Councillor Twiss gets his knickers in a twiss yet again – and it’s personal – yet again

The most extraordinary rant has appeared in the Sidmouth Herald under the authorship of (“I am not and never have been the Whip for the East Devon Conservative Party”) Councillor Phil Twiss, which is reproduced in its entirety below (with comments added).  It puts us in mind of the early days of the sterling work of Councillor Claire Wright, when she was also attacked for attempting to change the much-derided status quo.

I have  quoted the full press release provided by a local newspaper, not the shorter version in the Sidmouth Herald

WE WANT SIDMOUTH TO MOVE FORWARD, NOT BE HELD BACK (HELD BACK FROM WHAT?)

The Conservative Group on East Devon District Council (EDDC) have hit back at comments made by an East Devon Alliance councillor for her naïve and misleading rant in last week’s Sidmouth Herald.  (So, here follows a naive and misleading rant from Councillor Twiss)

In the report, EDA Councillor Cathy Gardner, who represents Sidmouth Town Ward, claimed that a proposal to build social housing on the site of a car park in Mill Street was part of a wider plan for Eastern Town and spoke of the town being at risk of ‘fighting a battle but losing a war’.

Cllr Gardner is guilty of muddled thinking and of embarking on a naïve and misleading rant aimed at making political capital out of the vital issue of providing homes for Sidmouth’s young families.  (You be the judge of who is out to make political capital here)

A consultation proposed by the EDA councillor would muddy the waters if and when the district council came to conduct its own public survey – which would take place as part of the normal democratic process.  (So, what we always knew – early consultations muddy the waters and council surveys late in the day are the way forward)

ROUTINE

No firm plans had yet been drawn up for Mill Street and if and when such proposals were formed, a public consultation would follow as a matter of routine.  (How much more firm could you be when you hike car park prices 300%, reduce ability to rent spaces and then put out a hasty press release saying you intend to turn it into social housing?)

It’s all very well for ward representatives to genuinely stand up for what they see as the rights of their constituents. It’s quite another to say things that will mislead people into forming the wrong conclusions, especially when this is based on a poor understanding of how the planning process works.  (Still not sure what the “wrong conclusions” are here)

There is a lot of incorrect information in Councillor Gardner’s reported remarks and this displays either a naïve ignorance of the facts or a desire to stir up a political storm in a teacup – or both.  (Not that he does not specifically say at any point what this incorrect information might be)

Councillor Gardner appears to be linking a possible plan for affordable homes in Mill Street with a wider redevelopment scheme for Eastern Town and even the project to create a Beach Management Plan for Sidmouth. Her suggestion that the Beach Management Plan lacked progress is mischievous and untrue.  (But surely the proper thing to do in this situation IS to link plans for Mill Street to wider Port Royal and beach management?  This is the joined-up thinking that Councillor Twiss and his colleagues say needs to be done)

Derogatory comments about EDDC’s ongoing and successful regeneration projects in Seaton and Exmouth take conspiracy theories to a whole new level of fantasy.  (Oh wow – ask the residents of Exmouth and Seaton what they think of their so-called regeneration plans, Councillor Twiss.  A big Tesco and non-affordable housing for Seaton.  Exmouth – where a protest group is going from strength to strength as initial plans turn into luxury flats)

Building homes on the Mill Street site, if this did go ahead, would be part of the district council’s ongoing commitment to providing jobs and affordable housing for Sidmouth’s upcoming generation of school-leavers and young families and was entirely in line with the Government’s wish to see an end to a nationwide housing drought.  (Er, no it isn’t – the Government just announced that it is dropping affordable housing from the requirements for developers – and as affordable rent is still considered 80% of the cost of non-affordable housing still well out of reach of Sidmouth’s young people).

 MOVE FORWARD (er, not sure about that)

The Conservatives on EDDC want to see the district and its communities move forward, not stay stuck in the present or the past. They are following very carefully developed regeneration strategies in Seaton and Exmouth and these are based on years of careful study and prior consultation with the community.  (See above – when consulted, both towns rejected EDDC’s plans – which went ahead anyway)

Ask fair-minded councillors in Seaton and Exmouth whether regeneration projects in their towns have been beneficial and you might get a different view from the jaundiced judgement of Ms Gardner.  (Ah, fair-minded councillors – these seem to be anyone who agrees with Councillor Twiss!)

