According to the answer to request on the whatdotheyknow website:
“The current position is that 2 canvassers have been appointed but ideally the Council requires a minimum of 10 to ensure that the work can be done as effectively as possible. We are therefore re-advertising the positions from next week (week beginning 29th September) with a view to recruiting more Canvassers. Canvassing will commence from the week beginning 27th October.”
So, let’s review the current situation.
We have one councillor who resigned 18 months ago after a sting that made the front page of the Daily Telegraph. He was concurrently: A district councillor, Chairman of the council’s first Local Plan panel which met in secret, the council’s Business Champion, Chairman of the East Devon Business Forum, a planning consultant, builder, and at least for some of this time, a farmer who neglected to tell anyone that he was allegedly reducing his farming activities so much that the agricultural tie on his house had lapsed long enough for him to be able to ignore it when he sells said house as he has managed to stay under the radar for more than 10 years and therefore gets what he wants even though this could be seen as something a councillor should not do.
We have one Economic Development Manager who was concurrently the Hon Sec of the (totally subsidised by EDDC) East Devon Business Forum whilst at the same time responsible for making (usually favourable) comments on planning applications for EDBF members. At the point where EDBF disbands he disappears into the EDDC woodwork for 18 months and nothing is heard of him until he suddenly reappears this month to gather garlands at an EDDC committee meeting for work none of us had heard of during that time, soon after which it is leaked out that he is leaving EDDC next month. For the whole of those 18 months the CEO, Mark Williams, has refused to allow an EDDC Task and Finish group on the influence of EDBF on the (non) Local Plan to meet (and thereby question) Mr Harrison.
We have one ex-Monitoring Officer who, we know, at first thought her only action after the Daily Twlegraph sting, should be to report the fact to “Action Fraud” (which monitors internet scams) and not the police which wasted valuble time and who, we also know, received many, many complaints about all of the above from members of the public but no action was ever taken. Said officer left EDDC in a very low-key way last month to be replaced (temporarily and without going through any committee) by the Legal Officer of South Somerset District Council (with whom we share a CEO) – said Legal Officer presumably also continuing his job at South Somerset.
Have we missed anything?
With the news that Nigel Harrison will shortly leave his job as Economic Development Officer for EDDC (see our previous post today), it’s perhaps a good time to look back at some relevant archives.
Here’s one example
Plenty more on SEARCH Business TAFF , on the Sidmouth Independent News website
Nigel Harrison, EDDC’s Economic Development Manager (EDM) , is to step down in October this year. This must surely come as a complete surprise to Chief Executive Mark Williams who, just a few weeks ago, gave a public assurance that Mr Harrison would remain as Lead Officer for the Business TAFF. And was Cllr Frances Newth similarly in the dark? No hint was given about this unfortunate imminent resignation, while she gave fulsome praise to Mr Harrison for helping one small business in Sidmouth (sadly, it wasn’t the town’s signature shop, Trumps), when he made only his second brief appearance, at the recent Overview and Scrutiny Committee, since the embarrassment of March 2013.
In his role as the council’s EDM, Nigel Harrison was of course a close associate of the then Chair of the now defunct East Devon Business Forum (EDBF), ex-councillor Graham Brown, who has been in the news again this week http://www.exeterexpressandecho.co.uk/Concerns-raised-East-Devon-councillor-attempts/story-22966678-detail/story.html
The Business TAFF (‘Task and Finish Forum’) is the Scrutiny Committee set up to take “an in-depth look” at the relationship between East Devon District Council and the EDBF. Its purpose was not to scrutinise solely the EDBF Chair, Graham Brown.
1. A key witness in this relationship would be Nigel Harrison, but he has apparently so far been unavailable to talk to the Business TAFF Chair, Cllr Graham Troman. It is unfortunate that his resignation is timed for before the TAFF reconvenes (TAFF date continues to be deferred, seemingly on the recommendation of the Chief Executive).
2.By chance, another potentially key witness, former EDDC Monitoring Officer Denise Lyon, has similarly resigned.
One particular question the Business TAFF would like to ask, when it is finally allowed to do so, is why the East Devon Business Forum is no more.
Our own Returning Officer, Mark Williams, shuns the limelight – perhaps he needs to be seen more in the right places at the right time …
Rumours abound – watch this space ….
Hope he remembers his (expensive) wellies:
And as for all the hardworking people who have been working for years and years to sort out drains in East Devon – where can we expect him to pop up next! He’s already (not) sorted out the drains in Sidmouth but we live in hope!
Disgraced ex-councillor Brown and the East Devon Business Forum: call for action at East Devon District Council
Rather than re-invent the wheel about why the Task and Finish Group at EDDC should re-convene this archive report from Sidmouth Independent News in March 2013 says it all and for extra colour read the report of national investigative journalist Anna Minton HERE where she takes many of her examples from East Devon.
