“Depressingly low levels of trust in politicians”

… All candidates standing in May’s general election should be forced to disclose whether they intend to have a second job while in parliament, the chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life has told the Observer.

Lord Bew said in the wake of the scandals surrounding former cabinet ministers Jack Straw and Malcolm Rifkind, parties urgently needed to enact a change to address “depressingly low” levels of trust in politicians.



Jeremy Woodward, whose Freedom of Information requests led to the current court case betweem the Information Commissioner and EDDC pens his personal story:

It all started with a simple request back in November 2012. I had asked the chair of the DMC – the Development Management Committee, which is the District Council’s planning committee – for details about the secretive ‘Office Accommodation Working Parties’. (I later discovered that there are in fact several of these…). This was because I thought there might be conflicts of interest should any from one committee be sitting on another committee, as the DMC was expecting to consider the Council’s own planning application for Knowle. Moreover, I had also asked for access to the ‘Reports, Action Notes and Updates’ on relocation which had been presented to Cabinet meetings, as I felt they should be available for ‘public scrutiny’ in the context of the planning application.

Of course the answer was ‘No’ to all of these. Perhaps that was to be expected, and over the coming months and years it became clear that the East Devon District Council is really one of the most intransigent and arrogant local authorities in the area not to mention the most secretive and least transparent.

For example: if you go to the whatdotheyknow website and type in the name of a pubic authority, whilst Mid Devon has 117 Freedom of Information requests, North Devon 102, West Devon 105, Teignbridge 109, Torridge 101 and South Hams zero, East Devon has 299 to date – three times that of any other in Devon.

Of course, East Devon District Council is not alone in refusing to allow more transparency when it comes to its planning decisions. To put this into context, the Guardian’s architecture correspondent Oliver Wainwright looked into ‘the truth about property developers and how they are exploiting planning authorities’ – and he concluded after considerable research that “Across the country authorities are allowing planning policies to be continually flouted, affordable housing quotas to be waived, the interests of residents endlessly trampled.”

These same authorities will insist that they cannot divulge any pertinent information because it is ‘confidential’. However, as Wainwright noted, “confidentiality is closely guarded, in order to preserve developers’ trade secrets, but where the sale of public assets is concerned, there is increasing pressure for the books to be opened.” And the pressures are increasing – helped largely by the Freedom of Information Act.

To quote again from Wainwright on a specific but illuminating case of cosy relationships: “Without some commercially sensitive information remaining private, developers could simply refuse to work with councils, leaving boroughs without the housing and regeneration we all need,” says a spokeswoman for Southwark Council. The borough brought a legal challenge against a decision by the Information Commissioner’s Office last year ordering the council to disclose the full details of a viability report, after a freedom of information request was denied. The tribunal concluded that the information must be disclosed, stating … ‘the importance … of local people having access to information to allow them to participate in the planning process’. It sets an encouraging precedent for campaign groups battling similar situations elsewhere.”

And perhaps we can be similarly ‘encouraged’ – especially as the FOI Act in the UK seems to be working to some extent. Most famously, Heather Brooks broke the MPs’ expenses scandal story by first filing an FOI request. In other words, much of this has been achieved only through the clenched teeth of the powers that be: Tony Blair regretted the introduction of the Act and, still, government generally would like to see the FOI Act ‘neutered’ and is not “embracing the spirit of openness but [prefers] finding ways of avoiding compliance while staying within the letter of the law.”

Disappointingly, in the USA, which trail-blazed the whole notion of freedom of information, the FOI system does not seem to be working – to such an extent, that in the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations about how the National Security Agency abuses access to information, people now believe that transparency can only be gained through whistleblowing: “[the NSA] don’t release anything through normal means. The only way the public really learns about them is through leaks.” Ironically, Snowden is now in exile in Russia, where lies and secrecy are the norm, where there is absolutely no tradition of a civil society and where the arrogance of power is all pervading.

Which brings me to the question of: How is it possible for them to get away with it? After all, whilst the UK is not Russia, nevertheless, it does seem that those in power will generally prefer to deal with others in power and seek to limit the amount of information the common man should have access to.

