Major ‘Greater Exeter’ plan now in doubt after bombshell

A major blueprint for development across the Greater Exeter region has been thrown into doubt after East Devon councillors recommending pulling out of the process.

Daniel Clark

The Greater Exeter Strategic Plan will provide the overall strategy and level of housing and employment land required across Exeter, East Devon, Mid Devon and Teignbridge in the period to 2040.

But while Exeter and Teignbridge councils had recommended going out to consultation on the draft policies and site options document, East Devon District Council’s Strategic Planning Committee – after more than four hours of debate on Thursday night -proposed instead pulling out of GESP.

As the initial decision to take part in GESP was a full council decision, the recommendation stands referred to full council to make the final decision.

Putting forward her call to pull out of GESP, Cllr Eleanor Rylance said that the plan was not fit to be consulted on now or at any point.

Eleanor Rylance

Eleanor Rylance

She said: “They say a camel is a horse designed by committee and this is what this is. We are being asked to send a camel out to consultation, and instead of putting forward this monstrosity of a dead camel, we should withdraw from GESP. This plan is not a fit plan and there is nothing about we should pass to consultation at this point or any point.

“This has self-contradictory polices clearly written by different people and it is unreasonable to put this before anyone. We are living in a different world from when this was drawn up and our world has changed and I am bemused that we are sticking doggedly to a timetable drawn up last year.

“This defies common sense, this does nothing for East Devon, and we should not be a member of GESP going forward. This document is all about volume house building, is dangerously flawed and contradictory.”

Cllr Paul Arnott, leader of the council, seconded her recommendation, and said that the promises in the plan were an illusion, the analysis of economic growth a dangerous fiction and doubling what was realistic, and that if the council voted for this, it would legitimise all that was come before.

He added that it was a ‘complete myth’ that East Devon would get the infrastructure it required from this, like the Whimple passing loop, and that East Devon should head in a different direction and ‘take back control’.

Cllr Paul Hayward added: “This is putting the cart before the horse. Anyone who has played Sim City knows that by plonking houses onto your field and hoping people will come and live in them is preposterous.

Cllr Paul Hayward

Cllr Paul Hayward

“The document is deeply flawed and doesn’t cover what is good for the people of East Devon. Some of the reports are ten years old, and the most up to date report is three years out of date, and the way people live, work and shop has completely changed.

“We must not follow blindly because we have spent money and time on this and it sums up the Field Marshall Hague approach that we have lost millions of men so need to throw more over the top. It is ludicrous and bound to fail and based on a vision that has profoundly changed. My feeling is we cannot park it and I cannot support moving with a consultation that will scare the bejesus out of people.”

Cllr Jack Rowland added that so many assumptions in the plan that don’t stand up with what will be happening with the world and said: “It is time to hit the pause button on this,” while Cllr John Loudoun added: “It is foolhardy to ask residents to look at something that isn’t a final document, and it is way off. This will cause concerns and confusion, so why waste money, time and energy on proposals that you don’t agree with?”

The Greater Exeter Strategic Plan area

The Greater Exeter Strategic Plan area

But Cllr Mike Howe, while saying that he wanted to ‘tear the document to shreds’, said that the council should not withdraw from GESP but instead reshape it.

He said: “This document is a diatribe of mis-information, poor information, and no options. I want GESP to be positive as we have to part of GESP, but the document needs some aspirations. The transport structure is unbelievable stupid and I am getting fed up of it I have told you this many times.

“I want GESP to be successful but this is not a consultation and we cannot send a document to consultation that does not have choices in it. We haven’t got a choice on housing numbers and do have to deliver them and have to work with our neighbours, but the policies need to be adjusted and looked at properly to address the concerns that we have.

“This in its current state does not do any good for anyone, give hope to anyone, and this does not do a thing other that deliver housing in an unsustainable way that wrecks the environment. We need to go through policies and make the right recommendation, but pulling away from GESP will be a disaster.”

Cllr Ben Ingham though said that pushing the pause button would be a disaster and leave the council in a dangerous position if they take the wrong decision, while Cllr Kevin Blakey added: “Despite my misgivings and that there is nowhere near information and forward thinking in the transport policy, we should go to consultation and deal with the results when they come in.”

