What does EDDC Leader Paul Diviani know about the Brown investigation?

There seems to be some confusion.

When he was asked by Cllr Susie Bond at last week’s Full Council meeting (23rd July) for an update on the police inquiry into the activities of ex-councillor Graham Brown, Cllr Diviani replied: “Along with everyone else, I await hearing from the Police on the outcome of their investigation”.

Strange, therefore, that he was able to confidently tell an EDA member in June that the inquiry was about to conclude with no finding of wrongdoing against Mr Brown? “There is no evidence”, he said.

Stranger still, where did M.P. Hugo Swire’s office get the same information, which was passed on to another member of the public some weeks ago?

Disgraced ex-Councillor Graham Brown: Express and Echo update

Good precis of the current situation here


One has to wonder why this is taking so long. The original story broke on the front page of the Daily Telegraph in March 2013

see here

and here:

Information Tribunal rules on councils keeping employee grade criteria secret: they can’t

Bradford Council loses its appeal as they tried to stop an employee finding out how posts are graded:

The council had originally argued against disclosure under s. 43(2) FOIA (prejudice to commercial interests) but at the tribunal changed this to claim an exemption under s. 36(2)(c) FOIA (prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs).

Bradford argued that disclosure would lead to “a risk that a proportion of applicants will exaggerate the responsibilities of the post which could then result in an undeserved higher grading” and that were the methods published there would be an incentive for a significant proportion of the 3,000 or so staff to whom its ‘Professional Scheme’ applied to make fresh grading applications.

The resulting applications would “themselves place a significant burden on the authority’s resources and would be likely to thereby prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs,” it argued.

The council suggested that the balance of the public interest favoured non-disclosure.

But the Information Commissioner said that even where applicants do not know the criteria upon which their posts will be graded, it was still open to them to speculate on this and non-disclosure could not, therefore, sensibly be said to prevent exaggeration by applicants.

The idea that disclosure would lead to an increase in exaggeration was merely a hypothesis unsupported by evidence, it said.

If employees did exaggerate, this would not necessarily create a cost burden for the council since a single evaluation might apply to a number of individual post-holders.

It was therefore unlikely to be the case that each individual application would need to be dealt with separately, the Commissoner said, adding that transparency – as guidance from the Equality and Human Rights Commission made clear – was “the cornerstone of a non-discriminatory pay structure”.

The tribunal said it agreed with the Commissioner and the requester in their analysis of the public interest test, concluding that there was a significant public interest in favour of disclosure of the disputed information.

“Further we are not persuaded that there will be any significant damage to the public interest by disclosure,” it added. “In particular we are not persuaded that such risk of exaggeration by applicants as does occur is either increased or altered in any way that cannot be dealt with in the normal scope of the Human Resources work. [The council’s single status project manager] conceded that exaggeration is commonplace in any event.

“We find little tangible evidence of the nature or extent of the perceived increase in applications or in difficulties that would arise in dealing with any increase in the number of applications as a result of disclosure. Again we find little evidence about the increase in the financial burden that the council might suffer over and above that which will be incurred in the transfer that is already planned.”


It seems that the push is for greater transparency …..

Musings on the damage being done to the countryside by the National Planning Policy Framework

A thoughtful article in today’s Western Morning News:


Perhaps if we re-designated our green fields as “green manufacturing industries” and our tourist industry as “coastal and rural economic growth generators” we might get some people to understand why they are so important.

As both our local MPs are “hunting, shooting, fishing” men perhaps they could weigh in on our behalf?

Let’s hope none of our rash of new homes have these problems

“Families are increasingly being forced to squeeze into smaller spaces, with many children forced to share a bedroom and many new homes not having a garden or adequate storage space.”


Though we have heard of at least one local model house that had to have fitted wardrobes inserted in bedrooms during the early part of the build because not even flat packs will go up the stairs!

The missing 6,000 voters: a personal perspective from an EDA blog commentator

Paul Freeman, a regular commenter on the EDA blog, has sent in this blog entry which represents his personal view after asking questions of the district council at last week’s full council meeting:

“Mr Chairman, Councillors

I would like to make a statement and ask some questions relating to democracy in East Devon which is on today’s agenda.

