We know what the Leader of East Devon District Council gives as his “reason”
We are very much aware of the need to finalise our Local Plan, but at the same time we have to take the reports with proposed changes to the Plan to our members for consideration and consultation. We had envisaged that the earliest we would have been able to take the reports to our members would be March or early April 2015. The process of consultation would then take around six-weeks.
“However, because of the forthcoming local and national elections this would not appear to be a viable route to follow, as there is concern that the process could be seen as politically motivated, which would overshadow the soundness of the plan.
“While mindful of the need to progress quickly, the significance to the process of members consideration and consultation should not be overlooked, and consequently it is unlikely that we will take the report to our members until shortly after the May election.”
but let us look at this forensically.
The Planning Inspector, when he looked at the Draft Local Plan, threw it out. A main reason was that the number of houses to be built had no evidence to support the figure. What slight evidence given was very old, based on out of date information and therefore not to be trusted. He basically told EDDC to go back to the drawing board and give him hard evidence for his figures.
Under the National Planning Policy Framework, EDDC had a “duty to co-operate” with adjoining local authorities in case those authorities had housing needs that could not be met within their areas and must therefore be shared. For reasons never explained, although this meant in practice liaising with Exeter City Council and West Dorset, EDDC took the decision (where? when?) to extend the area to include Teignbridge, Mid Devon and Dartmoor National Park. This meant that consultants had more information to gather and more situations to take into account. It should be noted that the “duty to co-operate” is NOT a duty to agree – only to be seen to be consulting with neighbouring authorities on their needs.
So, two sets of consultants were employed. Edge Analytics were employed to look at the link between housing and employment, Ash Futures Limited were employed to look at future job growth levels in East Devon only. It appears now that both companies have produced their reports.
Usually, when consultants have produced reports, they are circulated to councillors who then have the opportunity to comment on them. Unfortunately, in East Devon, this has often been misinterpreted as an opportunity to rewrite them almost in their entirety. When EDDC doesn’t like numbers, it likes to have them changed, rather than accepting that they might be right! Take the employment land figures that were produced by two consultants for the Draft Local Plan. EDDC (or rather the East Devon Business Forum under its Chairman, disgraced ex-councillor Graham Brown) decided the figure was too low, gave their own much higher figure and this was the one which EDDC chose to go with.
Now, here we are with two reports and the Leader has decided that their contents are too politically sensitive for the public (and councillors not in the “need to know” group?) to have sight of.
What is politically sensitive about consultants reporting hard facts and evidence?
As we noted earlier, there are only two possible explanations:
1. The number of houses is below that which EDDC put in its Draft Local Plan. In this case, EDDC has egg on its face. Not only does it have egg on its face, all the current developments rushed through because we have no Local Plan would be surplus to requirements.
2. The number of houses is higher than that which EDDC put in its Draft Local Plan, either because:
(a) they just got the number wrong or
and this is more likely
(b) now that they are having to take the housing needs of not only Exeter and West Dorset into account but also Teignbridge, Mid Devon and Dartmoor National Park, EDDC will have to commit itself to taking overload from all these areas into its own area (for example, by making Cranbrook even larger than planned).
THIS IS NOT POLITICALLY SENSITIVE IT IS PARTY POLITICAL SENSITIVE AND HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE LOCAL PLAN PROCESS
AND THE DELAY IN PUBLISHING CAN ONLY BE SEEN AS A WAY OF ENSURING THAT BAD NEWS DOES NOT COST THE CONSERVATIVE MAJORITY MORE VOTES AT THE FORTHCOMING DISTRICT ELECTION