“Fears Greater Exeter Plan is being ‘dumped on us’ raised at consultation event”

“Concern has been raised about whether a new strategic plan that will affect half a million people is being dumped on them against their wishes. Mid Devon, East Devon, Teignbridge and Exeter City Council, in partnership with Devon County Council, are teaming up to create a Greater Exeter Strategic Plan (GESP) which focuses on the creation of jobs and housing until 2040. …

… Peter Finch, chairman of Teignbridge Campaign to Protect Rural England, raised concerns that overdevelopment could diminish the area as a tourist attraction.

Mr Finch said: “I don’t see any evidence of the need for this amount of development in the Greater Exeter area. I think it is undermining the work that people have done in their communities in getting together their local plans.

“We need to protect the rural environment from overdevelopment, as that is what attracts people to come here. If we lose that rural environment then there is less of a reason for tourists to visit.

“There is also nothing about affordable housing here. There is a need for housing around Exeter but there are sites that could be developed already rather than building in the countryside around Exeter.”

Elaine Cawthaw, from the Bishopsteignton Residents Association, said: “Lots of people are concerned that there is already lots of development but the infrastructure is not in place, and I am concerned that this could be repeated with future development.” …

… However the plans have raised fears that councils are “sleepwalking” into becoming unitary authorities. Liberal Councillor Jenny Roach who represents Silverton said: “We’re looking like we could be ceding power to this planning partnership, and I know people will shake their heads and say no, but there are several points which worry me.

“Exeter needs land and you can imagine where I sit in my ward, Exeter City Council could be looking at developing the swathe of land that is between Silverton and Exeter and similarly between Thorverton and Newton St Cyres.. It worries me that it’s being done by degree and almost by stealth. When we went to the public to talk about the sort of governance the district wanted, they didn’t like the cabinet, but unfortunately we didn’t get the 3000 signatures we needed in that period of time.

“There are a tremendous amount of people who were not happy with the governance of this authority as it is now, they don’t like the cabinet system, and it is the cabinet system that is sleepwalking us into a unitary authority.” …


EDDC bigwigs treat 53 people to a £50 per head 4 course meal

Might it have been tactful to keep costs down while the “just about managing” are struggling – perhaps tea and cakes and donate money to local food banks?

“EDDC chairman Councillor Stuart Hughes with vice chairman Cllr Helen Parr
EDDC chairman Councillor Stuart Hughes with vice chairman Cllr Helen Parr
District council bosses have come under fire for splashing nearly £3,000 on a black-tie civic dinner, when many taxpayers – who footed the bill – are ‘struggling’.

East Devon District Council (EDDC) chairman Councillor Stuart Hughes hosted the four-course ‘feast’ at Rockbeare Manor for 53 invitation-only guests last week.

East Devon Alliance (EDA) leader Cllr Cathy Gardner took issue with the biennial event, but the council said it was an opportunity to promote the best of East Devon.

Cllr Gardner, who represents Sidmouth along with Cllr Hughes, said: “Council budgets are under strain and they are unable to continue to provide some services, despite increasing our council tax this year.

“However, Cllr Hughes held an invitation-only civic dinner at Rockbeare Manor last week. The four-course feast with aperitif was free of charge to those that attended.

“The total bill was £2,867.90 for 54 people – all at local council taxpayers’ expense. This means the meal cost over £53 per head.

“That is a very expensive night out for most people.”

With many people ‘struggling’, she said the EDA had donated £120 to the Sid Valley Food Bank on behalf of its two attending members and called on the Conservatives to do likewise.

Sidmouth Town Council chairman Cllr Jeff Turner and Ottery St Mary’s mayor Glyn Dobson were among leaders from across Devon who donned their civic regalia for the event, and each could take a plus-one. The EDA’s Cllr Paul Hayward and another member – who the group would not name due to ‘confidentiality’ – also attended.

Diners were treated to canapés, baked cheddar and leek tart, roast rump of lamb and an afternoon tea cake stand.

An EDDC spokeswoman said the bill was settled from the £11,000 civic fund budget that is approved by the council every year for use by the chairman – a non-political role. There is currently £4,600 remaining in the fund.

The spokeswoman added: “The meal is a good opportunity to promote what is good about the district and to show the quality that the district has to offer.

