Strategic Planning Committee -Councillor Skinner withdraws from “the chamber”

Yesterday’s Strategic Planning Committee which considered the responses to the working draft of the Local Plan 2020-2040, drawn up after a first round of consultation, lasted for over 6 hours.

This is just a snippet from the early part of the meeting that caught Owl’s attention.

Unlike under the Old Guard, the New Guard is trying to make the compilation of the Local Plan more transparent and open to public consultation, a difficult task given the contentious nature of Local Planning. 

In previous rounds the process had been cloaked in secrecy. The last plan was driven by the Old Guard’s choice of adopting a high growth jobs-led “policy-on” scenario. This time the New Guard has to respond to housing figures dictated from Whitehall.

The process starts with a call for sites from landowners to establish what land is potentially available. This appraisal of the amount of land available for housing and economic use is called a Housing and Economic Land Availability Assessment (HELAA), and the potential sites are referred to throughout the meeting as HELAA sites. These sites are given scores for suitability and not all will enter the final plan.

For the 2020-2040 Plan EDDC has used sites that were put forward for the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan (GESP) in 2017, which EDDC has now withdrawn from, and from a new appeal for sites earlier this year.

At the point of the meeting (36.31) when each committee member made the usual declaration of interest. Councillor Skinner declared that he had a piece of land in Talaton that was in the “process” and also a longstanding interest with F W Carter and Sons. 

Questions from councillors started after a presentation on the Draft Plan at around 57min. At this point Councillor Skinner asked for clarification on the status of sites “found”. He received an answer from Ed Freeman that all those sites identified as appropriate and acceptable for development from both the 2017 and 2021 HELAAs still left a shortfall of 900 houses.

At this point Councillor Paul Arnott intervened on a point of order asking  the Chair for confirmation that Councillor Skinner had declared a land interest. Through the Chair, Councillor Skinner replied that he had declared ownership of a site that was in the HELAA process. Councillor Arnott then raised the point that such an interest was a pecuniary one and not personal and therefore presented possible difficulties in subsequent debate. 

The Chairman pointed out  that declarations were up to individual Councillors and that the advice of Mrs Shaw (Legal Officer) could always be taken. Councillor Skinner immediately agreed to take the advice of  Mrs Shaw. 

Her advice was that a registered interest in land would amount to a disclosable pecuniary interest in this case. She read out various sections of the constitution, and pointed out that Councillors with pecuniary interests, and without any dispensation from either the Monitoring Officer or Standards Committee, should declare, withdraw from debate and leave the chamber. She also said that as this particular debate was wide ranging, Councillor Skinner would need to consider at what point it would be appropriate for him to “step away” from this debate. 

Councillor Skinner decided that he would step away immediately and take further advice from the Monitoring Officer on this matter.

Owl copies below the relevant section from the rules governing members conduct:

19.4 Disclosable Pecuniary Interest 

Unless a dispensation has been granted, a member shall not participate in any discussion of, or vote on, any matter in which they have a Disclosable Pecuniary Interest and having first declared to the meeting the existence and nature of that interest shall withdraw from the room where the meeting is being held at the commencement of the consideration of that business, or (if later) the time at which the interest becomes apparent. 

Where the Disclosable Pecuniary Interest is sensitive (as defined on the Member Code of Conduct of the respective Councils) the member need not disclose the nature of that interest but must still state there is a Disclosable Pecuniary Interest and otherwise follow the requirements of the previous paragraph.

6 thoughts on “Strategic Planning Committee -Councillor Skinner withdraws from “the chamber”

  1. If he had a “longstanding interest with FWS Carter and Sons” doesn’t that also impact on the propriety of him acting as Chair of the Exmouth Regeneration Board in the old secretive days? A title he grandly used when he and a bunch of councillors and officers were discovered showing favoured potential tenants around the recently “forfeited” Warren View in November 2016, three months before the tenancy was actually marketed. There were a few predictable sheep in that fold, one or two alder’men’ now.

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    • Noting Councillor Skinner’s wide-ranging declarations of interest made at this week’s Strategic Planning Committee – perhaps if there is formal examination into any previous failures to declare both pecuniary or personal interests on multiple occasions at previous Planning and Strategic Planning Committees over the years – then it is suggested that the EDDC Monitoring Officer may require the use of that famous 22 feet extending mahogany board room table to accommodate all the evidence and investigative paperwork?

      P.S. Did Councillor Skinner retain that famous table for his personal use for hospitality events or was he shamed into selling it and giving the proceeds to charity?

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  2. How do the 40 neighbourhood plans either adopted or in the process of consultation fit into this process?
    Has all this input from the local community been thrown out of the window?

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  3. Bearing in mind the legal advice and paragraphs quoted, as well as Cllr Skinner’s rather wide ranging and long term declaration, could owl perhaps ask Cllr Skinner if he has always complied with these rules at each relevant meeting? If he is unable to do so then perhaps the Monitoring Officer could oblige. Could someone please clarify how these rules accommodate Cllr Skinner having a role on behalf of the Ingham administration representing the district on the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan? Didn’t former Cllr Graham Brown also have a longstanding interest with FWS Carter and Sons?

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    • Skinner’s Registration of Interests should be available on the EDDC web site. If I remember correctly, councillors are required to declare all land owned within the District. Declarations of interest for each meeting – and whether a councillor withdrew from such a meeting because of this – should be documented in the minutes of that meeting.

      I suspect that you will find that Skinner has failed to do any of this – because it required an intervention from Cllr Arnott to force him to declare an interest and to withdraw, both of which Skinner was required to have undertaken himself in advance and not had to have the intervention of another cllr to object.

      Failing to declare pecuniary interests may not be just an offence against the EDDC Constitution – I have a feeling that it may actually also be a criminal offense, in which case it should also be reported to the police who are then REQUIRED to undertake a proper investigation (and not be influenced by friendships or funny handshakes) and if appropriate recommend prosecution by the CPS.

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