Is Mr Cohen up to his job?

Richard Cohen has not had a good year (well, actually he has, as he remains Deputy CEO and Relocation Manager for EDDC).

He came under fire last week for saying (twice) that the DMC had “stymied” relocation plans – though actually if anyone stymied anything it was PegasusLife putting in a planning application that was unfit for purpose.

Just so show this wasn’t a one-off, let us remind ourselves of this is transcript of part of a speech by a well-known Sidmouth businessman with experience of property development, made at a Sid Vale Association Meeting at the Unitarian Church, Sidmouth, 9th December 2014.

The speech begins with a discussion of Cohen’s estimate of total relocation costs at about £10 million.

“The numbers are completely, hopelessly and scandalously wrong. They are useless, they are terrible and have to be challenged vigorously and strenuously. These numbers are rubbish. They don’t include the green travel plan, they don’t include compensation for the staff, they don’t include the cost of the move itself, they don’t include the costs of hubs the other towns and, most importantly, they don’t include the cost of officer time and members time that is involved in all of this.

The expert, Mr Steve Pratten from Davis Langdon, he is going to cost £1million or more on his own. It doesn’t include the legal costs in all this. I say to the District Council that I have estimated the real costs to be £20million. That figure was not disputed – Richard Cohen did not say it was exaggerated – he said he didn’t recognize the number. What that means is that I was bang on the money.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are trusting Richard Cohen to mastermind this whole process and we are assuming that he’s accurate in the mathematical calculations. This is the same man who measured the Knowle 40% smaller than it turned out to be! He got it wrong by 40%. Robin Fuller had to write a paper, he was rubbished in the press and it turned out that he was correct. The Knowle is 40% bigger than Richard Cohen thought it was.

This is the same man who was responsible for four attempts to compose the economic impact assessments rejected by his own planning committee. He can’t get simple mathematics right. This same man tells us that energy prices are going to go ahead for the next 20 years at 10% over inflation. He is alone in the entire world in thinking this. Nobody else believes that including your energy companies who will fix your energy costs for the next four years. That instantly takes £1.5million out of all the savings that are supposed to be made by moving, so he hasn’t even bothered to explore that possibility.

He is also the man who shifted the southern boundary of the Knowle to include the second tier of parkland without telling anybody and in contradiction to the specific instructions of the Development Management Committee. I was told this would not be investigated because the Inspector would look at it, which he would not do because it was not in his remit. So that has never been investigated by anybody at the Knowle.

He did it without managing to record that process; without managing to record any conversation with any individual, without writing a single email, or keeping a single note or sending any kind of correspondence to any third party. Because I made a freedom of information request, and there was nothing there.

He did it unilaterally, on his own, secretly, and he didn’t tell a single soul, and I only found out by accident.

This is not the kind of person I would trust to do these calculations. Now when he says it is going to cost £15.9million to refurbish the Knowle, I would tell him that that’s a load of bunkum. This relates to the entire building, which nobody advocates retaining. Why is anybody working in a bathroom when the Knowle is two and a half times the size of the building EDDC says it needs? How can that be possible? Mr Cohen in his calculations also asserts that there is nil chance, not 1% chance of local government reform in the next 20 years.”

Government ready to increase housing numbers above and over current Local Plans

“Theresa May and senior Cabinet ministers face a backlash from constituents after Government planning experts recommended increasing of up to 25 per cent in housing forecasts in the Home Counties.

The original forecasts were published by a Government panel which wants to cut the amount of time it takes for councils to publish local plans which set out where building can take place.

The news comes ahead of a major push, which could include relaxing building restrictions, by the Government in the new year to encourage more homes to be built.

Campaigners warned that the new year assault on housing will create “battles across England” because of the ambition of the targets.

Analysis of the forecasts by countryside campaigners found that voters in the Maidenhead constituency of Mrs May, the Prime Minister, will have to increase their plans for new housing by 15 per cent.

In the Runnymede area represented by the Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond, local residents will have to prepare to accept a 20 per cent increase on top of existing forecasts.

In Tunbridge Wells, which is represented by the Business secretary Greg Clark, there could have to be another 22 per cent of new homes.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England which carried out the research said: “Considerably higher targets would necessitate the finding of even more sites, incur the loss of even more countryside, and make already-controversial local plans even more controversial.”

The CPRE warned that local residents could fight the plans if they threatened the countryside.

Shaun Spiers, the CPRE’s chief executive, said: “Communities are increasingly willing to support housebuilding, but nothing is more toxic or calculated to cause battles over planning than excessively high housing targets.

“These force councils to release green fields and Green Belt for development and we all know what happens next.

“Developers cherry pick the most profitable rural sites, encourage sprawl and neglect brownfield land.”

Mr Spiers said that the Government should “think again and come up with a sensible, realistic way of calculating housing which everyone can get behind.

“If they choose instead to ratchet up the housing targets still further, there will be battles over housing across England – lots of strife, little delivery. That would be a huge shame.”

Councils are duty bound to publish five year housing plans in local development plans but only two thirds of local authorities in England have done so.

Last year ministers raised the prospect forcing councils which have not set up local plans to accept housing quotas.

The Local Plans Expert Group, which developed the new targets, was commissioned by Government to investigate reforms to local planning.

In March last year the group made a number of recommendations designed to increase the amount of land allocated for housebuilding in Local Plans.

One such recommendation was to increase the level of housing need identified in Objective Assessments of Need by including a ‘market signals’ uplift.

Academics who examined the plans estimated that the method would produce an extra 312,000 new homes a year, 90,000 more than the Government’s projections in 2012.

The Government’s response to the group’s report is expected to be included in the Housing White Paper next month.

The group was criticised when it was first set up in September 2015 because it comprised a number of developers, lawyers and planning experts.”

EDDC fails “good boss” test

From a correspondent:

Eight things exceptional bosses tell their employees – applied to EDDC

1. I have total confidence in you – EDDC do NOT believe that the public knows best – they do not have confidence in us.

2. “This is what I want us to accomplish…” – EDDC keep most of their their agenda secret and do not inspire the public with a vision based on reality.

3. “What can we do better next time?” – EDDC are never willing to admit mistakes and so never learn lessons.

4. “I want to play to your strengths.” – EDDC do not put the best councillors up for each job regardless of party.

5. “What is your opinion?” – In other words, consultation. Need I say more.

6. “How can I better support you?” – I can’t imagine Mark Williams asking, say, Matt Dickins if he needs help – but who knows – stranger things may have happened.

7. “Let me know if you have any questions.” – Answering questions is not EDDC’s forte.

8. “Good work.” – Giving plaudits to others is a great trait – blowing your own trumpet on the vaguest premise of success or even the vaguest promise of success isn’t the same thing.

EDDC Score: 0/8

“Which companies own the most land in England and Wales?”

“Fifty companies own more than 1.3m acres of land in England and Wales, making up 3pc of the total, according to an investigation into the biggest landholdings in the country.

The biggest corporate landowner is United Utilities Water, which owns 140,124 acres. Utility companies make up eight of the 50 on the list.

Other big landowners include mining and quarrying companies, aristocratic estates and grouse moors, which make up 550,000 acres, three times the land that is currently used for housing in England. This is still far less than the amount of land owned by the state: the Ministry of Defence, for example, owns 494,210 acres in the UK, and has rights over a further 504,000 acres.

One house builder, Taylor Wimpey, is in the top 50, with 14,684 acres; the supermarket giant Tesco owns 11,743 acres of land, on which it may start to build mini villages with homes to help solve the housing crisis.

Also included on the list were companies owning farm businesses, such as Beeswax Farming (Rainbow) Limited, which has 21,891 acres, and is believed to be owned by Sir James Dyson. UK Power Networks, which owns sites such as electricity substations, came eighth on the list. …”