Cllr Ian Thomas added that while there were fundamental flaws with the document, there would be a significant implication if East Devon didn’t go forward with it and he would be concerned if the council withdrew. He added: “It is in the interest of East Devon to ensure the correct GESP is delivered in a timely manner.”

Cllr Ian Thomas

Cllr Ian Thomas

After four hours of debate, councillors rejected Cllr Howe’s proposals to adjourn the meeting and then reconvene to go through the wording of the policies one-by-one by nine votes to four, before voting by eight votes to four, with one abstention, to Cllr Rylance’s proposal to withdraw from GESP.

Despite her protestations, the council’s chief executive Mark Williams said that it had to be a recommendation to full council, rather than a decision from the committee, as it was a full council decision to join GESP in the first place. The next full council meeting scheduled to take place is in October.

Greater Exeter Strategic Plan 2020-40 document

Greater Exeter Strategic Plan 2020-40 document

The GESP document did outline policies for how development should take place, as well as 39 sites where major housing or employment land could be allocated, although not all of the sites would have been taken forward to the final version of the GESP.

An eight week consultation on the document was due to take place this Autumn, but following the decision of East Devon, that will not be taking place now, with Exeter, Teignbridge and Mid Devon councils now facing discussions over how and if they proceed with the GESP.

“Old Owl” on the contrasting styles and substance of the Strategic Planning Committee speeches

I have now watched the You Tube video of last night’s Strategic Planning Committee, where the committee recommended to Council that East Devon should withdraw from the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan:

There were some stunning speeches.  I particularly commend the speech by young Axminster district councillor Sarah Jackson, whose speech was a masterclass in how to represent the people who vote for you.  Paul Hayward also spoke clearly and sensibly.  Indeed all the new administration speakers acquited themselves well.

Owl has already spoken below on the substance of the meeting, my comments below are perhaps more on style and the way forward.

First : Does being a Tory councillor demand that you speak your stream of thoughts rather than making cogent points?  Mike Howe had some very sensible points which were lost in a morrass of “words” none of which added anything of substance.

Councillor Moulding really should have had the basic wording of his (failed) amendment ready rather than trying to put it together on the waffling hoof.  He’s been a councillor for decades – not a good look.

Both councillors appear to think that the more words they say the more substance there is, when it is the opposite.  And it was interesting to see that the only attempts at political point scoring (which failed miserably) were from the old regime, eager to provide distraction from their previous actions.  Though councillors Skinner and Parr stayed true to their “build, build, build” mantra, as one would expect.  Anywhere and everywhere, if Councillor Hughes’s catchy song is to be believed.

It is now to be hoped that other district councils (and Exeter City Council) accept that, in a post-Covid, enviromnmental crisis world, the GESP is a political dinosaur – not fit for purpose and to be consigned to a museum.  One is showing no such signs (Teignbridge) where a robust independent councillor is being pilloried at this very moment for speaking truth to power.

Yes, it is hard going back to the drawing board and accepting the fact that life is now so different that even recent plans make no sense – but fact it is.

Oh, and I was ASTOUNDED that, while concentrating so hard on GESP, the former council took its eye off its Local Plan and has done nothing to work on its updating before it runs out in 2023, when we will be at a “developer free-for-all” point again if no new plan is in place.  Unforgiveable.  Or maybe unsurprising.

We now have an opportunity – the first one presented to East Devon – to work towards a “new normal” in planning, radically different to the “old normal” and we are lucky to have a council prepared to take this step forward.

Owl’s view on EDDC Strategic Planning Committee recommendation to withdraw from GESP

How to give a flavour of last night’s momentous four hour virtual Strategic Planning Committee deftly chaired by Cllr Dan Ledger?

The meeting fell very obviously into three parts each with a different perspective.

First came a significant number of contributions from the public. Almost all represented communities directly affected by the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan (GESP) and made passionate speeches opposing it. No member of the public supported it.

This was followed by a short presentation on GESP from Ed Freeman, Service Lead Planning Strategy and Development. In Owl’s view this dwelt rather heavily on procedure which came under heavy and sustained attack from councillors during the ensuing debate.

The Chairman then allowed all Councillors present who wished to speak to do so. This took something like one and half hours.