It has come to light in the past few weeks that the Electoral Registration Officer for East Devon has deregistered at least 6,400 people in East Devon and possibly as many as 7,000 citizens from the Electoral register. This is equivalent to 1 in 15 of all voters in East Devon, In other words, of all the councillors and officers in the room today, the entire top-table has been disenfranchised. Or of the visitors, the public here, these three gentlemen behind me have lost their vote. It is a matter of public record that the Electoral Registration Officer for East Devon has failed to meet the standard set by the Electoral Commission on doorstep canvassing for the past three years in a row. In addition, last year the Electoral Registration Officer reported to the Electoral Commission a perfect score, in doorstep canvassing, i.e. he reported that the number of households not canvassed was zero, yet when the Electoral Commission looked into this further they decided that his performance was still below standard in this area.

1. Can the council assure us that this lack of performance was not, even indirectly, the cause of these citizens losing their vote?

2. Secondly, can the council please tell us whether mis-reporting his performance is a disciplinary offense against the Electoral Registration Officer?

3. Can the council please confirm whether the telephone canvassers that have been promised to be recruited, have indeed been recruited, yet?

And finally:

4. Is the council aware that as part of his activities to implement Individual Electoral Registration, that our ERO has already mislaid a further 900 voters in Budleigh Salterton?”

Leaving aside the appropriateness of the Chairman handing these questions to the ERO himself to answer (CEO Mark Williams) when they included questions about his own performance and possible disciplinary action …

The statement made by Mark Williams, EDDC CEO and ERO, probably says more about his own regard (or lack of it) for the voters of East Devon than any number of assertions by members of the public such as myself:

“Well I will answer on behalf of the council.

I think first of all, Mr Freeman, I recommend that you double check your facts.

The second thing I’d say is that as members know from a report I took to the Cabinet Meeting, that we are transitioning from an Electoral Registration System that the government has said is unfit for purpose.

And the third thing I’d say to you is that in any major change process it is not where you start from that counts but where you end-up.”

(You can listen to the question and the ERO’s answers in the first 3 minutes of the recording of the meeting available on the councils web site at http://www.eastdevon.gov.uk/council_agendas_and_mins.htm .

Disregarding that he didn’t actually answer ANY of the questions asked …

And leaving aside that he effectively denied the facts I stated (which have been discussed in depth on this blog) and which I can back up with citations to Electoral Commission documents and to documents from the ERO himself released in response to a Freedom of Information request…

And disregarding his misrepresentation of the old electoral system which was certainly fit for purpose for several decades, and is being changed only to ensure that voters do not lose their registration if the head of household refuses to add them to the form (a rare but regrettable occurrence)…

The key point is that I am sure that all of the 6,400 – 7,000 deregistered voters who were unable to vote in the European Elections will be heartened to know that the ERO believes that it doesn’t really matter that they missed this recent election because they will eventually be reregistered and able to vote in some future election – maybe in time for the May 2015 local council elections, or maybe some future election after that. Does Mark Williams think that elections are like busses – if you missed this one, never mind because there will be another one along in a minute or two?

In the light of this public statement, I again call upon the East Devon Electoral Registration Officer, Mark Williams, to resign his post of EDDC CEO (which includes his role as ERO) because his position is (even more) untenable.

Councillors who voted for and against curtailment of public speaking

Councillors voting in favour of the amendment (16): [i.e. that public speaking should NOT be curtailed]:

Mike Allen, Susie Bond, Derek Button, Trevor Cope, Steve Gazzard, Pat Graham, Stuart Hughes, Douglas Hull, Ben Ingham, John Jeffery, Sheila Kerridge, Jim Knight, Frances Newth, Brenda Taylor, Graham Troman, Claire Wright.

