be inflated until the Local Plan is (again) safely with the Inspector in the hope that the problem will somehow go away then.  No chance EDDC.
Does anyone detect a strong smell around the Knowle? Remember Clive Aslet noticed it some time ago, in his Telegraph article, Sidmouth Mans the Barricades?  Check it at  http://www.saveoursidmouth.com  (Oct 23 2012),   search Save Our Sidmouth reaches the Daily Telegraph
East Devon Business Forum investigation posponed yet again – for the most spurious of reasons | Sidmouth Independent News

This is from the SOS website:

Chairman makes decision to postpone next Business TAFF meeting

Sidmouth Councillor, Graham Troman, has made clear that it was he who decided  to cancel the TAFF meeting scheduled for 2nd September. He gives two reasons for his decision. Firstly, the TAFF investigation would possibly delay acceptance of the Local Plan. And secondly, the new East Devon Business Group has not yet sorted itself out sufficiently.
Observers will note that the ‘in-depth report’ on EDDC’s relationship with the East Devon Business Forum (now re-shaped as the aforementioned East Devon Business Group) has been subject to a series of delays.
Here are some relevant reports from the SIN blog:
1. What happened last night at the Overview and Scrutiny Committee  (28 Sep 2012)  http://sidmouthindependentnews.wordpress.com/2012/09/28/report-from-overview-and-scrutiny-committee/
5. East Devon Business Forum and Mid Devon BF – some comparisons (20 Jan 2013)  http://sidmouthindependentnews.wordpress.com/2013/01/20/east-devon-bf-and-mid-devon-bf-some-comparisons/
8. Planning planted firmly on the Business TAFF agenda (29 March 2013)  http://sidmouthindependentnews.wordpress.com/2013/03/29/planning-planted-firmly-on-the-business-taff-agenda/

And on the Independent District Councillor Claire Wright's blog:

More delays for East Devon Business Forum scrutiny

comments (3)

The task and finish forum looking into the activities of East Devon Business Forum has been postponed.
The committee, which has been beset by setbacks and restrictions, was, last month, informed that employment land issues - the biggest area of concern for many residents - should be off the agenda until the local plan is signed and sealed.  Here’s the relevant blog - http://www.claire-wright.org/index.php/post/no_employment_land_scrutiny_until_plan_has_been_agreed/
The latest delay is outlined in the email below from an EDDC officer and seems to have been prompted, largely, by an earlier officer message - see link above.


