Old Owl continues..
Part 2 – The scandals …
So, here we are … Claire Wright, a new, young, very feisty INDEPENDENT district councillor, looking for answers (a novelty in itself) and prepared to do whatever it took to find them … and a restive community pining for change.
Scandal 1 – the “Local Development Framework Forum”
This was a closed group, meeting in secret, with no agendas or minutes published (which is why it was created as a “Forum” and not a full committee). Its job was to scope out future development sites to include in the forthcoming Local Plan, which every council was being forced to produce by central government to very narrow guidelines.
It was hard at first for her (and others) to penetrate this secrecy – but to cut a long story short – eventually through Freedom of Information requests and publicity, EDDC reluctantly had to publish the agendas and minutes.
And what a scandal that was! It seemed that this Forum spent most of its time discussing and visiting sites of close associates and businesses to assess their suitability for developments large and medium. This was NOT the idea of such a group. It was supposed to assess ALL sites brought forward by ALL interested parties against criteria that ought to have included such things as sustainability and landscape protection. Again, to cut a very long story short, this was found to be the wrong way to be going about things (duh) and the whole procedure, Forum and all, had to be scrapped and started again – this time as a formal committee – with the beady eyes of the public (and Claire Wright) watching … at least two years wasted (though it would undoubtedly not have been wasted had it been allowed to remain secret and led to a Local Plan that would have been very, very local).
Scandal 2 – the East Devon Business Forum
Some bright sparks in the ruling group then had a stunner of a brainwave. Given that councillors and officers were now having to be in the open, why not create another group of local councillors and landowners and get them to be the major force for the new Local Plan – genius!
The great and the “good” were therefore assembled and – yet again – met in secret under the redoubtable chairmanship of one Councillor Graham Brown, who had also played one of the leading roles in Scandal 1 above. But this time local and national developers had seats (by invitation only) at the table.
All the usual … er I was going to say suspects but let’s say local and national house builders and wannabe housebuilders … were members. And, to add insult to injury, the Forum was allowed to meet in an EDDC-owned building, bankrolled and given senior administrative support by … East Devon District Council – at this point under the iron hands of Karim Hassan and Mark Williams aided by their senior officer Nigel Harrison, who gave this Forum all the help it needed.
Once again, much fighting by locals meant that this “Forum” eventually had to publish its work, which, once again, concentrated on giving its members the best possible opportunities to be developers large and even larger …
Once people heard about this new group, there was outrage and a growing number of local people decided that something radical needed to be done. This led to the creation of a new local pressure group “East Devon Alliance”. This group had no interest in political affiliations – it simply wanted what was best for East Devon, not for developers’ pockets.
East Devon Alliance eventually had no choice but to register as a political party if it wanted to fight locally (and even nationally) in elections, which it duly did. It had some success at the local elections 2015, returning several councillors, but not enough to encroach on the established Conservative majority. Still it was making inroads.
Scandal 3 – I can get you planning but I don’t do it for peanuts
What can one say – a sting by the Daily Telegraph no less and it even made its front page! A couple of delightful young women were sent to talk to Councillor Graham Brown about how to get planning permission in East Devon, covertly recording their meeting. Bear in mind, he was Chair of East Devon Business Forum AND ran his own planning consultancy while being a Conservative councillor at this time.
Owl can report no better than this:
It must be noted that Councillor Brown was not suspended immediately and resigned rather than being expelled from the Conservative Party.
Tempers were now running high, and there was even a report published on planning scandals which devoted a whole chapter to East Devon! It was called “Scaring the Living Daylights out of People” by Anna Minton:
Partly on the back of this and partly because of a real desire for change in the district, the East Devon Alliance went from strength to strength and fielded more candidates at the next local election in 2019 and successfully got some of those candidates elected to the district council. It seemed like EDA was in the ascendance but then a major setback occurred. Its then Leader, Ben Ingham (formerly a Conservative Councillor, then an Independent councillor, then an East Devon Alliance councillor) turned once again to become an “Independent” Councillor claiming to be the leader of all independents in the council.
At the May 2019 elections the Conservatives lost their overall majority but “Independent” Ben Ingham turned his back on the East Devon Alliance, he once led, and took a miscellaneous group of independent councillors into a loose coalition with the Conservatives, following very similar policies to those of the defeated Tory administration…. All that hard work had now come to nothing!
Next … part 3 concluding – successes, the future and East Devon Watch’s place in that future …