Councillors voting against the amendment (29): [i.e. those voting FOR public speaking to be curtailed]:

Graham Godbeer, Christine Drew, Paul Diviani, Ray Bloxham, Roger Boote, Peter Bowden, Bob Buxton, David Chapman, Maddy Chapman, Iain Chubb, David Cox, Deborah Custance Baker, Martin Gammell, Steve Hall, Peter Halse, Tony Howard, John Humphreys, David Key, Andrew Moulding, John O’Leary, Helen Parr, Philip Skinner, Pauline Stott, Peter Sullivan, Phil Twiss, Chris Wale, Mark Williamson, Tim Wood, Tom Wright.

Councillors abstaining (4):
Peter Burrows, Jill Elson, Stephanie Jones, Ian Thomas.

Question: how could anyone ABSTAIN on this subject? Surely those abstaining were not ambivalent – if they were they could have made amendments to suit their reservations? To not know whether you are for or against this seems bizarre.

And well done those Tory councillors who voted with the minority – that’s real courage.

Local statistics: fight fire with fire

Anyone needing local statistics need look no further than


For example. putting in a postcode, choosing “Local Authority” and then the subset ” Environment” gives the most recent available data for:

Physical Environment
Key figures for Physical Environment
Commercial and Industrial Floorspace and Rateable Value Statistics (1998 – 2008)
Commercial and Industrial Property Vacancy Statistics (1998 – 2005)
Domestic Energy Consumption (2005 – 2011)
Land Use Statistics (Generalised Land Use Database) (2001 – 2005)
Land Use Statistics (Previously-Developed Land) (2004 – 2010)

Filming, tweeting and photographing council meetings legal from 6 August 2014

Democracy is dead (EDDC has voted to curtail public speaking at theit meetings) long live democracy (new laws allow public more opportunities to inform rhe public about such meetings):

The regulations state that members of the public may film, take photographs, or make audio recordings of meetings; provide oral or written commentary on a meeting as it takes place; and use any other methods to enable people not at the meeting to follow proceedings, either as they take place or afterwards.


Another developer’s appeal refused in an AONB despite no Local Plan

… “The inspector also concurred that the fields formed part of the setting for the area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB) celebrated in Laurie Lee’s memoir Cider with Rosie, and was therefore valued landscape that the government’s National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) should protect.

As in many areas the lack of a local plan had left the land exposed under the NPPF’s presumption in favour of sustainable development. Yet the inspector’s decision establishes that land can be a valued landscape even without official designation, and that the lack of a local plan for meeting housing targets did not necessarily undermine the protection that our countryside merits.”


Developers allowed by High Court to see secret contract documents

So why not electors? We shall see on 28 August 2014 at Exeter Magistrates Court perhaps:

A Deputy High Court judge has ordered a local authority to make early specific disclosure to a leisure services provider bringing a claim over a recent £120m concession procurement.

The ex tempore ruling was made in Wealden Leisure Limited v Mid-Sussex District Council HC14F01304 (16 July 2014) by Andrew Hochauser QC, sitting in the Chancery Division.

Wealden, the claimant, was the incumbent provider but lost out to Places for People Leisure.

According to 11KBW, one of whose barristers (Joseph Barrett) is acting for the company, Wealden launched proceedings after being told that Mid Sussex’s preferred bid was in the region of 20% cheaper than its own proposal.
The claimant has expressed concern that the preferred bid was “abnormally low, unsustainable and non-compliant”.

Wealden’s concerns “were heightened when it discovered that the council had permitted the preferred bidder to make significant changes to its pricing submission after final tenders were opened”, the chambers said. “The council admitted that it had allowed the preferred bidder to increase its stated costs figures by more than £200,000 per annum.”

Mid Sussex refused a request for early specific disclosure of the final tenders it received.

Wealden, which had previously proposed that disclosure would be restricted to a confidentiality ring of its lawyers and an independent expert, applied to the High Court.

It argued that it needed the information to allow it to properly plead its case that the preferred bid was abnormally low.

The Deputy High Court judge ordered the council to disclose the entirety of the final tenders, 11KBW said.

Mid Sussex also agreed – following a suggestion made by the judge – to disclose the evaluation documents evidencing what, if any, investigation it had conducted regarding the sustainability of the preferred bid.
The council was ordered to pay the claimant’s costs in full.
Tom Clark, Solicitor to Mid Sussex, said the authority would be vigorously defending the claim.