“In the case of Rockbeare Manor, the new owners are bringing many hundreds, if not thousands, of visitors to the district and have invested in one of our most important historic buildings.

“The council considers that this was an opportunity to promote what’s great about the district and to ensure that East Devon is promoted as a quality destination.”h

There was also a collection at the meal that raised £360 for Sidmouth Town Band, Cllr Hughes’ chosen charity for the year.”

Devon County Council election information

“The countdown has begun to a countywide election on May 4.

On Monday, Devon County Council will publish its notice of election, firing the starting gun on the county poll.

Candidates will vye for 60 seats on the council, currently dominated by the Conservatives.

Just over a week later, on April 4, is the last date for nominations.

Voter registration closes on April 13 with the closing date for postal votes on April 18.

A week later, publication of Notice of Poll takes place on Tuesday April 25.

The polls open at 8am on Thursday, May 4, closing at 10pm with the results announced the next day, Friday.

Labour and the Lib Dems face an uphill task to overturn the large Conservative majority.

Four years ago, the Tories won 38 seats to the Lib Dems’ 10 with Labour returning seven seats, followed by UKIP with four and three independentcandidates.

This time there will be two fewer councillors with 56 single-member electoral divisions and two two-member divisions.

At the close of polling, ballot boxes will be secured overnight, the votes having first been sorted and verified and the votes being returned to boxes and resealed.

Verification of the votes will take place immediately after the polls have closed in each of the city, borough and/or district council areas.

As in previous elections, counting of the Votes will not begin until the Friday May 5 – all taking place at the same time, starting at 10am and declared by around midday.

More on the election will follow.”


Swire makes Commons plea to resume flight to Sharm el Sheikh

Aviation Security (22 Mar 2017)


Hugo Swire: I have just returned from a Conservative Middle East Council trip to Egypt, where we were able to see the devastating effect to the local economy in Sharm el-Sheikh of the continuing ban on flights to that region. We also met the President and heard first-hand from the Egyptians their concerns that they are being singled out in some way; that may be the reaction of other allies who are being…

Aviation Security (22 Mar 2017)


Richard Benyon: Further to the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for *East Devon* (Sir Hugo Swire), about 100,000 people are employed in the tourist industry in Sharm el-Sheikh and they could lose their jobs if the flight ban continues. Does my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State consult other people I see sitting on the Treasury Bench to ensure that the impact that degree of unemployment…

Fix old roads or overspend on new roads?

Decisive action is needed after plans to upgrade England’s roadways went £841m over budget, a National Audit Office study found.

The National Audit Office (NAO) report, out yesterday, claims the speed at which Highways England’s Road Investment Strategy was put together has created risks to deliverability, affordability and value for money.

The £11.4bn programme already has 16 projects which could be scrapped because they do not provide value for taxpayers.

The Progress with the Road Investment Strategy report shows the road improvement scheme, which covers the period between April 2015 and March 2020, exceeded available funding for forecast capital costs by £841m.

The RIS was drawn up in the 17 months before the May General Election in 2015 and included plans which had not been tested for cost effectiveness.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: “The Department and Highways England need to agree a more realistic and affordable plan if they are to provide optimal value from the Road Investment Strategy.

“Highways England has been working to address the risks to deliverability, affordability and value for money that were present in 2015, but we are now nearly two years into the 5-year road investment period.

“Decisive action needs to be taken before the updated delivery plan is published in the summer if shortcomings in the current strategy are not to be carried over into future road investment periods.”

So far Highways England has completed six projects on or ahead of schedule and has started construction on a further 19, with 16 planned to be on or ahead of schedule.

According to Highways England these projects will be delivered 5% over budget.

Bridget Fox, sustainable transport campaigner at Campaign for Better Transport, said: “This report shows that the current emphasis on big road projects could waste a lot of public money and that some projects might not happen at all.

“Instead, we’d like to see the government focus on fixing the roads we have before spending billions on considering big new projects.”

She added: “The government should also look at the major road network as part of an overall transport policy rather than go after big road schemes in isolation.”

This report follows another out earlier this week from the Campaign to Protect Rural England, which claimed the government’s road investment strategy will provide little benefit to local communities.”


Former Lib Dem MP to challenge Somerset Tory Leader (and LEP fan) John Osman at county elections

Owl would like to know her views on our local LEP. Mr Osman’s Somerset County Council provides much administrative and political support to the LEP.