Sidmouth must not be left behind. We want to see a number of improvements to help the town move forward and we will resist any attempt by people like Ms Gardner to hold Sidmouth back.  (Did you notice here that none of the so-called improvements are named?  That’s because there aren’t any apparently!)

Any assumption by recently elected councillors that nothing happened before they arrived on the scene is both naïve and arrogant.  A lot of good things are happening. These new councillors should make the effort to find out how hard members and officers have worked in the past and resist the temptation to be new brooms sweeping away good ideas just for the sake of scoring cheap political points.  (Oh, Councillor Twiss – it is precisely because such a lot DID happen before they were elected that they got elected in the first place.  Just why should new councillors be tied to the past and why should they not be new brooms – and just who is trying to score cheap political points here?)

Well done, Councillor Gardner – you must be doing something right if you have brought out the attack dogs so early in your councillorship!  Keep up the good work for the citizens of Sidmouth!  They needed someone like you and the district needs someone like you to hold power to account.

7 thoughts on “Councillor Twiss gets his knickers in a twiss yet again – and it’s personal – yet again

  1. Preliminary findings from the seafront survey formed part of a SES press release abt a month ago and were discussed at the recent public meeting. They do indeed muddy EDDC’s own (very limited) survey claims. Seems perhaps EDDC Tories are getting concerned about more thorough research being carried out by others (with a methodology based on enabling people to have a say rather than a methodology with an agenda).
    I would love to discuss survey design with Councillor Cathy Gardner were she to go ahead with this 🙂

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  2. Can we knock several of Councillor Twiss’s naive misconceptions about Seaton “regeneration” on the head. I know, I was there as Mayor at the time.

    First, we got nothing but a massive Tesco and a housing estate with no affordable housing. No hotel, no leisure facilities, no community facilities. The town’s yourh club, day nursery, swimming pool and gym were demolished along with a thriving 500 bed holiday camp. The nursery was re-located (with a Devon County Council grant) on land meant to be for a re-located youth centre – which could not be built anyway as it was during the recession, the land was not adequate after the nursery was completed, grants were hard to come by and we were given only a paltry £80,000 towards a new facility (Colyton’s Reece Strawbridge Centre built at that time cost £500,000).

    Ah, people will say, you got a wonderful new Visitor Centre (due to open next year, 6 years after the Tesco). Wrong: EDDC was paid £2 million by Tesco for a right of way across land OUTSIDE the regeneration area (where the youth club stood) as otherwise they would have been classed as an out-of-town store. This would have given the edge to Sainsburys which was what the town wanted, smaller, closer and would have included a completed Visitor Centre on the first floor (fully accessible to disabled people and overlooking the Wetlands) on the day the store opened.

    The current Visitor Centre could not have been built without a hefty injection of lottery funding and an agreement that it would be run by Devon Wildlife Trust. The centre had been meant to include a terminus for the Minehead-Seaton national cycle route (lockers, showers etc) but these were cut out due to the extra cost involved. As to whether it will (continually, not just in its first year) attract 50,000 visitors remains to be seen, especially now Lyme Regis is extending its town museum and there is talk of a Jurrasic Eden-Centre type project on Portland.

    We lost half our main car park to the Visitor Centre (an overflow carpark has been built on former public open space) and without the 500 beds at the holiday camp (85% occupied 50 weeks a year) we lost the main accommodation base for the annual Grizzly Run. Our biggest hotel is 10 beds and tourists visiting the Wetlands are unlikely to find accommodation in Seaton easily. But never mind, they can go to Premier Inns in Honiton and Exmouth.

    Each and every desire of the local population – most of which could have been achieved – was ignored or ignominiously dismissed. If it did not come from Tesco or a small coterie of officers and councillors – forget it. Though mostly from Tesco. Even our “Regeneration Board” was a fantasy (a Twiss word) as it was just a talking shop which rubber stamped decisions already made. I was asked to leave it because I criticised Tesco (privately) and I did leave because it was achieving precisely nothing.

    Regeneration? In your dreams. As I said in a national newspaper article at the time: “My town was sold to Tesco”:

    http://www.theguardian.com/society/2010/may/05/urban-development-tesco-towns

    and I see no reason to change my mind almost exactly five years since Tesco opened.