Planning in East Devon and the East Devon Business Forum:
1. Introduction: Cause for Concern?
There is a growing lack of public trust in the planning process in East Devon. (1) Many controversial planning applications have been approved in the face of massive public opposition and frequently contrary to the adopted local plan and other planning guidelines. Extensive industrial and residential developments are seen by many residents and small businesses as damaging to the economy, environment and quality of life in this unique part of England. This situation is likely to worsen over the next 15 years if the draft Local Plan is adopted with its ‘excessive’ allocations of employment land and housing.
Many informed residents of East Devon are concerned that planning policy in the district has been unduly influenced by a small group of developers and landowners who have played an important role in the preparation of the draft Local Plan, and in the relaxation of planning rules to protect the countryside. These developers and landowners are strongly represented in the East Devon Business Forum which has served as a lobby for large-scale development.
Worryingly, this independent, private organisation has among its members some councillors and a council officer who have had a significant influence on planning policy as well as in approving controversial major planning applications which have benefitted EDBF members.
2. The nature of the East Devon Business Forum (EDBF)
a) EDBF is a Forum defined in the EDDC Constitution as a body of “representatives of outside interests” with whom the council can discuss “specific areas of activity” Though it receives some funding from the Council, it is widely understood not to be part of the council but “completely independent of it.” (2)
b) The EDBF overwhelmingly represents businesses with a strong interest in planning and development, and landowners and developers have played a big role in the Forum since 2007. Ex-councillor Roy Stuart (A E Stuart and Son) is current vice-chairman , and his predecessors were Angela Wright (Crealy Park, 2009-10) and Christine Seddon Smith (Devon Cliffs, 2010-2012) (3)
c) Unsurprisingly, the thrust of EDBF lobbying has been to persuade the council to relax planning controls for big developers and to decrease the protection for greenfield and AONB areas. After all, the Forum commented in 2011, only 1% of East Devon was developed! (4) At 34 out of 40 meetings since 2007 planning and development issues were raised, to the evident frustration of at least one member- not himself a property developer- who wondered if other matters like education and training could be discussed.(5)
d) Smaller businesses dependent on town centre commerce and quality tourism fear that excessive expansion of business parks in greenfield sites could damage their interests. These businesses however, clearly have significantly less influence on EDDC policy than the property developers. Two former chairmen of chambers of commerce have said they felt unwelcome at EDBF meetings. (6)
e) The Forum proudly admits its crucial influence on the council’s targets for ‘employment land’ in the draft Local Plan. (7) It is recognised as having been successful in increasing the amount of employment land in the Draft Local Plan, and in persuading the council to relax planning rules after 2007. (see part 3 below)
f) Throughout the formation of the Local Plan, members of EDBF were privileged interlocutors with apparently more influence on the Council than independent consultants like Atkins (2007) or Roger Tym (2011), both hired at public expense, and whose conclusions were largely disregarded. The employment land allocation in the local plan has been widely criticised as excessive. (8)
3. Councillors and the EDBF
i) Councillor Graham Brown
a) Cllr Brown has been chairman of the EDBF since August 2006. He runs a planning consultancy, Grey Green Planning Ltd, and a building company, Brown Builders, according to his Register of Interests entry. He represents the N.F.U at Forum Meetings .Many observers have been astonished that the chairman of a lobby group was permitted, as a councillor, over a long period, to deliberate on and help decide council policy which favoured members of that lobby group.
b) Cllr Brown, in his dual role as EDBF chairman and councillor, was important in changing the outcome of an independent report on employment land (industrial land.) In 2007 a Forum sub-committee chaired by him challenged the findings of the independent Atkins Report (which recommended the allocation of a moderate amount of employment land) and said much more was needed.
c) The Council were then persuaded to set up a Task and Finish Forum, on Employment Land which he led, where presentations were made by EDBF members with large land-owning interests.
d) At the Corporate Overview Committee of November 22 2007 Cllr Brown led the debate on employment land and got agreement that planning policy on industrial land should be changed immediately because there was an ‘undersupply’ in East Devon, despite the Atkins Report evidence to the contrary.
e) The Corporate Overview Committee of October 23 2008 of which Cllr Brown was a member confirmed the ‘urgent need’ for more ‘employment land’, and recommended Greendale Barton, Hill Barton and Exeter Airport Business parks for expansion (all are EDBF members). From 2008 planning applications from EDBF members for large extensions to their industrial estates were approved as a direct result of this change in policy in 2007/8.(see part 5)
f) Cllr Brown attended the Development management Committee meeting of 20/10/2009, when approval was granted for expansion of Greendale Business Park.(091195/MOUT) Cllr Brown knows the owners well and they are frequent attendees at EDBF meetings. At the same meeting approval was granted for the construction of a crematorium at Strete Raleigh (09/1549/MFUL) where Cllr Brown’s company, Grey Green Planning Ltd, had acted as advisors for the applicants.
