East Devon Alliance and other Independent councillors show their mettle – Tories show their inadequacy.
There was a distinct lack of seasonal goodwill last night at the full meeting of East Devon District Council which was well attended by the public.
Four speakers from Exmouth lambasted the council for the mega-shambles emerging over the development of Queen’s Drive.
There was anger that the wishes of local people for a town centre upgrade and a modest refurbishment of the seafront had been ignored. Replaced, without consultation, by a grandiose council project to commercialise the seafront with shops, a cinema and blocks of flats.
Two Sidmouth residents kept up the pressure. One questioned the financial competence of the Council with relocation costs spiralling: £600,000 more for Exmouth Town Hall, £400,000 more for Knowle.
Another asked the Chief Executive to warn planning committee councillors against bias in favour of any future application to develop the Knowle because it would advance the relocation project. This seemed to have happened at the December 6th DMC meeting, but the CEO was unconcerned.
When councillors came to quiz council leaders it was noticeable that not a single Conservative asked a question.
But there was a barrage from Independents and Lib Dems. The refrain was that the leadership never gave straight answers to questions about its accounting for public money; it was incompetent in keeping costs under control, and it kept councillors in the dark about what was happening.
East Devon Alliance Independent councillor Megan Armstrong prised out of Philip Skinner, Exmouth “regeneration” portfolio holder, the admission that there would be no independent public consultation on Queen’s Drive which over 4000 Exmouthians had voted for in a Town Poll.
Nonetheless, EDDC would be spending over £60000 to get renewed planning permission for the development.
East Devon Alliance Independent Councillor Cathy Gardner grew increasingly frustrated at Leader Paul Diviani’s failure to answer questions. Why was the contact with Pegasus life for the sale of the Knowle kept secret? Why was the project manager of the Queen’s Drive affair not sacked for “ineptitude”? And what action would be taken against the same officer who had publicly expressed personal frustration at the refusal of the Pegasus Life planning application for the Knowle?
Eileen Wragg (Lib Dem) questioned where the £3million to move the roadway in Queen’s Drive was coming from. She knew that County did not have funds ear-marked. The Chief Executive admitted that applications had gone out for funding, but nothing had been agreed yet.
Rob Longhurst (Independent) said the leadership seemed to think £600000 more on Exmouth Town Hall was “small money” that didn’t require detailed accounting. “I like to see numbers”, he added. Support came from fellow independent Roger Giles who quoted an earlier Council Leader Peter Halse who said when it came to costings it was not good enough for the council leaders to say “Just trust us”.
Finally, Cllr Longhurst, seconded by Independent Ben Ingham, proposed an amendment that councillors should be updated every six months with detailed costings of the council’s projects.
“Unnecessary!” chorused a succession of Tory councillors. They said leave it to the internal auditors Southwest Audit Partnership, forgetting, perhaps, that SWAP was strongly criticised in 2013 for an “anodyne” report on the governance implications of the Graham Brown affair which suggested it was in too cosy a relationship with Council leaders.
A vote on the amendment was lost with 30 Tory councillors voting in a block against it.
Bleating sounds could be heard coming from a member of the public!