Owl reflects on Thursday’s EDDC full council vote on GESP

Virtual meeting of the Council, Council – Thursday, 20th August, 2020 6.00 pm

This will be the first full council meeting since the New Regime took control. It will also be a key one. Under Agenda Item 9 is a list of Recommendations being put to the Council, including:

  • To notify our district partners that we are withdrawing from the GESP;
  • In that letter we offer assurance that we will fulfil our duty to co-operate in an ongoing and positive partnership; 
  • That this Council immediately begins the process to renew our local plan and that the Strategic Planning Committee meets as soon as possible to explore and define the processes involved.

The new spirit of cooperation and openness, introduced twelve weeks ago when Cllr Paul Arnott became Leader of the new Majority Group of Democratic Alliance and Independent Progressive councillors, has gone down well with residents. [Owl has many ears to the ground].

What residents sought when they removed the Conservative majority just over a year ago, amongst other things, were: a change in tone where people were listened to; elimination of “cronyism”; and a new direction. 

The first is becoming evident in debates. The last two of these were clearly on display when the Strategic Planning Committee boldly proposed the recommendation to pull out from the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan (GESP). (Mid Devon have become minded to do the same since).

Now we must hope that the full council will back that recommendation, bearing in mind that the Strategic Planning Committee is politically balanced and does reflect the full council (passed by 8 votes to 4).

Since the Strategic Planning Committee met, some of the government plans for the planning system have become clearer. Assuming there is no, to be hoped for, “Mother-of-all, screeching U-Turns” and these changes go ahead, the Government will have effectively ripped up any current “duty to co-operate” and have left local authorities precious little time to “zone” ALL their land or presumably see zoning imposed on them. (And Owl believes it would be very convenient for a central authority to focus on sites in a GESP that were still on the table).

It is impossible to do the two things together at the same time. EDDC simply cannot afford to waste any more effort on GESP. The past effort expended on GESP has been at the expense of reviewing the Local Plan which must form the basis of such a review. 

Owl understands that there are only a handful of areas pursuing the GESP “Strategic Planning” methodology most of which are more urbanised. If this methodology was such a suitable vehicle for rural planning it would be ubiquitous. So the Tory argument that this is the only way, for example, to get infrastructure projects cannot be true. Indeed, major road and rail projects in the South Western peninsula are not going to be taken because of GESP. 

Owl has already dealt with the “growth regardless” argument for carrying on. GESP is based on an unachievable high growth scenario and the numbers are but a “minimum” starting point.

Those Conservatives arguing that this is the best way and right time to consult communities are being disingenuous.

The form of “consultation” proposed is NOT a decision about which sites would be chosen, taking into account residents’ views, only a long “laundry list” of potential sites – any or all of which could be chosen whether resident consultees agreed or not. So “consultation” in this case is only the usual “tick box” exercise that is essentially meaningless.

Just to remind everyone, when Conservative Controlled EDDC councillors rejected the GESP in the autumn of 2018 they described it as just a “PR exercise” and “not fit for purpose”. Has anything really changed?

Add in Covid-19 and it should be clear to everyone that GESP is well and truly dead, having been overtaken by events.

Owl hopes that EDDC will hold a recorded vote so that each community can see which way their councillor or councillors voted.