g) In 2009-10 Cllr Brown was chairman of the Local Development Panel whose meetings were held in private, and whose minutes were not published until later. What these minutes (often heavily redacted) show is that presentations were made on behalf of leading members of the Forum, and their claims to be included in the allocations in the Local Plan were supported by the chairman.(9)
h) In none of these council meetings did Cllr Brown declare an interest in EDBF despite the clear provisions of the Councillors’ Code of Conduct which required him to declare “personal interests in your membership of any body …exercising functions of a public nature…whose principal purposes include the influence of public opinion or policy. (see also ii) d) below)
i) It could be argued that he had a prejudicial interest in some of these meetings, for example of the decision of the Corporate Overview Committee of October 23 2008, which gave a considerable commercial advantage to a close acquaintance of Cllr Brown’s, Roy Stuart. (10)
ii) Cllr Paul Diviani
a) As a founder member of the EDBF, Cllr Diviani has been closely associated with the Forum since 2004. To June 2012 he had attended 27 of its meetings
b) From its inception he strongly supported the Forum’s lobbying function, arguing that it was its aim “to influence the council to take action and consider various projects in advance of decisions being taken by its members”. (11) And this influence, he argued, should be in favour of economic development which was ”the key priority for the district.” (12) The EDBF lobbied consistently for the expansion of large-scale development and less protection for the countryside.
c) Cllr Diviani has been a consistent champion of council support for the EDBF. For example in 2005 he promised EDDC was “committed to providing support for the Business Forum in terms of administration, rooms, refreshments etc. as it regarded the Forum as a core function.” (13) In 2011 he said he was willing to allow the Forum to use the Communications Officer at EDDC to issue press releases. (14)
d) Former and current codes of conduct for councillors emphasise the need to avoid potential conflicts of interest and the necessity of declaring such interests. Cllr Diviani has repeatedly failed to declare a personal interest in the EDBF in breach of articles 7.2, 7.6, 8.1 and 8.2 of the 2012 Code (15) For example he was present and failed to declare an interest at:
i. Meeting of the Executive Board on 26/09/2007 which ordered a review of the Atkins Report in conjunction with the EDBF
ii. Meeting of the Corporate Overview Committee 24/04/2008 which endorsed a submissiom by the chairman of the EDBF that more “employment land” was urgently needed in the District
e) Most seriously, Cllr Diviani has failed to declare an interest in EDBF while present at, or chairing a series of meetings of the Development Management Committee which approved major and controversial planning applications from fellow members of the EDBF with whom he was obviously well acquainted. Such non-disclosure may well have breached the then applicable Code on avoiding prejudicial interest.
These Meetings approved the following applications
i. AE Stuart (09/0282/MOUT) Extension to Hill Barton Business Park into green fields of 18.75 acres Approved by Development Control Committee 07/04/09, chair Tony Reed, Cllr Diviani present.
ii. May Gurney . (09/0410/MFUL) Expansion of Greendale Business Park into agricultural land for offices parking etc. Approved by Development Control Committee 07/04/09 chair Tony Reed, Cllr Diviani present.
