Comment on the Darts Business Park decision

From a correspondent:

Many East Devon residents strongly identify with Cllr Paul Arnott’s comments below on this planning application:

“While I am sympathetic to the need of the economic argument for units in the area, the fact is it is trumped by this not being part of the Local Plan or the Neighbourhood Plan. I am sympathetic to what they want to do but it may have to come back when we have revisited our Local Plan. With regret, I cannot support this.” 

Even though Clyst St George Parish Council and the EDDC Economic Development Officer are in support of this extension to the Darts Business Park because it will provide local employment and Darts Farm are to be congratulated for their ongoing successful diversification – it is hugely refreshing to read that Cllr Arnott seems to have grasped the key point that this site was not allocated for further development in either the District Local or the Neighbourhood Plans. Surely, The Town and Country Planning Act requires that decisions should be made primarily in accordance with development plans, which provide policies to guide decision makers?

The public perception is that there is little point in spending tens (maybe hundreds) of thousands of pounds consulting Planning Inspectors to achieve the East Devon Local Development Plan, with countless hours (even years) expended  by parish and local authority staff and members on the production of District, Neighbourhood and Village Plans, if crucial policies within them are ignored?

East Devon residents understand there is a balance to be achieved between a successful economy and the loss of a much-valued, local natural environment. We also realise the special significance of protecting the characteristics of the countryside in East Devon and we understand that if we kill the goose that lays the golden eggs, by continuously encroaching on our environmental landscapes – we will never get these natural resources back!

Thank you, Cllr Arnott for championing the importance of local development plans, even though the vote went against plan policy on this occasion in favour of economic growth. We look forward to a new future for EDDC with the Democratic Alliance and the Independent Progressive Group.

We are convinced that another opportunity to uphold such development plan policies is only a breath away!  

 

An indefensible decision made in East Devon District Council

The EDDC Annual Meeting (for those who don’t know) is constitutionally and democratically the most important meeting of the municipal year. In summary, the reason for its importance is that it is the point in the year when the Council Chairman and Leader, and their deputies are voted into office. The required Overview, Scrutiny and Standards Committees are appointed. The Council makes the selection and appointment of Councillors on Committees and Outside Bodies (like the GESP – Greater Exeter Strategic Plan). It decides which other committees to form; their size and Terms of Reference; and the allocation of seats to political groups in accordance with the political balance rules (although this doesn’t apply to the Cabinet). The Leader appoints the Cabinet.

As a comment has reminded us, constitutionally, the Annual Meeting is held in May. So Owl has been pondering how and why the decision to cancel this year’s meeting could have been taken. Especially, in circumstances when the political tectonic plates had shifted to place the governing coalition in a minority. Owl might understand a postponement to allow the Democratic Alliance and Progressive Independents to fully finalise their memorandum of understanding, but not a cancellation whose only aim could have been to frustrate any change.

The social media comments from the Democratic Alliance on 17 May made it clear that the decision was made by Cllr Stuart Hughes, the Conservative Party chairman of EDDC. Owl thinks it inconceivable that he didn’t have the support of others as well. Luckily, wiser heads have prevailed and Cllr. Ben Ingham, the Leader, and his Cabinet have resigned, clearing the way for a transition.

Owl can’t understand why, in the absence of anyone else, Officers didn’t intervene. Having spent hours researching the roles of Senior Officers and the rules and regulations governing Local Councils, Owl thinks the following paragraphs provide an explanation.

Civil Servants, the Police, the Military and the Judiciary are all “Servants of the Crown” and can speak “truth to power”. Local Government Officers are employed by the Local Authority they serve. The relationship between Councillors and Officers is, therefore, a very close one and in EDDC, until now, the Conservatives have always been in power.

Governments over the years have also taken an increasingly “hands off – light regulation” approach to Local Authorities. There is, for example, no template listing the responsibilities of Chief Executives and Owl understands that attempts to find the job description for the EDDC Chief Executive through FFIs, in the past, have proved unsuccessful.

The interpretation of the planning policy framework is a good example of the freedom Local Authorities have to make their own decisions. Members decide, for example, what weight to attach to protective policies versus economic benefits of development or vice versa when determining applications within Areas of Outstanding Beauty. The policy is guidance open to a wide range of subjective interpretation.

What matters is that Councillors behave “properly”. The core rules governing Councillors’ behaviour is set out in section 28 (1) of the Localism Act 2011 which states: ‘A relevant authority must secure that a code adopted by it under section 27 (2) (a “code of conduct”) is, when viewed as a whole, consistent with the following principles [The seven Nolan principles – see Committee on Standards in Public Life].

It is the role of the Monitoring Officer to ensure the lawfulness and fairness of council decision-making and to provide guidance to Councillors. One has to ask the question where was he in May?
EDDC extends the Nolan principles in paragraph 1.2 of the section of its constitution dealing with Members Code of Conduct as follows:

“You should have regard to the Principles of Public Life namely, Selflessness, Honesty/Integrity, Objectivity, Accountability, Openness, Personal judgment, Respect for others, Duty to uphold the law, Stewardship and Leadership.”

There then follows a number of exhortations to Members and Owl highlights three of them:

Do nothing as a Member which you could not justify to the public.

The reputation of the Council depends on your conduct and what the public believes about your conduct.

It is not enough to avoid actual impropriety, you should at all times avoid any occasion for suspicion or appearance of improper conduct.

The statement by the Democratic Alliance makes it clear that such a decision was made on political grounds. Not only was this undemocratic (it denied the new majority partnership the opportunity to make a smooth transition at the appropriate time) but was made by councillors, Owl suggests, in breach of the Standards.