1. At 11:20 pm on 22th Aug Conrad Black wrote:
I must congratulate whoever made the statement for the use of the most improbable argument in support of delay.  The TAFF is to look into what happened in the past, and to consider if powers have been exercised correctly or if a system had been created that had an inappropriate influence upon the EDDC and the planning process.  So the suggestion that one must wait for some future event in order to evaluate what happened in the past is as ridiculous as saying we cannot investigate anything because the future might be different.  I wonder how many of us would say that bankers should carry on doing what they have been doing because the future might make things different.
This statement begs the question of who actually controls TAFF functions?  Evidently it is not the Chairperson.  And if it is not the Chair, then exactly what value is it to have overview and scrutiny if they do not derive their power absolutely and independently from that which they area supposed to supervise?  One is in real danger of concluding that it is impossible to control local authorities except through the unstoppable force of judicial review.  And in the meantime it is council tax payers money that is being wasted by treating us with clouds of meaningless obfuscation.
2. At 09:42 am on 23th Aug Sandra Semple wrote:
You really could not make it up.  A business group is considered to have had undue influence and worry is strong enough for the district council to approve the setting up of a Task and Finish Forum (TAFF) of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee to investigate. 
A business group fully-funded by the council and with one of its officers as its very high profile and vocal secretary:  a man who also at the same time has the job of commenting on planning applications, some of which come from the self-same group.
Then, mysteriously, the TAFF is beset by so many procedural and administrative problems that it can rarely meet and, when it does, its time is taken up by officers telling it what it can and cannot discuss. 
The chair of the Overview and Scrutiny committee supports closer scrutiny of the business group and is promptly ousted from his position as chair.
Meanwhile, a (supposedly) different business group is set up with a very slightly different name.  It “encourages” others to join but, when they try, ties up the new people in so much red tape and quick decisions by the vote (the vote mostly of original members of the original business group) that the new arrivals promptly depart, leaving just the old guard to form the new business group.
Now we hear that the TAFF is to be postponed until this “new” business group can establish itself and .... and what?  It is up to the TAFF whether it asks the new business group to appear before it.  Or is it?  The Chief Executive seems to have taken it upon himself to decide that the “new” group will appear.
And all this goes on under the noses of our MP and our elected government and there is nothing anyone can do.
Well, there is, but not until 2015 and in the meantime these people can carry on regardless.
It really is the “Wild West” out here as a local planning lawyer said only recently.
3. At 02:15 am on 26th Aug Robert Crick wrote:
Meetings at the Knowle
And on the third day
They –
Let’s call them Vladimir and Estragon –
Found themselves
Waiting yet again
At the Knowle
Where they had met, as before,
So many times,
Waiting for…
And the tedium of waiting
Was enraging,
For a while,
As before.
How many times?
In the end,
They’d had enough.
This time they’d got a rope,
Strong enough and long enough.
Then Didi said to Gogo, “Oh, no! Gogo!
No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.
While we were meeting here upon this knoll
While we have been debating at the Knowle
While we’ve been demonstrating at the Knowle
While we’ve been ruminating
And agitating,
While we were waiting for
(What? We do not know)
That tree on which we might at least
Have hanged ourselves
(Having been given enough rope)
Has gone!
And all the trees of Sidmouth, one by one.”
I stumble through this mud and dust
And you ask me
To rhapsodise about the landscape?
I ask you:
“Is this the promised end?”
Robert Crick, Sidmouth, September 2013

Public outrage during the “Sidmouth Spring” of 2012 forced the East Devon District Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee to set up a “Task and Finish Forum” in September 2012 to investigate the lobbying activities of the East Devon Business Forum, This was an “independent” body that had previously been set up by the Leader of the Council and resourced by council tax payers, which had for some years been chaired by a development consultant who was also Chair of the Council’s secretive Local Development Committee,
The District Council’s Forum to investigate the Business Forum finally met in December 2012 to disagree about its scope. After some delay it met again in March 2013 to begin its investigation but by then evidence had emerged in the Daily Telegraph which resulted in the resignation from the Council of the Business Forum Chair, who was duly scapegoated out of the Conservative Party. The CEO of the Council ordered key witnesses not to attend the investigation, which had to be adjourned.
After further delays the Forum met again in June 2013 to begin its enquiries. A further meeting was scheduled for September 2nd 2013 but this meeting was postponed sine die. District press and public were not informed of the postponement.
This poem is a response to these events, with apologies to Samuel Beckett and others.
Claire Wright - Your Independent East Devon District Councillor for Ottery Rural




Cycling: Tour of Britain coming to Sidmouth

There's quite a programme planned for when the Tour hits Sidmouth:


The Big Cycling Weekend

To celebrate Devon being chosen to host stage six of The Tour of Britain, we invite you to join in the Big Cycling Weekend. There will be a huge variety of entertainment on offer including sport and music for all ages, so why not come and enjoy the fun.

Sidmouth’s Big Cycling Event

Sidmouth is thrilled to host the start of this year’s Devon Stage. To celebrate a range of activities are taking place.

Sunday 15 September

9.00am – 11.00am
Family Triathlon
Starting from Swimming Pool & focused on the Ham – Organised by Leisure East Devon
Carnival procession & best dressed bike (set up from 12pm)

Monday 16 September

Ride around the perimeter of Sidmouth (bring lights)

Tuesday 17 September

Mummers & steppers in the Market Place

Thursday 19 September

Criterium Races –Sidmouth Town Centre
A criterium is a bike race held on a short course (usually less than 1km) on closed roads. For information about the criterium race, please contact Ron Clint 01395 578296
Under 12′s
Under 14′s & under 16′s
Under 14′s & under 16′s
Mungo Jerry concert, The Ham

Friday 20 September

8.00am – 9.15am
Tour of Britain Promotional zone – The Esplanade
Business stands, events and displays
9.00am onwards – The Esplanade
The professional riders will be warming up, assembling and then signing up along The Esplanade
Tour of Britain race starts – The Esplanade
Watch the professionals’ start their day of action packed racing as they leave Sidmouth via The Esplanade and then along Fore Street and High Street and out towards the challenges offered by Dartmoor.

