The eleventh hour: why you should vote Independent

For those who do not click on links, here is the text of Paul Arnott of the independent East Devon Alliance’s hopes for change at the crucial district elections as they appear in the current Devonshire magazine:

My first published book about fifteen years ago concerned a subject with a very boring name – adoption – with its potentially dull backdrop of social services and filing cabinets. The only way to animate it was by my personal story. I did not know until my mid-thirties that I had been illegitimately conceived in 1961 by a scared young Irish couple in London, who later went on to marry in Dublin and have four more children, my full-blood siblings. I was a devoted Englishman who it transpired had flesh and blood from County Carlow.

Now here is another boring word – planning. How to persuade a reader that at its dark heart may be the seedbed for the rebirth of our moribund national democracy? It has to be me again, for which I apologise. I was diagnosed with leukaemia four years ago, had a bone marrow transplant three years ago, am fully recovered and should be doing something quiet and nurturing with this reborn life – learning to paint, taking up the harp etc.

Instead I find myself chairman of a movement called the East Devon Alliance, which is supporting a network of Independent candidates to fight the majority of ward seats in the district election happening on the same day as those for Parliament.

It is the biggest Independent effort in British electoral history, more than 40 individual, plucky people who have decided they cannot trust our beloved environment to the whims of a one-party council dominated by pals of developers any longer. They have realised, in supposedly sleepy East Devon, that democracy can only be revived by entirely changing the guard. Indeed, perhaps in this roots-up path may be found the eventual route to national reform?

When I first fell amongst these lovely people, their horror stories from about twenty towns and villages were of a piece with my experience before being ill, making J.K Rowling’s A Casual Vacancy seem like a Year One show-and-tell project. To all of us, it was now beyond doubt that many dominant parish, town and district councillors (and sometimes clerks) mainly sought office to grease the wheels for planning consents for their allies.

Dysfunction was endemic in even the loveliest communities. Rigged agendas, bullying in meetings, and fixed minutes, were all product of the ugly elephant in too many civic rooms. In 2011, the coalition government, announced that in Planning the mantra would now be a “presumption in favour of development”.

It was game on for many well-placed councillors. The only protection against ill-conceived building in the wrong places (key agricultural land) for the wrong people (we need low-cost housing, not executive homes) was for a district to have an adopted (that boring word, again) Local Plan in place. By extraordinary chance, East Devon District Council has managed its affairs in such a way that after an unopposed four year term of office, in a relatively simple area to deal with, it has no such Local Plan at all. Naked in the conference chamber.

Instead, as in the Ireland of my genetic forebears, there is a rush for re-zoning arable for industrial estates, and a gross over-inflation of need at the upper end of the housing market. Of equal concern, there is no positive vision either. Nimbys is the stale acronym thrown at the likes of us. This is unjust.

All of us have identified adjacent to our towns and villages former factories or farmyards which are ideally located for brownfield development, many derelict for years.

Why isn’t the District Council making a united effort to build on these? Is it because this would reduce the need to build on the greenfield locations owned or agented by councillors’ pals, who have long favoured decisions to be made in skittle alleys, lodges and clubs.

We are now at the eleventh hour. I emerged from five months incarceration in a sterile, isolated hospital room to recuperate not in the pollution and tarmac of the London where I was born, but the valleys and hills of the county I love, the landscape which sustains our two essential industries of agriculture and tourism. I, and my fellow Independents, cherish and understand the meaning of stewardship – that we are but passing through. And if we can take back the reins of our afflicted district from the one-party group who now have hold, it is not too late for East Devon to become governed not as the land for robber barons but for a new era of stewards protecting democracy and environment alike.

Click to access devonshire_magazine_april-may_2015-return_of_the_good_stewards.pdf

Want an election visit from Hugo Swire? Put up a Claire Wright poster!

News reaches us of an Exmouth resident personally visited by Hugo Swire yesterday. Was it a coincidence that the resident had Claire Wright posters in the window?

The resident informs us that the household vote remains with Claire Wright and the posters stay up!

Information Commissioner and Woodward v East Devon District Council decision close

AFTER a seven-month wait, the outcome of a costly tribunal which examined whether East Devon District Council should publish reports regarding its controversial relocation project, is expected imminently.

So far, the council has spent £10,200 on legal costs in its appeal against the Information Commissioner’s decision that it should have disclosed certain information regarding its relocation project, as a result of a Freedom of Information request made by Sidmouth resident Jeremy Woodward.

Following the hearing at Exeter Magistrates’ Court on August 28, further written submissions were made and, at the time, a four-week wait was expected. However, the legal process instead continued for almost seven months, and due to legal sensitivities the authority has not been able to give any details as to why.

In February 2013, Mr Woodward requested all internal correspondence between council officials regarding the office relocation. This, and requested minutes from Office Relocation Working Party group meetings, were refused.

However, the commissioner ruled that reports written by an outside consultant were not covered by exemptions and should be revealed.

Deputy chief executive Richard Cohen told the First Tier Tribunal at Exeter Magistrates’ Court that the role of the author of the reports, project manager Steve Pratten, who works for Davis Langdon LLP, closely resembles that of an officer and therefore the contents of his reports should not be disclosed.

The judgement was expected last Friday, March 27, but was not forthcoming.

Criticism was heaped on the council for scheduling its full council meeting, to decide upon its office relocation, two days before the tribunal decision was due. On Wednesday, March 25, members resolved to relocate from its Sidmouth headquarters to new purpose-built offices in Honiton, and Exmouth Town Hall.

A council spokesperson, said: “The council is surprised that the target date has passed and the outcome of the tribunal’s deliberations has not yet been handed down.

“Along with all the other parties, we await the judgment and hope that the waiting will soon be over, but we are subject to the tribunal’s scheduling.”

From the archives 3: public speaking, curtailment of …

Last year saw a massive assault on public speaking by Tory councillors, particularly Councillor Ray Bloxham (a man not known for using one word when 100 will do the job!).  This post from Claire Wright’s blog sums up this issue which led to a reduction in people allowed to speak, at planning meetings in particular, and an increase in bureaucratic red tape to gain permission to speak which would daunt most potential speakers: