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.”

One thought on “Is Mr Cohen up to his job?

  1. This close identification between the aims and interests of senior EDDC Officers’ and those of some of its most influential Councillors is unhealthy and central to much of what is wrong with EDDC.

    Its worst effect has been upon planning and development. Senior Officials are giving poor, misleading and sometimes downright untruthful advice to Councillors. It generally seems to support the overall or specific objectives of some of them. It results in the public getting what these few people think is good for them rather than what they actually want and deserve. That is assuming the best of what motivates these people.

    Councillors who ARE genuinely concerned for residents interests often cannot effectively question this supposed “expertise“. Planning Committee Councillors are firmly warned that decisions straying from the advice given could very well result in successful appeals causing costs to be awarded against the Council. EDDC boasts that its Planning decisions are less successfully appealed against than those of other Councils. But since only applicants, not the suffering public, have any right of appeal anyway, this is easily achieved by EDDC not bothering to defend the interests of its residents as better Councils do..

    When sometimes I have asked Councillors about their decisions, instead of telling me that they took the view in question for whatever reason (which would be fair enough) they have invariably replied saying that they necessarily followed Officials’ advice. When I have then gone on to obtain this written and / or verbal advice, I have discovered it to be thoroughly misleading and even demonstrably false on matters of fact that should have been known. It is typically presented so as to appear balanced and impartial, when it is nothing of the sort. It has been clearly directed towards persuading decisions furthering broad EDDC objectives, such as to achieve more housing stock, regardless of lesser concerns such as basic fairness to affected parties. Even legal matters have been misrepresented.

    It is impossible to fathom how sincere Councillors actually are when commenting on planning matters. Aside from those actually directing what is being done, others must be aware of what is happening. Perhaps they are persuaded that it is benign and necessary for effective management of the process or the achievement of broader strategic aims. Others are probably uneasy at what they see, but aren’t disposed to question influential characters. Simply following advice which is claimed to be expert and legally based can also happily make their decision-making easier to make and defend. The problem is just how poor, misleading and biased that advice can be.

    When I have formally complained about misinformation being put to EDDC’s Planning Development Committee, Richard Cohen has dealt with this simply by broadly supporting his Officials’ actions and refusing to address written and recorded evidence of events. I lost any confidence in his impartiality long before this latest evidence of his attitude to his job.

    We desperately need more Councillors who put residents interests first and have the confidence and tenacity to question and continue questioning whatever EDDC Officials or some other Councillors might tell them.

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