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  3. The key word is ENGAGEMENT and not CONSULTATION. If EDDC really are keen to involve the local community, they should be discussing any plans/proposals with the local stakeholders and community from the outset so that any scheme evolves. By taking their stance, EDDC are intent (as usual) on delivering a fait accompli so that they can ignore the public and get their wicked way!

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  4. It seems to me to be typical of the East Devon Conservatives or Phil Twiss to use highly emotive language rather than facts in order to try to sway the electorate.

    In my experience, Cathy puts in a great deal of time to understand what is going on in detail and in depth, and she is possibly the least naive councillor at EDDC. So if she really is naive about the Tory’s plans for Sidmouth (as Cllr Twiss suggests) it can only be because the Tory’s are keeping them secret from both Councillors and Sidmouth residents. (I can speak from experience here as it took me several months to get the Council to publish its own agendas and minutes – which by the way the Information Commissioner says they should have published all along. The word “secretive” really doesn’t do EDDC justice.)

    Rather than rants like this which are full of personal vindictiveness and devoid of facts, and rather than trying to force through secretive plans and then try to persuade residents after the event that these are what they wanted all along, EDDC needs to:

    a. Understand what the people of Sidmouth want for their town – perhaps they could invite residents to submit ideas, and then see what support there was from other residents for these ideas. (A radical thought this – believing that the local residents might actually have some ideas, but I guess I am a radical.)

    b. Produce some DRAFT proposals;

    c. Communicate them effectively to Sidmouth residents and undertake real consultation with residents, listening to their responses and adjusting their proposals appropriately. If plans have altered significantly, repeat this step.

    d. Produce final proposals and put them to a Town Referendum.

    If they did this, then everyone in Sidmouth would have a say, and the council would end up with a mandate from the residents to go ahead. The technical term for this is … um … oh yes … Democracy. Oh and Transparency.

    SIMPLES!!!!

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  5. I might add, that on the question of EDDC using their land to build on, the Tory Mayor of Exmouth has hit out at her colleagues at the Knowle following the EDDC demand that the new M&S food hall proposed for County land at the bus station must instead be built on EDDC land at the Rugby Club playing fields.

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  6. Well a recent independent survey in Exmouth, which is still being fully analysed has already indicated that its results will not support the claims made by EDDC for its Exmouth Splash survey.
    If Cllr Twiss means, by ‘muddying the waters’ that EDDC’s misleading claims will likely be shown up for what they are worth, then he is bang on the money.
    In Exmouth we are promised another full consultation but details are not forthcoming. They will not even confirm that it will be additional to the ‘consultation’ that is otherwise known as an opportunity to make representations on a planning application.
    In Exmouth, the Save Exmouth Seafront group is supported in many quarters in its demand for a fully informed, methodologically valid, independent consultation. EDDC’s reputation when it comes to ‘nonsultations’ as is the preferred local term, is dismal. The SES exercise received over 1200 responses, way more than the circa 518 who responded to EDDC’s Splash survey.

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  7. In the press statement from the East Devon Conservative group reproduced above Cllr Twiss attacks Cllr Gardner’s comment, which was reported in the Sidmouth Herald last week, about lack of progress on the Sidmouth Beach Management Plan (BMP).

    I am the Vision Group for Sidmouth’s representative on the Steering Group of the BMP project. The 12-month project is running about a year late. Some of that is due to the fact that EDDC did not keep a record of their specification of the 1990’s projects, where the groynes and islands were installed to protect Sidmouth’s sea front. Because of this, the current project team (Halcrow) had to ask Royal Haskoning to trawl through their archives to find the EDDC specification of those 1990’s projects.
    Further delay has been caused by very real concern over Halcrow’s findings in their baseline reports for this project. These reports are what any proposed solution for beach management will be based upon. So it is very important that the baseline reports are accurate. Members of the Steering Group have repeatedly expressed concern about this and it will hopefully be resolved at next week’s Steering Group meeting.
    The Chamber of Commerce’s representative, Richard Eley, has already resigned from the Steering Group because he found it difficult to get answers about his concerns.
    So Cllr Gardner is correct. The BMP project has suffered from a number of delays, is running well behind plan and faces a difficult meeting next week to try to resolve a lot of outstanding issues.
    We hope to reach an agreed position at the next Steering Group meeting, which will mean we can then progress to developing proposed solutions.

    Cllr Twiss is not part of the BMP project team or the Steering Group, nor is he on the distribution list for information about the project, whereas Cllr Gardner and other Sidmouth Councillors are.

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