Cleaning the Augean stable – Last night’s statements

From a correspondent:

The Leader of the Council, Paul Arnott, grasps the importance of the public’s perception of ethical standards expected from those working and elected in the public sector and, surely, all would agree that the 7 Nolan principles of selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership are an aim we should all try to aspire to in every walk of life.

Owl believes this is what was said under Agenda Item 6 last night:

Cllr Cathy Gardner, Chair EDDC 

“Some of you will know that I became involved in local politics because I was concerned about probity in planning. That was in 2013, at the time of the Graham Brown affair. I quickly got to know neighbours and others in East Devon who shared my concerns, and more. Now that I am Chair of EDDC it is a vital part of my role to safeguard the reputation of this Council and rid ourselves of that legacy. In order to do that I believe we must take positive steps to improve public perception of how we operate, especially when it comes to aspects of planning. We must ensure that our processes are totally robust and our behaviour is beyond reproach. I will hand over to the Leader, Cllr Paul Arnott who will explain….” 

Cllr Paul Arnott, Leader EDDC 

“This morning, the Chair called a meeting with the CEO and the Monitoring Officer, and invited the Chair of Planning, the Deputy Leader and me. 

We had a positive and wide-ranging discussion on how we can make sure that even as busy members and officers we adhere to the commitment to the Nolan Principles at all times. There is a difference between lip service and implementation, and all councils with duties in Planning must make sure that implementation is its watchword.  

This discussion had been triggered now for urgent action by a number of factors.  

From the recent past, it is clear that the failure of this council to go ahead with the Task and Finish Forum commissioned to look into the Brown issue -mentioned by the Chair – and into the role and influence of the former East Devon Business Forum, was a serious error of judgement. It gave the impression – whatever the case – that members and the public had no legitimate right to understand these unhappy matters. There had been a chance to clean the stable – instead the broom was snapped and the stable door locked. It was business as usual. 

However, the timing now has been mainly triggered by the need to look to the immediate future, and the time for action is here as the council, like the nation, enters some of the most challenging times for Planning in our history. We cannot fulfil our duty to the Nolan principles when the public is still unsure about the role of undue influence in our Planning Choices, our site identification. Or where their community’s S106 money has got to. 

Imminently, we re-engage with our Local Plan process. There were serious and unanswered questions about a number of sites which came in under the bar at the eleventh hour in the current plan in 2015, and members have repeated the concerns about the sporadic undeclared interests of some members in this council and their alliance with large-scale landowners in relation to the draft consultation for the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan. 

We cannot make a clean start on our new plan-making process without absolute clarity and commitment to the highest standards of member and officer probity. Soon, in addition, we will have to respond to the government’s consultation on Planning changes. This council will have an obligation to include in that the risks – nationally acknowledged – of local and national undue influence, corruption some might say, in that too. As we know, the Sec of State whose name is on the draft consultation helped in the cause of the international pornographer, Richmond Desmond, who hoped avoid millions of pound in CIL. He is but one of a legion of developer donors to the Tory party. That, I am afraid to say, Conservative members and friends, is your party. Well we are not having that here. 

Therefore, the Chair will host another meeting next Thursday on this topic with those gathered today, and arising from that I will write as Leader to the Chair and the CEO advising that we will have an agenda item to discuss how we structure our immediate work on this topic at the next available Cabinet.”