iii. FWS Carter (09/1195/MOUT)15.5 acre expansion of Greendale Business Park. Approved by Development Management Committee 20/10/09, chair Cllr Diviani,
iv. Clinton Devon Estates (09/2533/MOUT) 12.5 acre extension to Liverton Business Park Approved by Development Management Committee 06/04/2010 chair Cllr Diviani
v. AE Stuart and Sons (10/0641/MOUT) for Housing at Westclyst, Old Park Farm up to 450 homes and 2000 sq m. of business use land on 50 acres of grade 1 agricultural land. Approved by Development Management Committee 7/12/2010, chair, Cllr Diviani
vi. Axminster Carpets(10/0816/MOUT) Cloakham Lawns Axminster for urban extension of 400 dwellings and 1000-12000 sq.ft of managed employment floor space. Approved by Development Management Committee 21/10/2010, chair, Cllr Diviani (This application was discussed at the EDBF meeting of 10 June 2010)
vii. Crealy Park (Chris Down) 10/2537/MFUL Conversion of agricultural buildings to light industrial use, Enfield Farm Clyst St Mary EX51DN Approved by Development Management Committee 3/5/2011 Approved by Development Management Committee 7/12/2010, chair, Cllr Diviani
f) In his public statements on the EDBF, as Leader of the Council ,Cllr Diviani has been seriously misleading. For example in an interview on Radio Devon (29/10/2012) his trivialisation of the role of the Economic Development Officer as merely ‘clerical’ is completely untrue. (see part 5 below)
4. Council officers and the EDBF
a) Forum members enjoy exceptional access to officers to inform themselves of council thinking and policy, and to influence it. No other interest group could expect such treatment.Betweeen 2004 and June 2012 there were 130 officer attendances at EDBF meetings. Karime Hassan, Corporate Director, attended 17 EDBF meetings between 2005-11. Kate Little, Head of Planning, spoke to the EDBF six times in 2011-12
b) EDBF expects to be told in advance of important developments.The Head of Finance at EDDC provided the Forum with his budget proposals for their comments. In February 2010, members expressed concern that the Chief Executive had not informed them in advance of his decision to job share with South Somerset District Council. Mr Williams was invited to address them to justify his move , which he did in August 2010. In July 2011, an EDBF member with interests in property development asked for the Forum to be updated on the proposed EDDC relocation from the Knowle
c) The aspirations of developers and district planners increasingly coincide. As EDDC Head of Planning, Kate Little said to EDBF on 15th December 2009: “The planning system had been taken apart to serve the needs of the customer” (EDDC regards the customer as the applicant) and was moving from a more “landscape focus to a more economic one”. Lobbying pressure from EDBF, combined with the changed policy of EDDC planners since 2007, seems to have created a development juggernaut. (16)
5. The role of the Economic Development Manager, Nigel Harrison
a) Mr Harrison has played a vital role in the activities of the Forum as Honorary Secretary. It is clear that his professional competence as Economic Development Manager has been valuable in helping Forum members to frame policy and to present the wishes of the Forum to the Council (17)
b) He has acted as a spokesman for the Forum and was called on to defend it against criticism at a meeting of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee on 27 September 2012.
c) Why this role is inappropriate
An officer’s role is limited by the Constitution to serving and advising the Council and serving the public. (Officers Code of Conduct 1.1) For an officer to be deployed in the service of any outside private body, especially one with an avowed lobbying purpose, would seem to be a serious breach of this Code.
During his long tenure as Honorary Secretary, Mr Harrison has engaged in activities which appear incompatible with his role as a public official, and should have raised concern. For example:
i) In 2008 Mr Harrison intervened in an important disciplinary matter between the then Leader of the Council, Cllr Randall-Johnson and the chairman of the EDBF Cllr Graham Brown, publicly expressing his strong personal support for Cllr Brown. (18)
ii) In 2010 Mr Harrison was tasked by the Business Forum to write to the Head of Planning to facilitate a planning issue affecting a leading member of the Forum whom he knew well. (19)
d) Most seriously, the role of Economic Development Manager is an important one affecting major planning matters. He is called upon to advise councillors on planning strategy, to occasionally attend Development Management Committees, (20) and most importantly to act as consultee for all planning applications of economic importance. This role is impossible to reconcile with that of honorary secretary of a private business group whose members’ planning applications are considered by himself, as Economic Development Manager.
e) Since 2007, Mr Harrison has supported, –often enthusiastically- as consultee at least fourteen planning applications by members of the Business Forum. Most of these were very controversial and contrary to the adopted Local Plan. All were approved. (21) It is clear that his comments carry considerable weight with Development Management Committees. This procedure risks breaching The Planning Code of good practice Article 1.1. which is intended to “ensure that in the planning process there are no grounds for suggesting that a decision has been biased, partial or not well founded in any way”.
f) The apparent conflict of interest here is so serious that it should never have been tolerated . It was very likely that there would be a public perception of partiality on the part of Mr Harrison when – especially in controversial planning applications- impartiality is a key principle in the officer’s code of conduct. For example article 39 of The Protocol covering relations between councillors and officers refers to officers’ “contractual and legal duty to be impartial.”
6. The role of the Chief Executive.
a) Under the EDDC constitution the Chief Executive has a duty to manage officers and ensure that they do not breach their code of conduct.(22) It is remarkable that Mr Williams took no action over Mr Harrison’s conflict of interest.
b) He cannot have been unaware of public expressions of concern over the relationship between EDDC and the EDBF. As early as 21 May 2010 a letter from the Farringdon Residents Association concerning the controversial Waldron’s Farm planning approval mentioned unease over the influence of the Forum. The EDBF, as a potential minefield of conflicts of interest, has been raised several times in council meetings.(23) Recent local, regional and national media coverage of planning procedures at EDDC, have often centred on the perceived undue influence of the EDBF. (24)
c) Even local MP Hugo Swire has raised the matter with the Chief Executive. Mr Williams’ reply was dismissive and complacent: there was nothing to worry about and residents’ concerns, he suggested, were merely from a politically-motivated minority. (25)
This total failure to address this situation risks bringing the council into disrepute, as indeed will any attempt to ‘water down’ the terms of reference of the TaFF, set up last month by the Overview and Scrutiny Committee, to investigate relations between the Council and the EDBF.
