Owl says: Well, duh! And just how long has EDDC’s CEO been in the job? Where was his “hindsight”?.
And our “Leader” is now fully au-fait with the language if the previous majority party as far as giving non-answers is concerned!
Everything changes, nothing changes …
“At last Wednesday’s full council meeting, Cllr John Loudoun, asked questions around the keeping of notes from meetings that officers of the council are involved in.
Notes of meetings when senior council officers meet with developers over planning issues should be made in future, councillors have been told.
It follows an instance where East Devon District Council’s chief executive allegedly told developers to appeal his own council’s refusal of planning permission for the Sidford Business Park.
Paragraphs 13 and 14 of the Richard Kimblin QC final closing arguments at a planning inquiry held this said: “After the 2016 application was refused, there was a meeting with Councillor Stuart Hughes and the CEO of the Council. The CEO advised that the way to progress was to appeal. That is an extraordinary state of affairs.”
The claims, made both in writing and verbally, were unchallenged by East Devon District Council during the inquiry, but afterwards, an East Devon District Council spokesman said that Mr Williams did not advise the appellant of anything but the applicant chose to interpret the comments he did make as encouraging an appeal, and the comments were made in a ‘situation where a degree of hyperbole and exaggeration is not unusual’.
At last Wednesday’s full council meeting, Cllr John Loudoun, asked questions around the keeping of notes from meetings that officers of the council are involved in.
He said: “Sometimes officers from this Council, beyond those directly responsible for local planning matters, meet and/or discuss with developers their planning applications. Sometimes these meetings take place to discuss applications that this Council has failed to support.
“Does the leader of the council agree with me that when such meetings and/or discussions take place, it is most imperative that they are held in ways that give residents faith that the Officers are transparent and accountable in these matters?
“Does the leader agree with me that it would be appropriate that at such meetings, or in such discussions, there should be more than one Officer present, such as a legal adviser and/or planning officer? Do you agree that any meetings or discussion with developers when they relate to planning should have a formal record kept of what was discussed and agreed, and why?”
In response, Cllr Ben Ingham, leader of the council, said: “The circumstances surrounding any meeting will determine whether it is necessary for them to be held in any particular way. I have the upmost faith that our officers would appreciate the need to act in a way that ensures nothing untoward occurs.
“But in hindsight, it is probably a very good advice and many members and officers of the council may say in future they will.”
It was of a number of questions raised at the meeting relating to concerns about the processes of the council which followed what some councillors called the ‘shambles’ of the previous full council meeting which left councillors unclear as to what they were voting for.
Cllr Loudoun added: “At the last Full Council meeting there was lengthy debate around a motion. A Member at one point interjected and proposed ‘that the question now be put’ and the chairman put this point of order to the meeting.
“Many members did not fully appreciate the implications of voting for or against this point of order and when passed by a show of hands, there appeared to be confusion amongst some Members as to what had just been agreed. When the chairman invited the meeting to vote on the motion on the agenda paper, some Members appeared not to understand what was happening and what they were now being asked to vote on.
Once the meeting had voted on the motion some Members were confused and it was only at this point that it was fully explained what had happened and the implications of their first vote, but by this point the votes had been cast and decisions made.
“The meeting ended with some Members expressing frustration and/or confusion about what the meeting had decided. Does the Leader recognise this set of events and if he does, what would he recommend this Council does to avoid a similar set of circumstances occurring in the future?”
In response, Cllr Ingham said: “It is not for me to say what other members may or may not have understood. I understood what was happening but members are always able to ask for confirmation on what is going on and I am sure the Chairman would, in such circumstances, ensure that clarity was given on the procedures from the officers present. We have may acted at a speed that was not appropriate for new members.”
Asked by Cllr Paul Millar on the potential merits of ensuring Members can make informed decisions when asked to vote in Council meetings, Cllr Ingham said that any council or committee makes mistakes, but as the new council learns, he hopes members and officers will make fewer mistakes when acting in a hurry.
Cllr Eleanor Rylance also questioned why a significant number of meetings had been scheduled to take place during the half-term break. As well as the full council meeting, a Strategic Planning Committee, an Audit and Governance Committee, and a Scrutiny Committee meeting took place last week.
She said: “In the spirit of inclusivity, how is it that this council is wilfully disadvantaging anyone with school aged children, caring responsibilities for school aged children, or those who work in schools or other educational establishments, by organising major meetings including this one during school half term? This is entirely avoidable. Please can the council set its timetable with school dates in mind in the future?”
In response, Cllr Ingham said: “Whilst it would clearly be difficult to plan a yearly meeting cycle to accommodate school holidays, particularly bearing in mind the length of the summer holiday and the potential impact on the business of the Council, it would be helpful to consider if changes could be made in future. “