Devon/Somerset devolution: a democratic deficit black hole

How many people realise that Devon-Somerset devolution initiative is being led, not by its councils, but by its Local Enterprise Partnership – a sort- of mega East Devon Business Forum? And that it is pressing ahead with its plans without any public consultation?

Click to access Devolution%20Statement%20of%20Intent%20(low%20res).pdf

Members of its board are listed here:

How many people realise that power over development and housing for the whole of Devon and Somerset is to be potentially given to Karim Hassan (former Regeneration supremo at EDDC and now Chief Executive of Exeter) and EDDC Leader Paul Diviani – both masterminds of Cranbrook?

Click to access Issue1HeartoftheSouthWestPadbrookPark__436306.pdf

This is what the Electoral Reform Society has to say about devolution deals in the north of England:

“The public shouldn’t just be given a yes/no option on a pre-agreed deal – we can’t have a fait accompli approach to devolution. There should be proper and meaningful consultation on the deal itself – what powers the public want the Combined Authority to have, and what they want their councils to do and look like in the 21st century.

“A piecemeal approach to engaging the public in the devolution debate isn’t sustainable. If citizens in County Durham are to be given a vote, it’s only right that citizens across the region should too.

How many people realise that the potential devolution of powers to Devon and Somerset are being led by its Local Enterprise Partnership (a collection of business people?

How many people realise that this partnership is suggesting that development and housing matters in the hands of Karim Hassan ( formerly head of Regeneration in East Devon and now Chief Executive of Exeter City Council) and EDDC council leader and Cranbrook apologist Paul Diviani?

“The Combined Authority said the public across the North East would be consulted – and we’ve yet to see what this will look like. It can’t be a tick-box exercise – instead it must be a real process of deliberative democracy, with the ability for the public to change aspects of the deal which they want to be improved. Local ‘Citizens’ Assemblies,’ like the ones we are running in Sheffield and Southampton, could be a great start.

“Let’s have a real debate about devolution and decentralisation. The ERS and leading academics are currently holding Citizens Assemblies in North and South that offer a promising model to follow in terms of engaging local people in the devolution agenda. Politicians in the region and the UK government would do well to watch them and build on them as a way to open up these discussions about where power should lie in our regions.”

“Beware Greeks bearing gifts” in Eastern Sidmouth

This phrase from Greek mythology can be paraphrased as “Do not trust enemies who bring you presents — they could very well be playing a trick.”

This might apply in Sidmouth where EDDC seems to be keen on (part?)-financing a “scoping study” with Sidmouth Town Council for “eastern Sidmouth”.

Why the caution? A scoping study would be EDDC-led and would mean they choose the terms of reference and the consultant(s).

A Neighbourhood Plan for Sidmouth would be citizen-led with EDDC involvement.

Get the difference?

As Councillor Cathy Gardner puts it so clearly:

The study, run by East Devon District Council (EDDC) and the town council, would look at what a potential project for the eastern town could involve – and how such a scheme should be planned and implemented.

But Councillor Cathy Gardner, an EDDC member for the Sidmouth Town ward, has voiced concern that any such consultation would be ‘premature’ – and suggested waiting until the fate of a Neighbourhood Plan is determined.

The town council will decide in December whether to draw up a Neighbourhood Plan for the whole Sid Valley. If it goes ahead, the community-led document will involve consultation on things like where new homes and shops should be built.

It would also ask for views on what should happen in the eastern town.

“Cllr Gardner said: “My fear is that [the scoping exercise] has the potential to shortcut or even derail the prospect of doing a Neighbourhood Plan. The big benefit of asking [about the eastern town] as part of a Neighbourhood Plan is the solid methodology – it is the best way to get feedback from members of the public.

“Why would you rush [doing the scoping exercise] when you can do a really good quality consultation as part of a Neighbourhood Plan?

“It seems a bit premature.”

Cllr Gardner also warned that by asking residents the same questions in two separate consultations, there was a danger of ‘consultation fatigue’ and receiving less responses.

But EDDC says it thinks Sidmouth residents will welcome having their views represented in any plans for the town.

A council spokeswoman said: “We appreciate that Sidmouth Town Council is also considering a Neighbourhood Plan and it seems to us that the town council’s desire to move forward with one should not preclude the other – otherwise there is a danger that good ideas are delayed or blighted by an overly controlled approach.

“A Neighbourhood Plan is a possible future opportunity that should not inhibit what seems to be a clear appetite from the town council to regenerate the eastern end of town.

“Cllr Gardner has raised the question of consultation fatigue, which is an issue worth recognising and one that we and the town council will of course seek to avoid.

“As a Neighbourhood Plan takes at least two years to be put in place, it would be a shame to use that as a reason not to do anything else in the meantime.”

Is a £20,000 fine enough for this East Devon listed building hack?

Talewater Farm, numerous breaches of listed building regulations. No mention in the article of the builder/owner having to re-instate,


“Mr Wright pleaded guilty to a further offence, regarding his failure to comply with an enforcement notice (contrary to section 179(2) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990), which the council issued on 29 March 2010, which required him to cease living in a holiday cottage, known as The Cellar, at Talewater Farm.”

Enforcement notice in 2010 and he’s still living there – will he get retrospective consent if he remains there long enough?

Fortunately, Cabinet member Philip Skinner represents and lives in this area so he will be able to ensure that the law is followed.

There’s “consultation” and consultation at Clyst St Mart

“You may well have seen this article in today’s Express and Echo which suggests that local residents have been consulted regarding changes to the initial application.

Whilst local sports groups and the Parish Council may have been consulted, there has been no communication with anyone from our group, representing the majority of local residents. As you will see, the number of residential houses has only been reduced by 20 (with a greater number of below market, rentable properties) a very insignificant number and certainly not what local residents would find acceptable.

Please rest assured that we will be finding out as much as we can about these new plans and will be letting you know what action we can take to oppose them as soon as we are able to. Now, more than ever, we will need your support and resilience.

Gaeron Kayley, Save Clyst St Mary”

Together or separate? Why change a photograph?

Who swapped this picture:


for this picture:


on this web link:

and why?  Surely the top one is much more illustrative of working together than the lower one, which seems to imply some sort of pecking order?

Note:  Owl saves all its lovely links …..

Rest easy in your beds … we are protected from Ebola and ready to welcome President Obama …

It is so reassuring to know that, even though it has taken 7-plus years to bring forward a (not yet agreed) Local Plan (see post below) our Head of Planning Strategy (Ed Freeman) and our Property and Assets Manager Amy Gilbert [who only joined EDDC in August 2015] have taken time from their extra-busy schedules to protect us all from the Ebola virus and have us all well sorted should President Obama pay us a visit. Thanks to today’s Sidmouth Herald (page 25) for this gem:

“Two senior officers from East Devon District Council successfully dealt with a potential Ebola outbreak and a visit from President Obama to bag top prize in a new competition for local authorities.

The pair were pitted against 22 other teams from across the region and challenged to deal with the hypothetical crises while saving money and delivering better local services for the customers of a fictional council. They were teamed up with colleagues from Teignbridge and Exeter.”

EDDC Chief Executive Mark Williams said:” I am extremely proud of Ed (our head of planning strategy) and Amy (our property and asset manager) for taking part and  roving successful partnerships are a winning formula”.

How much officer time did this exercise occupy?

But thank you Ed and Amy, we can all sleep much more peacefully in our beds tonight knowing that we are safe from Ebola and that President Obama will get the welcome he deserves.

Who know, he may have been booked to open the new EDDC HQ – or possibly the new Pegasus luxury retirement complex – or both!



The Local Plan, Knowle relocation, Sidmouth Mill Street – Hugo thinks it’s all a dog’s dinner


Photo Source:  Daily Mirror

Fresh from his fine performance at the Houses of Parliament Dog Show, Hugo Swire has some harsh words for our local district council in this week’s Sidmouth Herald. What a pity that he didn’t make his views known before the local and national elections …..



Here is the article from today’s Sidmouth Herald:

Swire 30.10.15

His idea for a multi-storey car park-cum housing block over the Ham car park might raise more than a few eyebrows.

Amongst his comments are the following:

“… People are put off by multi-storey car parks, but we can do a clever design that incorporates multi-storey parking and residential homes with affordable housing – which is what we need to bring people into this part of the town. …”

Er, not sure the people in the apartments upstairs would welcome the intense vehicle particulate discharge of the multi-storey car park below them – or the noise  …

“ … You are solving the parking issue and if we do it as one, we are really invigorating the whole of the town. I think the one thing we lack is a marina and I don’t see why we could not have one in Sidmouth – it would bring people into town. “Again, the whole redesign of Alma Bridge and also the Drill Hall area needs to be done as one .”..

Owl can visualise now the wonderful image of Hugo drawing into Sidmouth Marina for his annual visit ….. and, yes, Hugo, your constituents in Sidmouth have been saying this for years, only your fellow Conservative councillors have disagreed.

…Mr Swire admitted the Government’s commitment to building more houses created a problem in Sidmouth, where much of the land is within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).  This, he says, is why there needs to be an established Local Plan, which would provide a blueprint to determine areas earmarked for future development for the next 15 years and beyond.
Speaking about the delays in drafting a plan, Mr Swire said: “It has been a nightmare.

Well, only a nightmare for your constituents, Hugo – a beautiful dream for our council and its developers.

“I have said this is an absolute priority and it has been extremely frustrating that we have not got here sooner.  If you live in a place, you do not want the field next door to be covered in houses, but if everybody said ‘not here’, there would be no more new houses. “We are determined to get more people on the housing ladder. If we build houses in the right area, then people will not complain.

Yes, Mr Swire, we have all been saying this for the whole 7 -plus years that the Local Plan has been under discussion by your fellow Conservatives.

“I would favour putting more at Cranbrook, but then what is the knock-on effect on our services? “The sooner we come up with the Local Plan, the sooner we can have a more rational discussion about it.” …”

Er, no Hugo, that’s not how it works.  Once the Local Plan is agreed the discussion is over.  The time for rational discussion has already passed.  It was done by many of your constituents in front of Planning Inspector, Mr Thickett – twice.  But, unfortunately, you were not there to give him the benefit of your wise words.

A bit of closing the kennel door after the dog has bolted, perhaps …


Neil Parish supports government on tax credits then criticises them

Owl can’t really get its head around MPs who vote FOR something and then criticise it, feeling that it should really be the other way around.

Still, at least he said something, unlike our other MP Hugo Swire who probably thinks tax credits are something wealthy bankers deserve:

“Neil Parish, the MP for [Honiton and] Tiverton, said: “W
e have just lost our way a little, but we can come back out of the wilderness and put this right. It is not a crime to be lowly paid. We have got to put this right, because the Conservative party and the government’s reputation is at stake.”

People would be driven back on to benefits if the government were not careful with its tax credit changes, he warned.

The environment select committee chairman added: “I think we are standing up for what we believe to be right because as far as I am concerned it’s absolutely fundamental people that work are better off than those that don’t.”

Pegasus and EDDC jumping the gun at Knowle? Or just a Hallow’een prank!

This headline is currently the banner headline of East Devon District Council:

“Please be aware that contractors will be carrying out ground investigation on the car parks and grounds of the Knowle on Friday 30/Saturday 31 October and Friday 6/Saturday 7 November. This will involve works including drilling and some resultant noise. Works time will be restricted to between the hours of 9am and 5pm. If you need to speak to someone about these works then please contact Emma Webster at Pegasus Life Ltd – or call 07776 444341. Thank you for your understanding and patience.”

Will they be drilling the public parkland? And on Saturdays. No planning permission needed one presumes.

Hugo Swire’s dog “wins” competition

” … Old Etonian Foreign Office minister Hugo Swire, an ex-pig farmer, got his paws on the public vote thanks to his 14-month-old blond cockapoo Rocoo.

He won after he was caught red-pawed sending a mass e-mail begging for votes.”

A bit like a General Election, then!

Blond cock-a-poo?

“Audit should be citizen led” – that grey area for “Devolution plc” again

As the article points out, devolution comes with dangers:

” … There is a risk that moves towards greater decentralisation of power to newly empowered spaces – institutions of local government – simply replicate on a smaller scale the weaknesses of the national system. With the focus on new models of governance – directly elected mayors and combined authorities – crafted to suit the accountability requirements of Whitehall, it is important that new opportunities to strengthen accountability of decisions to the public space are not missed.

At core, the challenge for democratic institutions is to blur the boundaries between the governed and the government, creating more space for the former to engage with the latter while ensuring equity of participation and access. In practice at a local level there are more opportunities for this interaction – not simply due to proximity enabling direct engagement but because shared space in communities creates a focus for deliberation. There are already examples of local authorities pioneering new approaches, such as Oldham’s Co-operative Borough (as opposed to council), which involves developing the community leadership skills of elected members. The devolution of the entire health budget to Greater Manchester will be an interesting chance to consider how aligning health resource and decision-making more effectively across a place can create greater individual engagement in healthy choices and outcomes. …”

Build, build, build …. er, actually, no

… Overall, registrations for new homes fell by 2% in the last three months compared with the same period last year. That figure masks what many see as a more worrying trend. In the private sector, new building registrations fell by 1%.

” …While in the public sector – that’s largely homes built by housing associations which tend to be more often in the “affordable” category – the number was down a more precipitate 4%.

This morning, one housing association chief executive told The Times newspaper that it would certainly be cutting the number of affordable homes it planned to build this year.
Neil Hadden, of Genesis Housing Association, one of the largest in the UK, said that he was “looking carefully at priorities for spending”.

The reason? Uncertainty over how new Right to Buy plans will affect housing associations (the government wants to allow tenants to buy their homes at a discount and cuts to housing benefit which has meant income for many associations has fallen or is at risk.

… The latest figures from the Department for Communities and Local Government released in August said that house building “starts” (that’s actually building houses rather than registering a plan to do so) were down 14% compared to the previous three months and down 6% compared to the same period a year earlier.

And that comes against a background of generally poor construction figures as the sector becomes concerned about economic head winds.

It may not be time to roll out the tumbrils for UK house building.

But the latest figures could be making things a little twitchy for a Prime Minister who has made affordable housing one of the key priorities for this Parliament.”

“George Osborne’s favourite author” on abuse of power

“…When someone has a sufficient interest in something – profit, vanity, glory, whim – democracy (between elections) is rarely strong enough to stand in the way. However potent the politician, he or she is rarely big enough to admit a mistake. They even prefer to pursue folly to prove their power. ”

More Clinton Devon Estates houses recommended next to Plumb Park, Exmouth

The carrot is, of course, “affordable” housing.

But with house prices climbing so steeply, simply selling some houses on a site for 20 percent less than others (e.g. a differential between best locations and worst locations on a site and/or luxury fittings v basic fittings) will still bring a hefty profit for any developer these days.

More on Moirai Swindon

“The Swindon Labour Group Leader, Councillor Jim Grant, has criticised the decision of Swindon Council Leader, Councillor David Renard, for granting Moirai more time to start with the Oasis redevelopment. This decision was taken through a Cabinet Member Briefing Note, which consulted the Leaders of the Political Groups and the Councillors of Rodbourne Cheney Ward which covers the Oasis site. The Labour Group Leader had urged the Cabinet Member for Economic Development to take any decision on the Oasis to a Cabinet Meeting where a decision could be taken in an open and transparent way but this call was ignored and the Leader of the Council signed off the Briefing Note in August.