1) For example: “We think EDDC is more interested in engaging with big business rather than engaging with the local community in trying to achieve the aims and ideals of the coalition government’s Big Society.” Friends of Elizabeth Hall quoted in Exmouth People online 11/10/2012
2) For example the chairman of the EDBF quoted in the Sidmouth Herald of 5 October 2012: “We are a totally independent organisation who go to the council for some degree of funding.”
And at the meeting of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee of 27 September 2012 the chairman, Cllr S Hughes, stated: “that a Task and Finish Forum could only make recommendations to the EDBF, as it was a separate entity from the Council.”
3) Number of attendances at EDBF Meetings 2007- June 2012 (Number of meetings: 40)
1.Carter Businesses (FWS Carter, Greendale Business Park, Greendale Industries) 36 *
2. Crealy Park (Chris Down, owns Crealy Farms as well) 32
3. Worldwide Trading (Cllr Philip Skinner) 30
4. AE Stuart and Sons (Roy Stuart) 25
5. Honiton Development Trust (Cllr Bob Buxton) 21
6. Blackdown Hills Business Association 19
7. Fords of Sidmouth 17
8. May Gurney 15
9. Halse of Honiton 15
10. Allwood Buildings 14
11. Bicton College 14**
12. Tru Homes 14
13. East Devon Federation of Small Businesses 14
14. Devon Contractors 13
15.Martha Mockford 13
16. Thomas Westcott 12
17. Devon Cliffs (Bourne Leisure) 11
18. Ladram Bay 10
19. Stags 10
20. Waitrose 10
*often more than one representative attended.
** Bicton college is currently lobbying to build 225 houses at Woodbury Salterton where it owns land.
Members with an interest in planning and development shown in red.
4) EDBF minutes 13/10/2011
5) William Casely, Otter Nurseries EDBF Minutes 10/4/2008
6) For example, on 28 July 2012 Fred Wells wrote on Cllr Wright’s blog:
“I have been unhappy with East Devon Business Forum for a long time and in particular their relationship with EDDC. It is interesting to note that when I was Chairman of Axminster Chamber of Commerce and Industry, I was invited to the Forum but as soon as I started making waves about the Cloakham Lawn development, I was no longer asked to attend!”
7) “Members noted that the work the Business Forum had done on the Atkins Report had made an enormous difference to the final report prepared by the Employment Land Issues Task and Finish Forum. …..This had been accepted by the Executive Board. The report was now being used by the Development Control Committee as a base when considering planning applications for employment land” EDBF minutes 31/1/ 2008
8) “the only piece of evidence relied on by EDDC to justify the employment land figures) is …a report from EDBF. It therefore seems likely that the views of landowners and developers on EDBF led directly to these proposals”. Cllr Claire Wright’s Response to Draft Local Plan Consultation, January 2012
Sidmouth Chamber of Commerce concluded that the EDBF “grossly underestimated” the amount of land already available, for example it missed many vacant commercial premises. Response to Draft Local plan Consultation, January 2012
“Sidmouth Chamber of Commerce said it had identified ‘serious flaws’ in EDDC’s calculations, something the council has denied. It said had the ‘correct’ numbers been used, the employment land allocation across the district would have been about 20 hectares less, and Sidmouth would have only had one hectare rather than five. The chamber wants EDDC to revisit employment land in the Local Plan, adding: “We conclude that the process by which employment land allocation in Sidmouth has emerged is very seriously unsound, a shambles in fact.” Sidmouth Herald 20/6/2012
In Dorset County Council’s consultation response, (to the EDDC draft local plan) senior planning officer Gill Smith said the 180 hectares of employment land proposed “considerably exceeded” both county and region-wide requirements of 100 hectares….She also criticised plans for 650 homes and eight hectares of employment land at Axminster, saying neither proposal had been clearly explained, and impacts on schools, traffic and roads had not been considered. Western Morning News 23/8/2012
9) At LDF meeting on 25/5/2009 Bell Cornwell made presentation for an expansion of the Liverton Business Park owned by Devon Clinton Estates.Warmly encouraged by the Panel
10) Cllr Brown and Mr Stuart were fellow district councillors in the 1980s until, in 1990, Cllr Brown resigned in sympathy with Mr Stuart who was obliged to resign from the EDDC planning committee after an ombudsman’s enquiry criticised him severely for planning irregularities.