The decision was clearly not made solely in the public interest but was made in “Self-Interest”. Those who made the decision lacked “Integrity”, “Judgement” and “Openness”, and spectacularly failed to show “Leadership” in that it inevitably brings the Council into disrepute.

In short the decision was indefensible.

 

 

I do not believe public want to trade away our values on the altar of cheap food

Honiton’s MP comes out of hibernation.

Owl thinks readers might be interested in what he says about his recent attempt to amend the Agriculture Bill and his opposition to undercutting standards and the consequences for agriculture.

NEIL PARISH IS THE CONSERVATIVE MP FOR TIVERTON AND HONITON

The easing of measures announced by the Prime Minister has come as a welcome respite to what has been a challenging eight weeks.

Over the weekend, many of us will have been able to get out into the great outdoors and reconnect with family members (albeit at a safe distance). However, we must all remain vigilant and act responsibly to maintain the progress made to date. We must not lose sight of the main goal of these measures: to control the virus and protect the most vulnerable members of society.

My team is working hard to provide support during this period, so please do get in touch if I can be of assistance to you or your business.

Indeed, many home growers and green-fingered enthusiasts have contacted me to express their relief at the reopening of garden centres last Wednesday. Like many sectors, the ornamental sector has been hit hard by the virus, with lockdown hitting at their peak season.

Since the easing of restrictions, garden centres have been working hard to adapt their stores to allow customers in at a safe distance. We must all now lend our support by donning our gloves, dusting off our shovels and rallying behind our local nurseries. I hope this gradual re-opening can be a blueprint for other businesses in our region.

From the plants in our gardens to the food on our table, last week was a critical one. The remaining stages of the Agriculture Bill passed through the Commons. During these unprecedented times, it has never been more apparent this country needs high quality, home-grown food. This once-in-a-generation piece of legislation will define the future of farming within the UK.

much of the Bill’s content is welcome, improving support for environmental schemes and allowing Ministers to decide our domestic agricultural policies, outside the CAP. However, the Bill lacked significant commitments on the prevention of imports that do not meet our high environmental, food and animal welfare standards.

An undercutting of standards will have serious consequences, making it harder for our farmers to be competitive and reducing the control we have over food production. That’s why I proposed the New Clause 2 amendment. The amendment would have prevented the ratification of any trade agreement that allows the importation of agricultural or food products which have not been produced to equivalent high standards.

I am heartened by the support shown by a large section of Conservative MPs, opposition parties, animal welfare groups, as well as environmental and agricultural organisations. While the Bill went through unamended, I believe the vote on New Clause 2 demonstrated disquiet in the Commons about the direction of travel.

The Bill will now move to the Lords, where I know Parliamentary colleagues will want to press the government on this issue. I do not believe, for one second, the Great British public want to trade away our values on the altar of cheap food.

As Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, I will be keeping a keen eye on the progress of the Bill and the details of any trade deals with friends and partners around the world. With proper parliamentary scrutiny and engagement we will be in a better place and drive a better deal, in the end, for the whole country.

Green light for East Devon business park expansion plans

Last DMC under the dying regime narrowly approves expansion of business park opposite Darts Farm despite it not being part of the Local or Neighbourhood plans.

Daniel Clark www.devonlive.com 

Plans for the expansion of the business park opposite Darts Farm have narrowly been given the go ahead.

East Devon District Council’s development management committee on Monday granted full planning permission to create six new units at Darts Business Park to be used for offices, light industry and storage and distribution.

A previous and larger scheme for ten units – that would have created 40-50 jobs – was rejected back in April 2019.

Councillors on Monday heard that while the site was not allocated for further development in either the Local Plan or the Clyst St George Neighbourhood Plan, the development could create between 20-25 new jobs and the economic benefits to the local and wider community weighed heavily in favour of the scheme, particularly given the shortage of business units in the district.

Speaking in favour of the scheme, John Milverton said that this should be a simple decision for approval as it would deliver ‘a long list of benefits’. He added: “My client has a three year waiting list for tenants. There is a job shortfall and a shortage of business units, so the solution is pretty clear.”

Cllr Helen Parr threw her support behind the scheme and recommended it be approved. She said: “There is extremely strong comments from the economic development officer about this and we must have more small units for people to work. This is a very good application and I have no hesitation in supporting this.”

Cllr Tom Wright added: “This is already in an industrial area so it seems a logical place to provide units. We should encourage this and be thankful for those people bringing forward facilities in the area.”

The council’s economic officer, in their report to the meeting, had said: “I admit to being at a loss as to how, in the face of such compelling specific evidence of economic need, benefit and even loss through planning delay, it has not been possible to make a determination that these outweigh the loss of trees.”

The site does forms part of a woodland plantation, some of which will need to be removed to accommodate the development, but Mr Milverton said that 97 per cent of the trees would remain and they would be better managed if the scheme went ahead.

It also lies in the open countryside within an area designated as Green Wedge and Coastal Preservation Area in the Local Plan, and identified within the Clyst St. George Neighbourhood Plan as being outside of the business park area and identified as an area of woodland for protection.

Cllr Paul Arnott said: “While I am sympathetic to the need of the economic argument for units in the area, the fact is it is trumped by this not being part of the Local Plan or the Neighbourhood Plan. I am sympathetic to what they want to do but it may have to come back when we have revisited our Local Plan. With regret, I cannot support this.”

Recommending approval, planners had said the revised proposals addressed the concerns raised by the previous application and that the economic benefits arising from the proposed development with the creation of additional new jobs and employment opportunities, outweigh any limited harm arising.

Councillors voted by eight votes to six, with one abstention, to approve the scheme.