“Former Liberal Democrat Wells MP Tessa Munt is to stand against Somerset County Council leader John Osman in the forthcoming local elections in May.

The Lib Dems have released the full list of the candidates they will be fielding in a bid to win seats across the Wells constituency during the county council elections.

Ms Munt is the most eye-catching candidate. She was the Member of Parliament for Wells from 2010 – 2015 and had previously served as the Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) to the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Vince Cable.”


East Devon Alliance provides evidence on poor scrutiny at EDDC to Parliamentary Inquiry; EDDC provides woeful response ignoring major problems

Owl says: EDA submission – explosive and incisive; EDDC submission – spin and fluff.

Executive Summary of longer submission:

“Executive Summary

East Devon Alliance understands that encouraging economic development is a crucial task in local government. However, we are concerned that the increasing influence of unaccountable business interests on council decisions damages the health of local democracy, and can threaten the wider interests of local communities. The climate of unhealthy cynicism about politics, and a failure to engage in the democratic process, is reinforced whenever there is an apparent failure of scrutiny to make councils transparent and accountable.

Overview and Scrutiny (O&S) can too easily be rendered ineffectual by a dominant majority party in a cabinet-led-executive.

Government advice that members of a majority party should not chair O&S dcommittees must be made mandatory.

Chief Executives must not be able to have inappropriate influence on O&S committees.

Scrutiny Officers need to be independent of influence and interference from senior officers or members of cabinet.

The scrutiny role needs to be strengthened to be able to call witnesses. It should be a legal requirement for officers and members of Council and associated bodies to cooperate.

With increasing privatisation, commercial confidentiality must not be used to shield public expenditure from scrutiny.

Scrutiny should “reflect the voice and concerns of the public” by giving local people more say in what issues are chosen for scrutiny.

There is no scrutiny mechanism of the new tier of local government created by the unelected and self-selecting Local Enterprise Partnerships who now control over £2 billion a year in England. Proposals made in 2013 by the Centre for Public Scrutiny could form the basis for scrutiny of such devolved bodies.”

EDDC’s full submission to the Inquiry, by contrast, seems woefully inadequate, when all you can find to boast about is your Tree Task and Finish Forum:

“Written evidence submitted by the Scrutiny Committee of East Devon District Council [OSG 035]

The committee considered the terms of reference set down by the CLG inquiry and responded as follows:

The committee discussed the terms of reference for submission:
Whether scrutiny committees in local authorities in England are effective in holding decision makers to account:

o Meetings are publicised and open to public, with responses to Cabinet as needed. Some question as to whether these comments are heeded, not just ‘noted’; if only noted, there are no reasons fed back to the Scrutiny committee to further work on or refine recommendations.

The extent to which scrutiny committees operate with political impartiality and independence from executives
o The committee were comfortable that they are independent and impartial.
Whether scrutiny officers are independent of and separate from those being scrutinised

o Democratic Services have high integrity
How chairs and members are selected

o Independent Chairman. Politically balanced committee but little attention paid
to individual skills, knowledge and aptitude. Consideration could be given to further training to hone scrutiny skills.

Whether powers to summon witnesses are adequate

o Inadequate for external organisations, with a recent example of the repeated request to NHS Property Services to attend but still failed to appear to answer questions. Some reluctance by members and officers to attend.

The potential for local authority scrutiny to act as a voice for local service users
o This was already being undertaken by the committee, with recent examples
covering superfast broadband delivery, NHS revision of service delivery, and the Police 101 service.

How topics for scrutiny are selected
o Committee Members (and other councillors) invited to be involved. There
may be work that the Cabinet require more detailed analysis of and a request made to the Scrutiny committee to carry out that examination – to date this has not occurred. There was often a frustration in not being able to investigate topics because of limitations of the constitution or on issues where so much time had passed that it was not deemed viable to look into.

The support given to the scrutiny function by political leaders and senior officers, including the resources allocated (for example whether there is a designated officer team)
o Shared service of an officer within Democratic Services, no dedicated officer. No dedicated budget for scrutiny work, no designated lead officer. Officers are called to committee as best fits the topics for discussion.
What use is made of specialist external advisers
o To date mostly witnesses not advisers invited to attend. A suggestion was
made to approach the Local Government Association for a scrutiny advisor. Unclear where such specialist external advisors could be sourced from or what cost that would entail, particularly as the committee has no budget.