11) EDBF minutes, 21/4/2005
12) EDBF minutes, 20/4/2006
13) EDBF minutes, 21/4/2005
14) EDB F minutes, 21/7/2011
15) Extracts from 2012 Code of Conduct for Councillors
7.2 Those other personal interests laid down by the Council, namely your membership of any body to which you have been appointed by the Council or exercising functions of a public nature, directed to charitable purposes or whose principal purposes include influence of public opinion or policy, including your membership of any other local Authority, any political party or trade union
received by virtue of your office
7.6 In addition to those interests listed at 7.1 to 7.5 above which you are required to register, you may wish also to declare membership of any body which, in your view, might create a conflict of interest in carrying out your duties as a Councillor, such as membership of the Freemasons or any similar body.
Declaration of Interests and participation at meetings
8.1 and you must also observe the restrictions the Council may also place on your involvement in matters where you have a personal interest as defined by the Council and shown at paras 7.2 to 7.7 above.
8.2 You also have a personal interest in any business of your authority where a reasonable person with knowledge of the relevant facts would regard the interest as greater than would affect the majority of residents or inhabitants in the affected area such that it is likely to prejudice your judgment of the public interest
16) see also:
Planning Policy manager, Matt Dickins told the Forum on 29th April 2011: “EDDC has a new approach and attitude to encouraging development within the district …..if planning policy is a barrier to development, then consideration should be given to changing this policy” EDBF Minutes 29/04/11
Corporate Director, Karime Hassan on 3rd February 2011 reported to EDBF before leaving for Exeter and expressed his relief that it was becoming easier to engage with groups like EDBF “supportive of development” rather than just with residents’ groups who opposed it. He recognised the “greater weight given to business since the establishment of the Business Forum” especially over such issues as the lack of business land.”EDBF Minutes 3/2/2011
17) Examples of Mr Harrison’s important role (from EDBF Minutes):On 25 January 2007 he was appointed member of an EDBF sub-committee which over several months researched the availability of employment land in the District and had the results referred to in reference 3 (above).
On 29 April 2010 he led a Forum discussion on the Environment and Rural Development during which it was suggested that it might be necessary to reconsider the strict protection of the AONB.
On 4 January 2012 he was tasked, with the chairman, to draw up the EDBF response to the Draft Local Plan which included an appeal for more employment land in addition to the 180 hectares allocated in the Plan.
18) EDBF Minutes of 8 May 2008 record that the then Leader of the Council wished to remove Cllr Brown from his position as Member Champion for Business because of “accusations of impropriety involving planning applications within East Devon”. Mr Harrison defended Cllr Brown, saying “he had brought energy and enthusiasm to that task and he had enjoyed working with him”. Such personal support for a councillor against his Leader possibly contravenes article 45 of the Protocol covering relations between councillors and officers which warns of the risks of “personal familiarity” and article 4.1 of the Officers Code of Conduct which states: “You must avoid having close personal friendships with individual Councillors”
19) On 4 February 2010 (EDBF minutes) Nigel Harrison was tasked to write to Kate Little, Head of Planning, on behalf of Angela Wright of Crealy Park to help remove a number of obstacles to her project to build staff housing.
To allow an outside body to instruct an officer would seem to breach article 30 of the Protocol covering relations between councillors and officers that states that officers can only be instructed through the “formal decision-making process” of the council. For an officer to be seen to be attempting to influence a colleague in a planning matter on behalf of someone he knows well and who has significant business interests must raise serious ethical issues.
20) For example:
Mr Harrison attended the Development Management Committee on 5 May 2009 when the owner of Crealy Park (a member of EDBF) was given a three year extension in the time limit for noise mitigation work and on 30 June 2009 when the owner of Ladram Bay caravan site (a member of EDBF ) was given approval for changes to a touring and tenting field.
21) Successful Planning Applications by EDBF members supported by Mr Harrison include:
Crealy Park (Chris Down) (07/3108/COU) Conversion of agricultural buildings to light industrial use, Enfield Farm Clyst St Mary EX51DN re-submission of an earlier application that was contrary to adopted local plan.
Crealy Park (Chris Down) (07/3218/MFUL) Application for 30 holiday lodges, lake etc. on a greenfield site. Contrary to adopted Local Plan.
Stoneleigh Holiday Village (M2 Services Ltd) (08/2558/MFUL) 17 new residential units, upgrading of bar and pool. in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and contrary to adopted Local Plan.
FWS Carter. (08/2936/FUL) Jetset Concrete. Retention of concrete batching plant at Greendale Business Park. Contrary to adopted Local Plan and retrospective application to avoid enforcement action.
AE Stuart (09/0282/MOUT) Extension to Hill Barton Business Park into green fields of 18.75 acres Contrary to adopted Local Plan
May Gurney (09/0410/MFUL) Expansion of Greendale Business park into agricultural land for offices parking etc. Contrary to adopted Local Plan and to regularise unauthorised expansion.