With a few exceptions all these contributions were well argued criticisms of the GESP papers and the GESP process to date. Councillors found inconsistencies, contradictions and weaknesses in many of the draft policies and proposals outlined in 1,000 pages of documentation. Many referred to the secrecy with which the process had been conducted to date and felt that this was not a proposal they felt comfortable putting out to public consultation. The documents contain no options and have the appearance of a “fait accompli”. 

One notable exception was “build, build, build” Cllr Helen Parr who argued strongly that public consultation was the way forward and that EDDC should increase its staffing support for GESP.

Finally, the Committee meeting commenced at 1hr 43mins (for those interested in looking at the youtube action replay- see below).

In Owl’s view the core of the committee meeting was taken up by (long winded) Conservative members, many of whom had had influential roles to play during the gestation of GESP, trying to come to terms/bluff their way out of the predicament they now find themselves in, particularly with their constituents (all the usual suspects). Amazing how a process shrouded in secrecy can be justified and portrayed as open and transparent.

About the forth speaker was Cllr Mike Howe (previous chair of the development management committee). He proposed a compromise way forward which was to press the pause button, discuss what was wrong with the GESP, flag these up and discuss them with other GESP partners, then go out to consultation (Owl’s interpretation of a complex proposal covering nine agenda items). After a lot of talking he proposed a formal motion, seconded by Cllr Mike Allen.

Cllr Eleanor Rylance then indicated that there would be an alternative motion tabled to recommend withdrawing from the GESP (the one eventually agreed), but the rules require that the motions must be discussed in the order in which they are tabled.

Conservative Cllr Andrew Moulding then proposed an amendment that the meeting be adjourned (to enable councillors time to spell out their concerns). This was seconded by Cllr Philip Skinner. 

This motion and amendment were described by Council Leader Paul Arnott later as “fudges”

As already reported  the adjournment amendment was defeated by 9 to votes to 4 and Cllr Howe’s “kick the can down the road” motion was defeated by 10 votes to 4.

The Committee then voted by 8 to 4 (1 abstention) to recommend to full council that EDDC notifies its neighbouring councils that it is withdrawing from the GESP whilst retaining full co-operation. The recommendation is also made that EDDC immediately commences to progress its own Local Plan. This then trumped the reaming items on the agenda.

The successful motion was proposed by Cllr. Eleanor Rylance and seconded by Cllr Paul Arnott.

Owl’s strong recommendation is to watch Cllr Paul Arnott’s summing up speech which start at 3Hrs 46mins into the youtube action replay.

Resignations from Seaton Town Council

From “Seaton & Colyton Matters” County Councillor Martin Shaw’s blog 

Resignations from Seaton Town Council

Posted on 

Councillor Jack Rowland and I have decided, separately, to resign from Seaton Town Council. Jack resigned yesterday to devote his attention to the Finance portfolio at East Devon, and resigned at this point to enable his vacancy to be filled at the same time as others which will be filled by the Town Council in August.

I had been considering resigning for some time because my work as County Councillor leaves me unable to play a full role in the Town Council. I have brought forward my resignation today in order that the vacancy may also be filled.

I will still attend Town Council meetings to report and answer questions on County matters.


Reaction to last night’s historic EDDC vote from “Newton says No”

From Newton Says No Facebook page [Newton Abbot in Teignbridge]

STOP PRESS…. East Devon have just voted to exit the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan. The GESP, a planning document dreamt up by the planning vandals of Teignbridge District Council, tying four authorities to build unsustainable housing based on the doubling of the size of the economy, is now hopefully dead in the water. The motion was put forward by a Eleanor Rylance (pictured), a Lib Dem who (unlike the Teignbridge Lib Dems) has the backbone to call out the GESP plan for being a post covid plan no longer valid. A point put forward to TDC last week by NSN Councillors Daws and Mullone, but ignored. Her motion was backed by the East Devon Alliance who thankfully now control East Devon as part of a Democratic Alliance. The EDA is a party that stood on the same ‘represent the residents’ platform as NSN, and is one election cycle ahead. It is also a party that was subject to sustained and unsubstantiated standards investigations when it was rising to power. Shame on the Teignbridge Lib Dems for running with the Conservatives GESP plan and bravo to East Devon for showing moral leadership. GESP is hopefully finished and we can now focus on a plan for the future. But don’t hold your breath. I am sure the Managing Directors, who treat our councils as fiefdoms in a ‘Dom Cumming’ fashion, will be frantically applying CPR tomorrow.