The effectiveness and importance of local authority scrutiny of external organisations o Mostly a lobbying role passed to MPs and others. Perhaps more relevant for scrutiny at a county level, but the committee does the best it can to communicate to external organisations.

The role of scrutiny in devolution deals and the scrutiny models used in combined authorities
o Need to have scrutiny involvement throughout the process, not after the deal has been completed

Examples where scrutiny has worked well and not so well
Effective internally on aspects such as the Tree Task and Finish Forum, which produced a number of recommendations taken on board to protect trees and support the business case for an additional staff member; and changes to how press releases are handled by staff; less effective on having an impact on proposed increases in beach hut charges. With limited powers, difficult to have an impact on other outside bodies.”


Click to access 48556.pdf

MP criticises his own government on neighbourhood plan hypocrisy

“Responding to the decision by the Secretary of State on Thursday (16 March) to allow up to 97 houses at Hassocks, in contravention of the village’s emerging neighbourhood plan, Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert said:

“I am dismayed by the Government’s decision, which actually admits that it will erode local confidence in neighbourhood planning, and I simply cannot reconcile it with what I was told in December when Ministers agreed to give more protection to neighbourhood plans.

“While the Government rightly wants to see more housing, they are now undermining the very policy of neighbourhood planning which they championed and which has delivered more homes than expected.

“Until the Government decides to protect neighbourhood plans properly, communities will see little point in going ahead with them. Ministers had better decide whether they want neighbourhood planning or not.

“The Government cannot go on encouraging volunteers in local communities to invest time and money in neighbourhood plans, going to all the trouble of holding a local referendum, if their plans are then torn up in front of their eyes.”


National planning campaigners month of action

“A national group representing community groups throughout England launches its “Month of Action” in April with a big rally in Manchester on April 1st.

CoVoP, which represents more than 100 campaigning groups, was formed to protect green spaces perceived to be under threat throughout the country.
Last year CoVoP members held a “Day of Action” but this year April has been designated the “Month of Action”.

Affiliated groups throughout England will be participating in various activities and the launch event on April 1st will be in Manchester. It is expected that thousands will attend a rally organised by the Save Greater Manchester Greenbelt alliance.

Cheryl Tyler, Chairman of Community Voice on Planning (CoVoP), attacked the long-awaited white paper, “Fixing Our Broken Housing Market” as short on detail and soft on developers.

“It is very disappointing that having waited so long for a sensible document this falls far short of our hoped-for expectations. It does not address the fundamental issues people up and down the country are experiencing, leaving them vulnerable to unscrupulous developers”. She added that “members are extremely frustrated” by the lack of understanding of the concerns of communities”.

These issues include:

• Local Plans failing to take into account empty properties sometimes abandoned for years that could be put back into use.
• Permissions being granted on appeal for greenfield sites outside of local plans
• Not doing enough for urban regeneration but allowing green fields and the greenbelt to be developed preferentially.

Cheryl Tyler says “The government must listen to the voice of the people and realise that the National Planning Policy Framework requires urgent reform to rebalance the needs of communities and the interests of developers”.

For more information about CoVoP: http://www.covop.org”

Developer says (old) people in Budleigh moan too much!

“A developer, whose controversial application to build a house in Budleigh Salterton was refused, has labelled residents in the town as ‘moaners’.

The application, for land between 25 and 24 Meadow Close, would have included the re-routing of a public footpath.

In the decision notice, East Devon District Council (EDDC) officers said the proposal would ‘reduce the convenience and attractiveness of an existing and well-used right of way’.

Applicant Andrew Mann sent a letter, two days before the decision was made, looking to answer any issues raised about the plan.

In the letter, he said: “I know there are many objections from the locals, but when you read their comments, nothing relates to the build.

“We are in Budleigh, where the population is made up of mainly old people who have no building knowledge or modern outlooks, but like to moan about progress.

“Yes, there are worries about the footpath, but we propose to create a new, wide path to the corner of the land, which will be well lit up by our own lighting.

“The siting of the footpath 
gives a better view of the 
oncoming traffic.”

Budleigh Salterton Town Council had previously opposed the plan, believing it to be over-development of the site.

It also had concerns about the traffic in Meadow Close with the proposed building being so close to the road.”