The Tour of Britain 2013, South West Stage
Events « Tour of Britain – Devon Stage

Cycling: Feniton to Sidmouth cycle track latest

Things appear to be moving on the cycling front:

Latest on the Cycle Route ideas

Bridge in Harpford woods
A proposed shared use cycleway which follows the old railway track from Feniton to Otterty and ultimately to Sidmouth

Pupils at The King’s School, Ottery St Mary are proposing a new shared use cycleway which follows the old railway track starting at Feniton through to Ottery St Mary in the first instance. This will eventually link up with a continuation through Tipton St John and onto Sidmouth.

The Otter Trail web site is used to help you access up-to-date information about progress. If you wish to keep up-to-date with progress, you will be able to sign up to their newsletter via the site.

Vision Group for Sidmouth - Otter Trail Newsletter

Feniton to Sidmouth cycle track latest

Feniton to Sidmouth cycle track: feasibility study agreed to

Last Wednesday 21st August, members of the VGS Cycling Group and the Otter Trail group met up with the newly-appointed area manager for Sustrans, Paul Hawkins – for a ride along the planned Feniton to Sidmouth cycle route.

This follows on from the report in Cllr Claire Wright’s blog earlier:
Feasibility study moves cycleway forward another step 
Posted: 11 Aug 2013 
A feasibility study to examine a proposed cycle route from Feniton to Ottery to Tipton to Sidmouth, will help move the project forward another step. 
Sustrans has agreed to invest £10,000 to test how easy it would be to create a cycleway along the old railway line and establish the various options that the route might take, bearing in mind that the old railway line closed in the 1960s. 
It is exciting news that Sustrans have offered to do this and it should help considerably with our efforts to get the Otter Trail project moving.

Meanwhile, Paul Hawkins will be putting more flesh on what the feasibility study should be taking on – in time to address the Futures Forum of the VGS, when it meets on 24th September to consider ‘sustainable development’, an issue which Sustrans is very keen to promote.

Vision Group for Sidmouth - Feniton to Sidmouth cycle track latest

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Sustainable Development: meeting 24th September

Futures Forum meets with District Council to consider ‘sustainable development’

Following on from the Vision Group’s successful AGM in July
the Futures Forum will be holding a session next month with speakers who have had direct responsibility for drawing up the EDDC’s own policy on sustainable development.

We are very pleased to have Cllr Mike Allen, the former chair of the Local Plan Panel, and Matt Dickins, chief planning officer at Knowle address the Forum – highlighting both their own contribution to the sustainability threads of the Local Plan and the ‘bigger picture’ of how the notion of sustainable development informs the District Council’s longer-term planning.

The Forum will offer members of the public the opportunity to engage with Councillors and Officers on this issue at the heart of local government – as we all want to ensure a positive and sustainable future for the Valley and beyond.

Also in attendance will be Paul Hawkins, the new area manager for the cycling body Sustrans, who will be able to update the meeting about feasibility studies for the Feniton to Sidmouth cycle track – a good example of sustainable development on the ground.

And there will also be representatives from East Devon’s Transition Towns present: these groups are local, voluntary bodies looking to establish projects which show sustainable development in action.

The Vision Group in fact also works under the name of ‘Sustainable Sidmouth’ – with its monthly Community Market, its very active energy group SVEAG and its involvement in other grass-roots projects.

So do come along. This is an open meeting – open to all and open to all questions.

It will be held upstairs at the Anchor Inn on Fore St in Sidmouth – on Tuesday 24th September, starting 3.15pm and finishing about 5.15pm with a break for tea.

Entry is free

See also (for map of venue): Vision Group for Sidmouth - Future Forum meets