On the one hand, we have ‘managed democracy’ – and the example of Russia is pertinent, as ‘Putin’s puppet-master’ Vladislav Surkov and other ‘political technologists’ seem to have done very well in creating a society of ‘pure spectacle’. And yet in the West, we have many more years’ practice: it was Edward Bernays, father of the modern PR industry (and nephew of Sigmund Freud) who said: “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society… It is the intelligent minorities which need to make use of propaganda continuously and systematically.”

And so we have the churning out of press releases from the East Devon District Council reassuring us that everything’s alright and that we can sleep well in our beds – whether it’s the surreal nonsense of ‘Another happy year for Cranbrook’, which contrasts somewhat with several other perspectives, or the production of clever pictograms to sell the notion of energy savings by relocating from Knowle, or the announcement that Skypark is no longer the centre of the known universe.

Meanwhile, the situation around the Knowle relocation project gets progressively more Kafkaesque , with “misleading figures, loaded and biased consultations and the heavy handed (and expensive) use of lawyers to force a decision through…” – all of which contrasts with a set of hopelessly out-of-date ‘Moving and Improving’ pages which provide plenty of questions but very few answers.

On the other hand we have what politicians complain of as the ‘democratic deficit’ – ie, that nobody can be bothered because we can’t make a difference anyway. Of course, we are ‘too busy changing nappies to change the world’ – although we manage to enjoy our regular dose of ‘bread and circuses’. Besides, as the stand-up comedian George Carlin said about the American Dream , we are expected to be “just smart enough to run the machines and do the paperwork. And just dumb enough to passively accept all” the other stuff.

Meanwhile back in East Devon, we have a Scrutiny Committee which does not scrutinise and a system which prefers patronage and cronyism to serving constituents.

In May 2011, the new District Council administration announced “a fresh outlook on serving East Devon for the next term, with a promise of greater transparency.” And yet it was Anna Minton’s excoriating analysis of ‘the local mafia’ in East Devon which captured the sense that ‘there have been a large number of concerns about the operation of the council subverting the democracy process… and that this culture won’t change.’ In the meantime, there are still serious, unanswered questions about lobbying and transparency – and particularly about the ex-Councillor Graham Brown saga and the influence of the East Devon Business Forum, especially with regard to development – all of which the District Council has been determined to both ignore and quash.

And so it is left to those ‘outside’ to ask the difficult questions and to try to bring to account those who manage our democracy. The Freedom of Information system might be flawed and terribly slow, but it is one of the few mechanisms we have to challenge the arrogance and insulation of power.

Jeremy Woodward
28th Feb 2015

Additional hustings date – Sidmouth – 28 April 2015

The Hustings for the General Election will be on Apr 28th at St Francis Hall, Sidmouth

The event will be styled on the BBC Radio 4 programme “Any Questions”.

The PPCs will make up the panel to take questions from representative groups and members of the public.

The evening will commence at 7.30pm with refreshments.
The panel will gather at 7.50pm; the session will consist of pre-prepared questions being fielded through the chair to the PPCs from the audience – namely from those organisations and individuals who have sent in questions.
The panellists will not be aware of the exact wording of the questions beforehand; they will not be subject to follow-up questions from the audience, although the chair might chose to ask for clarification.
The question-and-answer session will end at 8.50pm with further refreshments.
The evening should finish at about 9.15pm.

The event will be moderated by the Chair. Microphones will be available for both panellists and members of the audience fielding questions. Refreshments will be provided by the VGS.

Claire Wright urges postponement of Knowle decision till after judgment on Information Commissioner v EDDC court case

The court case, about whether consultants reports on relocation should be disclosed to the public is due 2 days after the rushed decision is to be taken. Claire Wright urges the council to consider its reputation:


Has the Planning Inspector forced EDDC to reveal housing figures before the election?

Digging through the almost impenetrable new EDDC website throws up this letter from EDDC to the Planning Inspector, Mr Thickett:

Click to access lettertolocalplaninspector060215.pdf

in which EDDC states:

“Given the timetable for SHMA completion, and under normal circumstances, I would have envisaged that the earliest we would have been able to take a report with proposed changes to the Plan to our members, seeking authority to consult, would be in March (or early April) 2015. I would envisage a six week consultation period.

However because of the forthcoming local and national elections this would not appear to be a viable programme to follow with concern of risks that the process could been seen as becoming politically motivated rather than being based on the soundness of the plan. While mindful of the need to progress quickly I would appreciate your views on the significance to the process of Members consideration and consultation not taking place until shortly after the election.”