FWS Carter (09/1195/MOUT)15.5 acre expansion of Greendale Business Park: Contrary to adopted Local Plan and countryside protection policies.
Clinton Devon Estates (09/2533/MOUT) 12.5 acre extension to Liverton Business Park Contrary to adopted Local Plan in an Area of Great Landscape Value.
Crealy Park (Chris Down) (10/0070) Approval for waterslide and associated works
AE Stuart and Sons (10/0641/MOUT) for Housing at Westclyst, Old Park Farm up to 450 homes and 2000 sq m. of business use land on 50 acres of grade 1 agricultural land.– contrary to adopted Local Plan
Ladram Bay (FWS Carter and Zoe House) (10/2287/MFUL) expansion of caravan park to new field. or 38/00027 in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
Crealy Park (Chris Down) 10/2537/MFUL Conversion of agricultural buildings to light industrial use, Enfield Farm Clyst St Mary EX51DN Contrary to policies TR2 and TR5 of the Devon County Structure Plan.
Axminster Carpets (10/0816/MOUT) Cloakham Lawns 400 dwellings and 10-12000 sq ft of employment land. In an area of Great Landscape Value and contrary to the adopted Local Plan
Devon Cliffs (Bourne Leisure) (10/1210/MFUL) Expansion of Caravan Park contrary to adopted Local Plan.
22) The Constitution of the EDDC states that the Chief Executive (and Head of Paid Service) has overall corporate management and operational responsibility (including overall management responsibility) for all officers.
23) See minutes of Executive Board 30 March 2011, Full Council 25 July 2012, and Overview and Scrutiny Committee 27 September 2012.
24) For Example: Private Eye, Nooks and Corners, p.14, 7 September 2012
25) “I am aware that the relationship of the Council with the EDBF has become a source of concern to some. That being said, many might comment that the issue is perhaps being articulated more as a result of local party differences of opinion rather than anything of notable substance.” Letter of Mark Williams to Hugo Swire, 19 September, 2012.
And for further background information other archive documents can be found at:
” …. However at last night’s meeting, committee chairman [of Ottery Town Council’s planning committee] Councillor Ian Holmes said that in an application for a replacement driveway in 2005, Mr Brown stated that he had 325 cattle and hundreds of ewes and lambs.
And he said, in 2008, in an application for a horse menage, he had 160 acres, 70 at Ware Farm, and around 80 beef cattle and around 200 lambs which wintered at the farm.
We must now wait to see if EDDC arranges for this to be decided by officers behind those oft-closed council doors or in public by the Development Management Committee …
What was that promise about transparency made by Leader Diviani?
And can we now expect a swift re-convening of the Task and Finish Group which was supposed to look at the influence of the East Devon Business Forum (Chairman – the council’s Business Champion and erstwhile Chairman of the council’ first Local Plan Panel, planning consultant builder (and possibly farmer) Graham Brown)?
After listening to the points raised by an EDA spokesperson at the Ottery St Mary Town Council (OSMTC) Planning Committee this evening, it was agreed, by four votes to nil (with 2 abstentions) to write to EDDC expressing OSMTC’s concern at the evidence submitted by Graham Brown, and pointing out what seem to be inconsistencies and contradictions in it.
Reporters from the Herald, the Pulmans View from, and the Express and Echo were present.The Chair wryly commented,”We only need the Exchange and Mart and we’ve got the set.” He discreetly didn’t mention the Daily Telegraph.
Full story about Mr Brown’s Application is at the Western Morning News link on our previous post http://www.westernmorningnews.co.uk/Disgraced-Tory-attempts-lift-300-000-tie-farm/story-22963165-detail/story.html
The following press release was issued by East Devon Alliance this morning:
“Disgraced ex-EDDC councillor Graham Brown is at the centre of a new controversy over a planning application concerning his Ware Farm property in the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) near Ottery St Mary. This is due to be discussed at Ottery St Mary Town Council this evening. (EDDC Planning Ref: 14/2032/CPE)
He is applying for the lifting of a planning condition on his farmhouse, built by him in 2000, which says it can only be occupied by a person “solely or mainly” working in agriculture. He is apparently planning to sell the property on the open market.
In an affidavit with the application, he swears that his farming business “quickly and drastically diminished between 2002 and 2003” to such an extent that for at least ten years his farming activities have been insignificant. For this reason he says he has occupied Ware Farm in breach of the condition in the planning permission granted in 2000. Because EDDC has taken no enforcement action, he claims that, legally, the condition should be removed. This would enable him to sell the farm without restriction.
But campaigners from the East Devon Alliance claim that Mr Brown’s sworn statement appears to be seriously misleading.
They say Mr Brown’s suggestion that his farming activities “drastically diminished” after 2003 lacks credibility. Evidence discovered by EDA shows that he claimed and received 222,922 euros in farm subsidies between 2000 and 2009.