He added: “The council conducted the procurement exercise fairly and properly in accordance with its obligations. At the end of the process, it awarded the contract to Places for People Leisure a competitor of Wealden, having been satisfied that their bid was sustainable and viable and that it would provide the best and most effective service.

“On 1 July 2014, the council entered into a contract with PfPL, who have been operating the leisure facilities within the Mid Sussex since that date.”


Skypark: modern architectural gem? Er ….


It will be interesting to see how EDDC’s consultants “compliment” the first building to be completed at Skypark. But maybe the parcel depot will scoop the architectural prize!

Why do so many developers apply for outline planning permission rather than full planning permission?

A possible reason is given in a comment on a blog quoted below which is about a shortage of planning officers due to cuts:

“The reason for the gap is developers have found a gap. They go for outline planning permission with the minimum of detail hoping the details will be left to reserved matters, and with planning departments under pressure to provide housing, the developer hopes he can push the development through with the minimum of restrictions Laurie Pocock”


The fracking map that shows the reality for Devon’s AONBs and its World Heritage site

As Greenpeace says:

“In fact, so far as we can tell, the announcement actually makes it easier for developers to drill in national parks – by giving the communities secretary the automatic right to overrule local authorities who reject an application.”


Why is it that politicians of all parties can rarely just tell us the plain truth? In this case: “Yes, we may well allow fracking in AONBs and World Heritage sites but whether you like that or not we have decided that the country as a whole needs this energy source more than you need your Areas of Outstanding Beauty and World Heritage sites”. At least then we would all know where we stand.

So EDDC didn’t spot “extraneous and unlawful planning inducement” in planning app?

Newton Poppleford resident Mark Coppell is one of many who wonders where the blame lies. Below is his letter to the Sidmouth Herald (23 July 2014).

I write in response to EDDC’s recent statement that the judicial review relating to the planning permission granted at King Alfred Way, Newton Poppleford, was conceded despite no fault being apportioned to the Council itself. Having first-hand experience of EDDC’s internal investigative procedures I am not in the least bit surprised they have reached this conclusion.
However, it would be interesting to know precisely whose fault do EDDC consider it to be that an extraneous and unlawful planning inducement was included in the draft Section 106 agreement before the application was heard at committee? Whose fault was it that, during the planning meeting, the council accepted the offer of a unilateral undertaking of the surgery, a form of planning obligation governed by the same regulations that made provision via section 106 unlawful?
The committee and legal team were recorded discussing making approval “subject to demonstration of a mechanism” to secure something, in full knowledge that it could not legally be secured. It was resolved to word the approval vaguely such that “everybody knows what needs to be done (provision of the surgery) but without making that issue (it being unlawful) raise its head”. If that was not the council’s fault, then who is to blame?
Even more curiously, if the council truly believed they had not erred and their position was defensible, who authorised the decision not to contest the judicial review, thereby costing £11k of taxpayers’ money?
Once again, in their statement, EDDC have adopted a defensive attitude towards the electorate, and are trying to absolve themselves of blame for their planning advice and decision-making being legally unsound. This whole episode suggests that the council are not sufficiently familiar with the regulations that govern planning matters and made a genuine but extraordinary mistake. The alternative explanation is that they have a flagrant disregard for such things when they interfere with awarding planning permission to a major landowner in whose thrall they appear to exist. I am not sure which option worries me to a greater extent.
District council planning and legal departments appear to be regulated either within house, or by those who once were in the profession. As a result they are effectively self-regulatory. Little wonder then, that they find it difficult to admit any wrong doing on their part as they are seldom held to account. It would appear the only regulation they are subject to is when legally challenged by members of the public, and this is only feasible for those with access to large funds of money. The loss of £11k to the taxpayer is highly regrettable and was utterly avoidable on EDDCs part. However, the risks taken by the public when challenging unlawful decisions are far greater proportionately and as such are not taken lightly. It was hoped that at the very least EDDC might offer some contrition and resolve to amend their practices in future. Alas not.
All in all this represents yet another shameful episode in EDDC’s recent history.
Matt Coppell