EDDC appears to have assumed the Inspector would concur and sent out a press release saying that figures would not be released until after the election due yo “political sensitivity”. Today they backtracked and said they WILL be released?

There is no record of Mr Thickett’s reply (he has in the past replied almost immediately to letters from EDDC).

Where is it? What did it say?

EDDC: Are we seeing a “scorched earth” policy as the old guard anticipates defeat?


“A scorched earth policy is a military strategy which involves destroying anything that might be useful to the enemy while advancing through or withdrawing from an area. It is a military strategy where all of the assets that are used or can be used by the enemy are targeted, such as food sources, transportation, communications, industrial resources, and even the people in the area.”

Information Commissioner v EDDC: decision two days after rushed Knowle meetings!

Ah, now we understand! Clever Mr Cohen!

… After months of wrangling it appears that the issue will come to a head next month, with a judgement set to be handed down on Friday 27 March.

BUT conveniently, EDDC has set its extraordinary meeting on the office relocation for Wednesday 25 March – just TWO DAYS before the judgement is set to be published.

So, members of the public are set to be kept in the dark about these reports until after the decision has been made – which one might think, was the aim of these EDDC induced delays all the way along. They have managed to limp it along until two days after the decision is made.


That smell … it’s getting stronger and stronger …

Now William Hill wants piece of the Wright/Swire action!

William Hill has opened a book on the East Devon parliamentary battle between Claire Wright (ever-present Ind)ependent) and Hugo Swire rarely-seen Conservative). Claire Wright opens at 7/1, with Ukip well behind on 16/1, Lib Dems 33/1, Labour 100/1. Hugo is 1/9.

Currently Ladbrokes has Claire Wright at 6/1.

So, still perceived as a two horse race!

Note: bet responsibly and over 18 years of age.

Improvements to be considered at Rotherham Council: change to committee system?

… “It has also been suggested that the governance of the authority could be improved – made more transparent and accountable – if it were changed to the committee system. Before taking any steps to implement such a change, I will be inviting the commissioners views as to what they see would be the most effective and efficient form of governance for the authority. I am also open to representations from the public.”


Parliamentary Communities and Local Government Select Committee slams unsustainable development

“FRIDAY 27 FEBRUARY – for immediate release

Clive Betts: Government must do more to protect communities against unsustainable development

Clive Betts MP, Chair of the Communities and Local Government Committee, has today criticised the complacency of the Government’s response to the Committee’s report, Operation of the National Planning Policy Framework:

“I am very disappointed by the Government’s response to my Committee’s recent report on the Operation of the National Planning Policy Framework.

“My Committee produced a report on the draft NPPF in 2011, which the then Minister, Greg Clark, accepted almost in full. This is in stark contrast to the Government’s latest response which rejects the vast majority of our
recommendations. Current Ministers have missed an opportunity to provide greater protection against unsustainable development in England and to ensure communities aren’t subject to unwanted housing development.

“Our report was firmly evidence-based and the culmination of a long, meticulous inquiry in which we heard from a wide range of witnesses, from parish councils to house builders, from wildlife groups to the property sector.

“We actually welcomed the NPPF as a step forward, but recommended some adjustments to ensure it addressed the growing number of concerns about unsustainable development. Sadly, the Government’s response shows it is burying its head in the sand about these important public concerns.

“Our report didn’t call for an overhaul of the NPPF but rather a series of changes aimed at ensuring it does the job it is intended to do. By refusing to countenance these changes, the Government risks damaging the good work that went into producing the NPPF and undermining the confidence of communities across the country in both the planning system and local decision making.”


Committee Membership is as follows: Mr Clive Betts (Chair, Lab), Bob Blackman (Con), Simon Danczuk (Lab), Mrs Mary Glindon (Lab), David Heyes (Lab), Mark Pawsey (Con), John Pugh, (Lib Dem), Alec Shelbrooke (Con), John Stevenson (Con) and Heather Wheeler (Con) and Chris Williamson (Lab).”

Oh dear, Mrs Kerridge – as EDDC “Tourism Champion” you haven’t done your homework!

In today’s Sidmouth Herald (see post below) Sheia Kerridge, who has been as silent about tourism as Hugo Swire has been about the Local Plan, promises that, now she has retired after 42 years, she can devote more time to her work as a councillor, particularly “a waterborne transport link along the Jurassic Coast”.