In addition Mr Brown’s own figures for farm income submitted with his application reveal he earned over £850,000 from his land between 2004 and 2013. This would seem to indicate that he was running an agricultural business during this time.***
EDA point out that Mr Brown himself contradicted his claims in his affidavit that his farming activities were minimal, when he applied for planning permissions for new construction at Ware Farm citing agricultural necessity. EDDC planning records show that :
In 2005 (05/2000/FUL) a new access road to Ware Farm was approved after Mr Brown’s agent claimed it was necessary because the farm had “expanded” and “the nature of the farming enterprise causes many movements of increasingly large machinery”.
In 2012 (12/1880/AGR) an extension to an agricultural building was approved.
In 2013 (13/0819/ AGR) the re-siting of an agricultural building was approved as permitted development because it was considered “necessary for the purposes of agriculture.”
EDA question the figures for weekly working hours spent on farming given by Mr Brown. They seem to include only his own time and not the hours worked by two men said to have been employed by him.
Mr Brown claims in his affidavit to have virtually abandoned farming by 2013 but in the EDDC list of members’ interests for 2012/13 he describes himself as a farmer, and member of the National Farmers’ Union which he represented on the East Devon Business Forum until March 2013.
EDA chair Paul Arnott commented:
“If Mr Brown’s application is successful, the protection of the AONB from speculative development will be further eroded. This is an important test case and must be ultimately decided in public by councillors in EDDC’s Development Management Committee, not as is rumoured to be the Council’s intention, by an officer’s decision behind closed doors.”
*** Using Brown GP and Ware Farm as search terms produces this link
The story is also reported on the Western Morning News website:
Eerily similar situations!
It has already challenged those for East Devon on the same principle:
There are two West Lothian constituencies in the UK: one in Scotland, one in Lancashire. Those in the Scottish constituency can vote on matters affecting the Lancashire one, those in Lancashire constituency cannot vote on matters affecting the Scottish one because only the Scottish Parliament decides Scottish issues.
Whilst some are arguing for only English constituency MPs to vote on purely English issues, two main questions have arisen:
1. What is a purely English issue? For example: (hypothetical) what if the English decided to build a new airport on the Scottish border?
2. What if, say, something benefits the south-east of England disproportionately and is to the great detriment of, say, the north-east or south-west? Would that be fair?
An example of future problems might be, say, if a future Olympics is again in the UK: should only England pay for Olympic facilities in England, should more sports be spread out amongst more regions of England or the UK, or, if everything was to be in London, should that city pay all the costs or, if a mainstream sport took place in, say, Newcastle which built a special venue, should Scots contribute to it?
Another problem is: what is a “region” for legislative purposes – would it be the south-west, Devon, Devon and Cornwall, Devon and Somerset, Devon and Dorset, greater Exeter … as usual, the devil is in the detail and none of the mainstream parties seem to have worked through the ramifications before making promises to Scotland.
With no GP surgery they are said to be currently registering with Exeter city GPs – are they using Exeter-based health care professionals and maybe Exeter-based services too?
If Exeter at any time refuses to offer community care for people not in the geographical city boundary (which may happen when cash is tight), where will Cranbrook residents get their care?
For those EDDC councillors (and officers) who may be unsure the following is quoted verbatin and without amendment from hM Revenue and Customs site:
BIM55051 – Farming in tax law: definition of farming
S9 Income Tax (Trading and Other Income) Act 2005, S996(1) Income Tax Act 2007 (ITA 2007), S36 Corporation Tax Act 2009, S1125 Corporation Tax Act 2010 (CTA 2010)
Farming is treated for the purposes of both Income Tax and Corporation Tax as a trade whether or not the land is managed on a commercial basis and with a view to the realisation of profits.
Farming is defined in both the ITA 2007 and the CTA 2010 as being the occupation of land wholly or mainly for the purposes of husbandry but excluding any market gardening.
Although for the purposes of defining farming for tax purposes no restriction is put on where the land is situated, the automatic treatment of farming as a trade is restricted to land farmed within the United Kingdom.
Three features of this definition are considered as follows:
occupation of land (BIM55055)
in the United Kingdom (BIM55095)
wholly or mainly for the purposes of husbandry (BIM55100)
Significance of definition
The definition is of significance because a number of statutory provisions apply, or refer, specifically to farming. These include:
All farming to be treated as a trade (see BIM55110), and all farming carried on by a particular person (or partnership or body of persons) to be treated as a single trade (see BIM55115).
Averaging of profits (see BIM83000 onwards).
Herd Basis (see BIM55500 onwards) (although not restricted to farming).
Restriction of loss relief where losses incurred in the five previous years (see BIM85600onwards).