Norfolk County Council to ditch Cabinet model in favour or politically representative Committee method

Cllr Paul Smyth, chair of the committee governance steering group, said: “I strongly believe the proposals agreed will offer better governance for Norfolk. It will bring greater democracy, transparency and accountability to the council by giving councillors from all parties a much larger role in decision making.

“The proposals we have developed over time will provide us with a strong council, well defined delegations of authority and clear divisions of responsibility that should promote good governance in Norfolk. Each committee will contain a politically balanced mix of councillors, giving them a much stronger voice in future decision making, which can only be good for democracy. All parties will have a part to play in the decision-making cauldron.”

Cllr Smyth said the November review would act as a “safety net” in terms of how the new system was working. “If needs be, we can amend how things are working then, but I believe this new system will give the 84 elected councillors a bigger voice on issues which were previously only the preserve of the nine or ten members of Cabinet.”

Norfolk’s Leader George Nobbs said: “I would like to pay tribute to the ordinary members of the council who have worked tirelessly to come up with a new system of working for the council. I can’t praise the huge amount of work they have put in highly enough and I wish it well.”

Newton Poppleford, King Alfred Way “free pass”: a view

The King Alfred’s Way application is back before the DMC and, as before, EDDC planners have given it a “free pass” dispensing with any need for an environmental impact assessment (EIA) despite it being in an AONB. A little known study of environmental sites of European Significance in South East Devon, which includes the Pebblebed Heaths and the Exe Valley, has confirmed the need to reduce the demands local population growth makes on these site for recreation.


Local authorities have a legal duty to ensure no adverse effects occur to these sites as a result of this growth. Surely the first step is an EIA for such a significant development right on the doorstep of the Pebblebed Heaths?


We can reasonably assume that John Varley, as Clinton Devon Estates Director, is delighted that he doesn’t have to spend money on carrying out an EIA. It is one less hurdle to jump.


More interesting would be to know what view John Varley takes of this, wearing one of his other hats, as a £21K pa Board Member of the Environment Agency (mission – working to protect our environment). Perhaps he could let us know?

Some councillors get away with blue murder, some don’t

This is the second time Councillor Wragg (Lib Dem) has been brought before EDDC’s Standards Board for comments that seem to be the sort of thing that councillors of another colour call “robust debate” when they make similar remarks and have no action taken against them

Click to access signed_decision_notice_240414_redacted_signature_pdf.pdf

and reported here

And recall that Eric Pickles himself has said that councillors should have broader shoulders than the general public.

One might see a pattern emerging here, in the year before EDDC elections are due.  One hopes not.

Being an MP: public service or a career?

A correspondent writes:

I was struck by this headline in the Independent yesterday. It takes for granted what many of us suspect: that many MP’s (and councillors) see their jobs in terms of careers with opportunities for self advancement rather than the privilege of representing their constituents in public service. To vote against the whip is to forfeit your “career” chances.
I wonder why, in the circumstances, so many voted against HS2?  Are they unusually brave and principled or just more frightened by the May 2015 ballot box? If this is a power game, we the voters on issues like this, outnumber the whips.
Click image for full article.
Indy MP Careers

See – we don’t have a Whip!

Why?  Because some brave Conservative councillors voted againt the public being gagged:

NO, NO, NO – that does NOT prove that you do not have a Whip!  It proves that some Conservative councillors knew what was right and others (perhaps in more marginal seats) knew what was expedient.

As a former police officer, Councillor Bloxham should surely know that the absence of evidence proves neither guilt nor innocence!  You could equally say that the fact that some councillors voted FOR gagging, it proves there is a Whip!

Councillor Twiss has a job:  he is your Whip.  He can’t be half a Whip!


The Planning Advisory Service report on Local Plan arrangement – part 2

[comments in square brackets are ours]

The story so far: We are now on page 13 of the Planning Advisory Service paper commissioned by EDDC in 2009 when it became apparent that all was not well with its Local Plan project. The Local Development Framework Panel (Chairman, Graham Brown) is meeting in secret, with no agendas or minutes published and the PAS is of the opinion that there is too little co-ordination between that Panel and officers.

The PAS report notes that an Issues and Options paper has already been produced but that the Local Development Strategy has not been reviewed since 2007 and the council is way behind the proposed timescale set out in the document which had projected that the core strategy would be adopted in 2008”. It notes that the LDF Panel is “now looking at strategic allocations” with a “preferred options type allocation” consultation planned for early 2010 with submission later in 2010.

It notes that plans for what is now called the “Exeter Growth Point” (the Cranbrook area) are well advanced and there seems to be a clear vision for that area. ( It should be noted that this is probably because it is not in the hands of the LDF Panel and is a collaborative venture between many different groups, not just EDDC.)

