Reflections on Democracy

From a correspondent –

There is a certain amount of empathy for those East Devon political representatives who lost their opportunities to win a Devon County seat at the recent elections, given the numbers of votes cast for non-Tory candidates and whose success was, no doubt, scuppered by the eccentricities of local ward boundaries and the triumph of the nationwide Tory- led vaccination programme.

The sense of betrayal and disappointment experienced by various local Independent politicians is palpable from reading recent comments in the media:-

 . . . .“democracy is not quite what we all think” observed East Devon Leader – Paul Arnott


. . .  “I lost by 145 votes . . . .  despite the fact that the original Lib Dem candidate for Seaton contacted me to offer a deal where she would stand down in return for a joint public statement” – remarked Martin Shaw, after failing to secure the County seat of Seaton and Colyton. He continued by highlighting “exactly the same thing happened to the Independent EDA candidate Paul Hayward in Axminster” when he also lost that County seat by a fine margin of votes.

A similar betrayal and disappointment was also experienced in December 2020 by around 200 members of the electorate who asked for representation from their elected members on the East Devon Planning Committee to control inappropriate development within a major Planning Application (20/1001/MOUT) at Winslade Park, Clyst St Mary.

After recommendations, from the Development Manager, to build, build, build and to ignore planning policies in the Local and Neighbourhood Plans that directed development away from green fields and flood zones, incorporated quality designs and avoided traffic congestion/pollution in a village community – the politicians decided to seize the offer from  developers for a  ‘pot of gold’  which resulted in them supporting and giving substantial weight to the economic benefits which (they considered) outweighed the 200 pleas for a balanced, innovative development that would not obliterate the environmental, natural amenities within a small, rural village.

The pandemic has accentuated the importance of the benefits of green spaces and open landscapes that are in short supply in many, large, urban communities- but this must not result in a handful of small East Devon villages being sacrificed to achieve extravagant housing targets! Surely, all East Devon local communities should share proportionate growth to avoid excessive growth saturation of a few? To step beyond the point that is necessary or desirable is folly and results is the ruination of valued natural assets that cannot be replaced!

Pinhoe, Broadclyst and surrounding communities have been bombarded with excessive development that has impacted on their local amenity and character and many believe they are an example of how not to develop East Devon, when those communities were assured that the provision of the new town of Cranbrook would protect the surrounding smaller villages from over-development!

Consequently, it is no surprise that Henry Gent was successful for the Green Party in the Broadclyst County seat (even though his ‘green’ policies of passivhaus development and organic farming are questionably ‘at odds’ with having optioned a large area of his land to major developers) but hopefully such views on building on green fields do not transfer to other small, historic, rural East Devon communities morphing them into large towns!

Clyst St Mary would be negligent if they failed to warn their neighbours in Colyton that submitting proposals in Neighbourhood Plans to East Devon District Council will not always guarantee that residents’ comments and views for the future of their community will be heard, listened to or, indeed, implemented at all by either the planners or politicians of the day!

There is certainly an area of risk involved where major development is concerned,  leaving many to place their bets on the planning roulette table with a choice between ‘Green’ and ‘Greed’ and usually there is only one winner!

From 1549 and 1685 both Clyst St Mary (Prayer Book Rebellion) and Colyton respectively have a history of being rebellious and it is agreed that, all these centuries later, both communities will continue to rebel against any future unwanted development. Both communities value their historic links believing that the individual attributes that contribute to making our communities different and special must be protected and enhanced and any change must be sensitively planned and we trust that our elected representatives will follow those principles.

The good news is that any disappointment experienced recently by local politicians is relatively short-lived, being cushioned by the fact that in four years, there will be another opportunity to be elected.

However, the bad news is that if major planning decisions for the development of local communities are flawed –  the detrimental effects last several lifetimes at best and at worst they will last in perpetuity!