In July, it was discovered that Moirai had breached its development agreement with the Council by failing to obtain approval for a planning master plan of the development by the contractual deadline, March 13th 2014, and because of Moirai’s shell company, MW Contract Services Ltd (formerly Oasis Operations Ltd), going in to liquidation. Last month it was revealed that the shell company owed £850,000 to creditors at the time of its liquidation, including local small businesses like Storm Recruitment, based in Commercial Road, which is owed £4,721, and Carlton Services in Old Town, which is owed more than £2,000.

Following the briefing note being agreed, Moirai now have had the following targets set:

All remaining works to the Oasis Leisure Centre be completed by no later than 31st March 2015 and the works commence no later than 31st October 2014
A planning application with associated masterplan be submitted by no later than 31st May 2015
The backstop date for Moirai securing detailed planning consent for the scheme now is 31st January 2016;
The Swindon Labour Group Leader, Councillor Jim Grant, said:

“I am very disappointed with this decision, not only because I think that after Moirai failed to meet their targets in the development agreement it is time for the Council to break from the development agreement, but also because of the way the Leader of the Council has taken this decision behind closed doors.

We already know that Moirai’s shell company owed near to a million pounds to its creditors, before it went in to liquidation and with the economy growing as it has there isn’t any excuse as to why there have been so many problems other than because of Moirai’s poor management.

And, make no mistake, the land the Council is agreeing to give away to Moirai is worth millions of pounds so to give it away to a company whose record so far has been very disappointing, doesn’t make sense. What we should be doing is looking for another private provider to take over the running of this development who has a proven track record on delivering on large schemes such as this one.

This whole saga really does remind me of the council’s involvement in the Wi-Fi scheme several years ago where the Council made decisions involving large amounts of council-taxpayers money. With decisions being taken behind closed doors and the Conservative administration failing to realise when it is time for the Council to walk away from a company that has failed to deliver.”

Exmouth Seafront: Moirai counters criticism

Note that in the article below, Moirai Capital actually mentions relatively small-scale REFURBISHMENT projects (of £1.7 m and £3.5m) NOT large-scale development projects. The North Shields venue was bought from liquidators and refurbished and the Oasis Centre was already owned by Swindon Council and refurbished – the rest of the site has had many delays (see links below) and Moirai only recently put in for outline planning permission for a £120m extension of the sitejust before a final deadline loomed. It was a condition of the new site that the Oasis was first refurbished.

Here is the press release:

“THE developer behind plans for the £18m redevelopment of Exmouth seafront has hit back at criticism from opponents of the scheme.

Pressure group Save Exmouth Seafront has questioned whether developer Moirai Capital Investments has the track record to be capable of delivering the scheme.

It claims several similar high-profile leisure projects the company has previously been involved with in recent years have failed to pass the planning stage.

The group warned East Devon councillors during a meeting at the Knowle that two of the developer’s previous planned projects – including one in Torquay – failed to come to fruition.

But Moirai has told the Echo that the transformation of Exmouth’s Queen’s Drive seafront site is fully on track.

And Chris Lewis, Moirai Project leader, said the firm was delighted to be involved in the project.

He said the projects that did not proceed past the planning stages elsewhere had ended on mutual terms between the company and local council.

And successful projects cited by Mr Lewis include the £3.5m refurbishment of the Oasis centre in Swindon and a £1.7m refurbishment project in North Shields, Newcastle.

Mr Lewis said: “We are delighted to be involved in this exciting regeneration of the seafront at Exmouth, and although our design has been proposed, we look forward to public consultation to further improve and tailor it to the requirements of the town and to increase the number of visitors attending.