In a key sentence the PAS says (Section A2, page 14 of the agenda):

“Although there are good working relationships with lots of agencies these have not yet been tied into the LDF process. The LDF is very much still seen as a land use planning document and there is not yet sufficient engagement from other partners. The planning policy team therefore seem to be developing the elements of an emerging vision in isolation.”. Recently some partners have been invited to give presentations to the LDF Member Panel e.g. SW Tourism and others will be invited similarly but these relationships need to be developed through ongoing engagement especially through the Local Strategic Partnership (LSP).

 [This probably refers to the fact that, at this point, the LDF Panel has spent many meetings reviewing local sites (many belonging to EDBF members) but has not engaged with leading organisations outside that group, except to have the occasional presentation by invitation. It seems to imply that the LDF Panel is working in isolation from officers ]

The critique goes on:


The LDF is still very much perceived within the authority as a planning document led by the planning policy team. Although planning is viewed as an important function of the authority it is not yet embracing the spatial planning links to the sustainable community strategy that it should be. The integration of partners’ plans is still very reliant on policy officers’ interpretation and the lack of an officers’ working group means that there is no effective method of sharing future plans, pulling together the corporate strands and providing a forum for debate.”

[So, there we have it – an important point which seems to imply that officers are not engaged with the LDF Panel nor are they interested in developing policy themselves. It is a “sink or swim” approach, leaving the LDF Panel to do the work. The LDF appears to think that it can do this work on its own without officers and officers do not seem to think that they need to do anything themselves.]

[Perhaps at this point we should remind ourselves that at least one officer could have helped to steer the LDF Panel out of its tunnel vision – Nigel Harrison, the EDDC Economic Development Officer, is the Hon Secretary of the East Devon Business Forum throughout the process and could have been a key officer liaison between the LDF Panel, other officers, EDBF AND outside consultation but he does not seem to have fulfilled this role, working only between the LDF Panel and EDBF (unless EDDC has documentation to show that this was not the case].

And finally, for today,

B2: There is some evidence of more joined up working on individual issues. For example, a virtual affordable housing team was recently established and a draft interim housing policy has been developed because of concerns of delivery on affordable housing for the rural areas. The interim policy which is currently out for consultation will allow for housing development at and near to villages (beyond existing Local Plan built-up area boundaries) in the district for a mix of market and affordable dwellings. However, this is seen by some as a sign of a reactive response to immediate circumstances rather than a positive proactive response to achieving wider objectives. There is concern that it will encourage further decision making by the development management committee on an ad-hoc basis rather than in relation to achieving the strategic vision. It is not also clear in developing this draft policy what account has been taken of evidence gathered for the LDF.

 [Here we see for the first time that it is EDDC’s policy to go outside local boundaries in villages and that there is grave concern that there is no strategic vision when it comes to the LDF and that the DMC and LDF Panels are not working together.]

In our next instalment we will deal with what the PAS says about community involvement.

Bear in mind that EDDC, particularly Councillors Moulding and Diviani are currently blaming “NIMBYs” for holding up the draft Local Plan. It should be becoming patently obvious that the situation is quite different – in 2009 the LDF Panel, officers and the DMC are already floundering – no-one appears to be talking to anyone else and there does not seem to be any shared vision of how things should be done and no-one has overall control of the process.

At this point, the public is totally in the dark – no meetings of the LDF Panel have every taken place in public and no public consultation has been timetabled.

More land for golf courses than houses in Surrey

Whilst it might suit Councillor Moulding to blame everyone but his party for the mess we are in with the Local Plan, one wonders what his explanation for this might be:

Perhaps Surrey has an equivalent of EDA which he thinks may be stalling houses and encouraging golf courses!

The same article in The Observer today makes the point that once inflation is discounted, house prices have gone up fivefold since 1955 and land for houses has increased by 15-fold in the same period.


History of the Local Plan – Part 1 and already in 2008 things are “slipping”

East Devon had (or rather still has) an OLD Local Plan.  Originally, this went from 2006 to 2011 and was adopted on 19 July 2006.

Almost immediately it was agreed in 2006 and by law under the requirements of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, progress towards meeting the targets in that plan had to be agreed and published each year by each planning authority and progress (or lack of it) towards the targets had to be documented in the public domain every year.

At that time there was no such thing as the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) only other bureaucratic stuff such as the Devon Structure Plan (DSP) and its successor the Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS), which the NPPF eventually replaced.  The RSS gave a general idea of what was expected of the whole region in terms of housebuilding and employment and left it to individual councils to fulfil their part of these plans.

