Persimmon pays for Exeter golf club to redesign its course

Persimmon Homes is funding the redesign of 3 holes at Exeter Golf and Country Club because their homes are close to the club and they were unhappy that the Club’s alternative (a high safety net) would impact on their site.

EDDC Monitoring Officer and complaints

We have received the following email from Sandra Semple. This is a personal view only and does not necessarily represent the view of this blog:

“May I point out that the district council spokesperson, who has said in a recent newspaper report that “As far as Mark Williams, chief executive of East Devon District Council is aware, there is no new and relevant evidence that would give cause to reopen either the Councillor Twiss or Councillor Wragg cases” is incorrect.

I submitted new and relevant information on one of these cases in December 2014 in two specific areas relating to the Council’s Code of Conduct and the Council’s Media Policy. In early January 2015 I urged that the Monitoring Officer to give me his decision on this new and relevant information in good time so that, if this information did indeed matter, it could go to the late January 2015 Standards Board Meeting which was then about 3 weeks away.

To date, I have heard nothing from the Monitoring Officer and my 2 complaints are not included in those dismissed, unless he has dismissed them without letting me know.

It seems unlikely that they were amongst those dismissed as I wrote to him recently saying that if he did not make a decision on my new and relevant information before the next Standards Board scheduled for March 2015 it would be likely that we would not know the outcome of these complaints before district council elections.

As the Monitoring Officer has cleared so many complaints he obviously has time to deal with these outstanding complaints now, although as he still appears to work full-time for Mark Williams sister council in South Somerset, perhaps he is not finding it easy to deal with his workload in East Devon.”

OSC draft minutes: “remaining inaccuracies”, and “a little more for the record” from EDA.

Councillor Tim Wood, Chair of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee (OSC), has been copied in to this e-mail just sent to EDDC from EDA Chair, Paul Arnott. (This evening’s OSC meeting begins at 6.30pm at Knowle.)

‘ I note that Tim (Wood) as Chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee in question, has removed the falsehood that Mr Williams had been “accused” by me of “meddling” with the police investigation. It is regrettable that EDDC published this in draft form online, and an apology from the council would be usual in the circumstances.

As you have already sent out the amendment, there is little point in my further commenting on its remaining inaccuracies. I will take the Chairman’s thanks for my taking time in transcribing the recording and pointing out the errors in the minutes as read.

However, it seems worth saying just a little more for the record, for Tim to consider in his role as Chairman of Overview and Scrutiny. As a former MP his experience in these matters carries much weight in the district.

Mr Mark Williams’ own published account and recorded statements in November disclose that very early in the timeline of the investigation – in the Spring of 2013 – he offered prejudicial opinions to the police in relation to the motivations of those who may have wished to give evidence in this matter.

Then, on the conclusion of the matter in November 2014, he repeated this course, and attempted to heap more blame on these same people, to their material disadvantage. It was an open effort by him to discredit councillors and public alike.

In summary, Mr Williams sought to do reputational damage both before and after the investigation. He then interfered with the course of any further internal investigation by attempting to eliminate a named councillor from the process.

In his November 2014 statement, sent to every councillor before your last meeting, he then falsely smeared the East Devon Alliance, of which I am chairman.

For your information, the EDA was not even constituted until some months after Mr Williams’ own colleague, Ms Denise Lyon, freely decided to report Mr Brown to the police, presumably with his knowledge and tacit approval.

If Mr Williams was keeping a cooler head he would understand that the East Devon Alliance was constituted after the event, and well after his own council had decided it must involve the police.

Many independent-minded, experienced council tax payers considered at the time that from that point on the whole process would require strong independent scrutiny. This is a function which the East Devon Alliance, amongst others, has performed valiantly, I’d suggest, on this and a range of other key district issues. They deserve greater respect than inaccurate and arrogant assertions from the man whose wage they pay.

On a personal note, just to be very clear indeed, I have never had any knowledge of Mr Brown, and had only ever heard his name mentioned, prior to the Telegraph report in March 2013, when local councillors, particularly my ward member Cllr Helen Parr, stated privately that they believed him to be one of a small number who had brought the planning system into disrepute over many years. Who could disagree with her?

These opinions were being freely offered years before Cllr Claire Wright, for example, was even a councillor. Perhaps they never came to Mr Williams’ ear.

I and many others consider that Mr William’s attack on Cllr Wright (and others) – both through the document he published before the November O&S, and indeed his disgraceful attack on Cllr Roger Giles during that meeting (which does not seem to have been seen as noteworthy enough to make the minutes) – were astonishingly ill-judged for one in his position. A matter for scrutiny, perhaps?

As to the police investigation into this matter, let it be recorded that it accomplished nothing other than to provide six hundred days political cover for EDDC to refuse to openly debate and make amends for its mistakes in Planning policy.

Any sincere and rigorous internal investigation carried out by councillors supposedly keen to get to the facts in Spring 2013 would have ranged from the inappropriate influence of the EDBF to the real narrative behind the catastrophic failure to implement a Local Plan in a timely fashion. This failure, predicted by many, leaves us without any protection for our district from opportunistic and unsustainable development. There is no gain in this for the residents of East Devon; the gain is plainly elsewhere.

With hindsight, it appears that the public interest in this matter would have been for Ms Lyon not to have made a report – not an allegation, it should be noted – to the police, but instead to have put extra impetus and urgency into the TAFF set up to look at matters in this area. Instead, this TAFF was put on ice. Tonight we shall learn of its refreshed remit, and precisely who the Chairman of O&S, and the officers he has consulted, deem helpful to sit on it.

As a layman, it would not be difficult to reach the conclusion that the police role as this story played allowed the council to keep this whole matter in the long grass. It can also be fairly commented that the police did not seem in any great haste to retrieve it.

all best wishes


Allegedly misleading draft minutes of OSC amended…in part.

From EDDC to EDA Chair, Paul Arnott, this afternoon:

The Chairman of Overview and Scrutiny Committee has provided the following words for proposed amendment to the minutes of the 13 November 2014 meeting.

Minute 47 (page 4) second paragraph be replaced with:

‘Mr Paul Arnott spoke from the floor putting some critical questions regarding the work both of the police and the Council in the investigation of a former councillor. He claimed that “the chief executive of the compromised authority did what he could to meddle with the internal investigations​” and also asked the police and crime commissioner, Mr Hogg, if he found it coincidental that something like six hundred days after a report was made from this authority to the police about the conduct of a former councillor, five hundred and ninety-nine days later, and one day before he appeared before the committee, the police finally announced that there would be no further action. Mr Hogg did not comment at the time but later, in response to questions to Mr Hogg and senior police officers, it was made clear by Superintendent Perkin that the police investigation had been long and complex and that they did not think the senior investigating officer would have been aware of this meeting.’

Minute 54 (page 12) 8th paragraph from the start of the minute be replaced with:

‘Councillor Claire Wright commented on the recent circulation of a letter of the East Devon Alliance. She went on to state that any attempt to eject her from the membership of the Business TaFF would send a message to the public that the Council had something to hide.’

These proposed amendments have been circulated to the Overview & Scrutiny Committee, for their meeting this evening (6.30pm, Knowle).

For EDA’s response, see next blogpost….

Business TAFF under new stranglehold?

Lots of new rules being instigated at EDDC recently (a possible unseemly distraction from the focus of getting a new Local Plan in place?). Interesting that priority has been given to drawing up new rules for task forums (fora?).

Which makes us all wonder about the crippled Business Task and Finish Forum (Business TAFF). It was originally set up by the Overview and Scrutiny Committee’s then Chair, Cllr Stuart Hughes, who was rapidly replaced by Cllr Tim Wood. The latter seems to have no enthusiasm for the Business TAFF’s purpose which was to undertake “an in-depth” investigation into EDDC and business (inevitably including the group formerly known as the East Devon Business Forum, co-founded by Cllr Paul Diviani, and described by EDDC Chief Executive Mark Williams as a “joint body” with EDDC.). No “in-depth investigation” is known to have been done, and key players such as EDDC’s former Economic Development Manager, Nigel Harrison, who had a dual role as the EDBF’s Honorary Secretary, have not been available to answer questions.

If the Business TAFF does at last continue, will its scope have been altered, for what reasons, and by whom? One assumes that EDDC’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee Chair and Vice-Chair have complete and independent control of the matter, without any officer interference. This evening’s meeting may or may not confirm that.

For a timeline for the Business Forum, try the SIN archive:

OSC draft minutes may be ‘unacceptable in law’, as they stand.

Further to yesterday’s East Devon Watch blogpost* about alleged misrepresentation in the Overview and Scrutiny draft minutes:

From EDDC to EDA Chair, Paul Arnott today, by e-mail:
The Chairman of Overview and Scrutiny has read your request and has decided that some small changes will be made but not exactly as you have requested. He has advised me that he is working on a rewording of that section of the minutes to take into account your request.

Paul Arnott’s e-mailed reply: ‘ is unacceptable in law to place on the public record an endorsed minute wrongly stating that someone has spoken at a meeting and “accused” the Chief Executive (the implication in the wording being that this is the CEO of EDDC) of “meddling” in a police investigation.’


It’s contagious!

This week’s Private Eye “Rotten Boroughs” column has stories on:

Outrageous expenses and behaviour of senior council officers in Lancashire and Croydon

Senior officers in Norfolk concocting evidence to suit their needs

A councillor using the council’s press office in Stoke on Trent to create his personal tweets

A cosy relationship between a district council and the owner of development land in the Cotswolds

A council in Tower Hamlets claiming short-listing for an award it DIDN’t win the previous year

Which of these would you think might have already happened, be about to happen or is planned to happen at EDDC?