But see here – its already been discounted as too expensive and unfundable by your own town council’s tourism chief, Simon Pollentine as late as December 2014!


“Save the NHS” march in Sidmouth

“The protest in Market Place, which is being co-ordinated by the 38 Degrees group, will be one of hundreds of other similar events across the country.

Campaigners will be out from 11am and will be asking residents to sign a petition urging all candidates in May’s General Election to protect the NHS.”


Independents day, not just for Sid Valley. Watch this movement spread!!

Full text of the Sidmouth Herald report is here: http://www.eastdevonalliance.org.uk/in-the-press/20150227/sidmouth-herald-independents-day-for-valley/ and here: http://www.eastdevonalliance.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/sidmouth_herald_20150227_page_5_charter.jpg?56fb72

And/ or/ click on the pics below to zoom in:





Independent, united challenge needed across the district

And it has already started! Sidmouth Herald front page story to follow!

…”The Constituency’s MP Hugo Swire appears to pay very little attention to local matters, preferring instead to concentrate on his Ministerial activities. It is rare to hear about Hugo intervening or commenting on local matters, something that a good proactive local MP ought to do. Is Hugo distracted by all of his Ministerial trips abroad?

Our District Council, as everyone knows, has an overwhelming Conservative majority. As everyone will also know the District Council has, particularly over the past 4 years or so, been beset with an apparent indifference by the Conservative majority group to the concerns and wishes of the electorate; those they were elected to serve. More and more the word “arrogance” is used when electors describe the Conservative Councillors attitude to them.”


Tribute to Broadclyst Councillor who fought for years against inappropriate development

The Full Council meeting at Knowle this week, opened with a warm tribute to District and County Councillor Derek Button, who died last month. Representing the people of Broadclyst, he was strongly opposed to the massive development nearby at Cranbrook. And many Councillors listening to the acknowledgements of Derek Button’s dedication to his electors’ concerns, will have recalled his courage in standing up against what he saw as irregular planning matters. He was one of the three Liberal Democrat members of the Development Management Committee (DMC) who temporarily resigned in protest over alleged procedural irregularities in the Waldron’s Farm case. The Ombudsman found no evidence of anything untoward, however, and the controversy lingers on. More info here: https://sidmouthindependentnews.wordpress.com/2013/05/14/waldrons-farm-application-stirs-bitter-memories/

And those following the Task and Finish Forum set up to do an “in-depth report” into EDDC’s relationship with the group then known as the East Devon Business Forum, would also remember Cllr Button’s part in trying to progress this so-called Business TAFF, which never pursued its original aim. See the voting recorded here: http://saveoursidmouth.com/2013/03/29/planning-issues-are-within-the-scope-of-the-business-taff/

As Council Leader Paul Diviani put it, in a tribute in the Midweek Herald (27 Jan 2015), Derek Button’s colleagues “will mourn the loss of a good man”. http://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=3&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0CDEQFjAC&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.midweekherald.co.uk%2Fnews%2Ftributes_paid_to_respected_east_devon_district_councillor_1_3935704&ei=CGHwVOn3KML3UoWHgYgL&usg=AFQjCNESXXA6c5muF1a_V-2EscfoUkUD7w&bvm=bv.87269000,d.d24

EDDC making a complete U-turn on housing figures before elections?

First they had to be concealed until after the election because they were “politically sensitive” and now news that they might be published within the next 10 days according to this blog:


What on earth is going on at the Fawlty Towers known as Knowle? How can they be ” politically sensitive” one week and not politically sensitive the next week? Is panic mode the default mode at EDDC these days with no-one knowing what is going on?

Is it a case that Mid-Devon jumped the gun on consultation – putting their new draft Local Plan out to consultation without the Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA)figures and saying they would be available to the public by the end of February? Mid Devon has relied on the same consultants’ reports that East Devon is relying on. How could they put a draft plan out for consultation without the figures? Surely you cannot consult on incomplete information?

So, EDDC do we get the figures AND the consultants reports behind them before the elections or after? If before, what was the justification for trying to conceal them until after?

And if we get only your figures and not the reports, why?

And how come you are “tweaking” the reports anyway if Mid Devon has already used the information?

What’s that smell?