Let us take as our starting point the annual report published which covered the period 1 March 2007 to 30 April 2008 which can be found HERE (unless it is subsequently removed from the internet by EDDC) which details what progress was being made towards achieving targets in the current plan and the work being done towards its replacement document after 2011.

The document goes through the various policies in the Local Plan, the various sites that were picked out for development and whether there had been any change in status of such sites or whether any new sites were being considered.

Even at this point it should be noted that Cranbrook was already the main focus for development by EDDC – almost to the exclusion of other parts of the district and already (page 15,para 3.18) EDDC is talking not of East Devon but of the “greater Exeter” area.

Some highlights:

They noted that they had not yet completed a “Statement of Community Involvement” (i.e. how the public would be involved in changes to the plan) and that, in fact, this was significantly behind in its timetable.  No blame to be apportioned to the public yet then!

They noted that there was also “slippage” in formulating a new “core strategy” – the important vision central to a new Local Plan.

On page 24 they set out what they thought would be a workable timetable for drafting the replacement Local Plan for after 2011 and envisaged that the Core Strategy would be completed by the end of 2011 (it took until 2013).

A first round of consultation on Gypsy and Traveller sites (which Mr Thickett has thrown back at them) took place in 2008 and a second one was planned for 2009 with adoption in 2010.  One can see why Mr Thickett did not think that this was up to date enough.  Again, it was due for completion by the end of 2010.

Two of the conclusions of the document (page 28) make very interesting reading:


6.1 In conclusion it is considered that whilst some progress has been made on plan preparation it is recognised that slippage against LDS timetables has occurred. It is envisaged that the Local Development Scheme will need to be revised in the future to reflect more realistic schedules and timetables.

6.2 It is recognised that this AMR only presents an overview of the District through a limited range of contextual indicators and against Government Core Output Indicators. It is considered that data deficiencies exist and these will need to be addressed in future years.

So, there we are:  it is 2008, our Local Plan expires in around 3 years and we are already behind in sorting out its replacement.  However, we have a vision for Cranbrook where we see ourselves as part of the “Greater Exeter” area and where much of our interest lies.

Tomorrow we will look at the report for the next year.  Will it catch up?  Will Cranbrook still be flavour of the decade?  Let’s see.

Why did the draft Local Plan fall at the first hurdle?

We will be examining this subject over the next few days and possibly weeks. In the meantime, here is an extract from a report commissioned in 2009 by EDDC officers from the Planning Advisory Service when it appears to have become evident that the (then secret) Local Development Framework Panel (Chair, ex- councillor Brown) was already perceived as being in difficulty:

… there is a potential danger that a positive steer from the Panel that these [the very limited number of sites they are examining] are suitable sites is leading to the initiation of premature pre- application discussions for sites which would be ‘departures’ from the current development plan. Although the LDF views are given without prejudice they appear to be being made without the scenario testing of alternative options, the use of sustainability appraisal and the explicit assessment of how they fit in with the long term vision.

The development management team (although in attendance at the Panel) and other key stakeholders appear not be involved in early discussions prior to the presentations to the Panel. This is creating a tension as the development management team feel that sites are coming forward which are not consistent with the development plan or delivering the key corporate priorities but possibly are to deliver other objectives e.g. roads.

There is concern that this is seen as reacting to local agendas rather than positive planning towards a long term vision for the district and likely to lead to ad- hoc decisions being taken.

A mechanism needs to be established to ensure this is not the case and that there is a more open debate perhaps through the corporate management team.

Youth Parliament stages march tomorrow (Saturday) Exeter 11am

The Youth Parliament will be staging a march to protest the £1 Million DCC cuts to their services.

The march begins at 11 am and leaves from the entrance to Princess Hay on the high street and will make its way down to the Devon County Council offices, where they will formally present their petition.

The Youth Parliament has members from all over East Devon and they will be joined by members from North, South and Mid Devon, Cornwall and Bristol.

Still think WE are to blame for failure of the Local Plan EDDC?

There has been a concerted effort recently at EDDC meetings to blame us, the public, for failure of the draft Local plan because we are all NIMBYs and forced EDDC (we know not how) to reduce housing numbers against their collective will.

Let us then revisit this statement, made in December 2010, by EDDC’s then Leader, Sara Randall Johnson:

29 December 2010

Ms Randall Johnson said with support from partners including the Exeter Civic Centre and Devon County Council, EDDC is “bucking the national trend” and forging ahead with a reputation for delivering growth.

“I do understand the concerns of some that expansion must not jeopardise our delightful East Devon environment,” she continued. “And I couldn’t agree more. We now believe some of our housing and employment building estimates may have been too high and I have ordered a complete review of this strategy with a report due in the summer.”

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