“This proposal will complement the new water sport facility being developed.

“Separate development companies are industry practice in regeneration projects to limit risks of other projects and protect each individual project. In all regeneration cases we have worked in association with the local councils’ support, and if projects have not proceeded this has always been with mutual consent.”

He added: “We are optimistic in creating a fabulous development that the town will be proud of and that will generate new jobs and longer staying visitors. All of this will enhance the tourism offer that Exmouth can provide.”

Save Exmouth Seafront chairman Denis O’Day said: “From our research the proposed developer Moirai seems incapable of taking on a project of this size and complexity and I would urge all councillors to really examine this more objectively.”

A spokesman for East Devon District Council said it went through “an appropriate procurement and assessment process with seven interested parties” before settling on the company.

East Devon Watch covered the group’s interests in Swindon on 25 July 2015 here:

It is also covered here:;wap2

and here, where it was criticised for missing deadlines:

Outline planning permission has only recently been sought:

The North Shields water park to which they refer above was NOT developed by them but bought in May 2014 from a company which went into liquidation:

On 12 August 2014 (after the purchase had been finalised on 4 August 2014 and Moirai had appointed Serco to run it) the facility was closed after users reported “breathing and sickness problems” traced to faulty air conditioning equipment and re-opened the next day:

However, as East Devon District Council has confirmed that it chose Morai from a range of 7 interested parties we can no doubt assume that the agreements in our district will be watertight and that we will get best value.

Habitat mitigation in “south-east Devon” will be a “Greater Exeter” issue and will not be scrutinised at district level

Cabinet agenda and paper are here:

Click to access 041115-combined-agenda-cabinet.pdf

Below is an interesting extract, where it notes that Habitat Regulation will no longer be dealt with at district level, instead being the responsibility of the “Greater Exeter” area (East Devon, Exeter, Teignbridge combined). Habitat Regulation will also not be scrutinised at each district but will have its own cross-district scrutiny committee and this worried officers, should districts disagree. It also says that EDDC will fully fund the committee and its Legal Department will be responsible for legal matters.

“Agenda Item 15

… Following the decision of Council on 29 July 2015 to agree to enter into joint arrangements with both Exeter City Council and Teignbridge District Council, it has been necessary to review and alter the governance arrangements to ensure clarity and consistency in terms of its operation going forward.

South East Devon Habitat Regulations Joint Committees …..

….. High Risk
It is essential to secure appropriate mitigation alongside granting of and implementation of planning permissions for development which impact upon sites of European importance. To not be able to ensure mitigation is delivered could cause problems in terms of being able to grant planning permissions and ensure delivery of development as set out in the Local Plan.

… That review has now been completed and it is considered that the Terms of Reference previously endorsed is not sufficient to enable the business of the committee to be properly conducted. There was some lack of clarity in terms of the remit for the committee, the procedures for meetings and a misunderstanding over how to deal with the powers between the Executive Committee and officers. Most crucially however, the scrutiny arrangements for the committee were left to the local level. This meant that each of the three authorities had the ability to scrutinise decisions and moreover that these would be in accordance with each authority’s own scrutiny arrangements. Aside from the difficulties imposed by having to deal with three different sets of scrutiny arrangements from a timing and administration point of view, the biggest difficulty, both operationally and politically, would be what happens if each authority’s scrutiny function resulted in different recommendations being made back to the Executive Committee. All of the above would be likely to cause problems in terms of trying to run the committee and ensure that effective habitat mitigation is delivered.”

Councillor Moulding appears already to have been confirmed as a member and three other EDDC councillors will be appointed (NOT elected).

On scrutiny, the document says:

The Councils have appointed the HMSC to scrutinize the operation and performance of the Habitats Mitigation Executive Committee and its governance arrangements.”


“The HMSC shall comprise three members of each of the Councils, to be appointed by the group leaders of the Councils. Each member of the HMSC shall have an equal vote.”