Word reaches Owl that at December 21’s meeting of EDDC, Sidmouth resident Tony Green quizzed Chief Executive Mark Williams about comments made by a member of the crucial planning committee on December 6th which narrowly refused permission for Pegasus Life’s application for 113 apartments on the Knowle site.
Mr Green said impartiality was essential when councillors considered planning applications, especially ones in which the council had a vested interest.
This was clearly the case on December 6th, as the progress of the Council’s relocation project depended on planning permission being granted. But the council’s wishes should not have been a material consideration at this meeting, argued Mr Green, and so should not have been mentioned.
He said he was “surprised” that a veteran member of the DMC (the finger of suspicion points at Tory Cllr Mark Williamson) had commented that the existing Knowle offices were “not fit for purpose” and had gone on to tell a joke about people getting lost for years in the old hotel building.
The comments, and the fact that the councillor went on to vote against refusal, created the impression of bias said Mr Green.
He then asked the CEO:
1. Did he agree that the relocation project was not a material planning consideration on December 6th?
2. Would Mr Williams agree to caution planning committee members not to refer to it at any future meeting to determine an application to develop the Knowle site?
Neither question was answered. The reply was that, in Mr Williams’ experience, councillors said many things in planning meetings, some of which were “germane”! This, of course, implies that some are not – in which case, why make such comments.
P.S. Avid followers of the long and winding road of the relocation project may remember that Cllr Williamson was Chair of the planning committee of March 1 2013 which refused the Council’s own application to develop the Knowle with 50 luxury houses.
He was criticised at the time for making disobliging comments about Sidmouth’s “dependence” on Council jobs, and other hints that he was biased in favour of the application. He voted for it.