Feniton residents take to the streets in protest against housing growth of over 40 percent

A march – organised by local pressure group ‘Fight for Feniton’s Future’ and the East Devon Alliance – will take place in the small village of Feniton, East Devon, at 11.00 on 11 January 2014 to protest against the impact of the National Policy Planning Framework (NPPF) on the country’s rural villages. Local MP Neil Parish will be present.

Because of the NPPF, with its presumption in favour of development and no upper limit placed on what constitutes reasonable growth for a community, Feniton is currently battling a major planning appeal inquiry against developers’ plans for a further 235 houses in the village, which, together with the 50 houses won at appeal last year, would increase the size of the village by over 40 per cent.

East Devon District Council’s draft Local Plan states that growth of just 5% is right for Feniton. Growth of this level is all the more inappropriate given that the village suffers frequently from flooding  (a £1.6M flood defence programme is due to be implemented in the coming years. Flooding over the new year has been covered by national media), while the new town of Cranbrook (which will host up to 7,500 houses) lies only a few miles away.

Whether or not Feniton, with its narrow country lanes and poor local infrastructure, will be forced to accept this level of unsustainable and explosive growth, will be determined by the Planning Inspectorate following a public inquiry which starts on 7 January 2014. What is clear is that if growth of over 40% is approved for Feniton, then no village across the country can consider itself safe. Hence the slogan adopted by Fight for Feniton’s Future and East Devon Alliance: “When is Enough, Enough?”

A previous march in the village earlier this year attracted hundreds of people and was covered by regional television.

For further information contact:

EDA Area Report – Sid Valley – October/November 2013

23 Oct Full Council meeting:

  • R Thurlow asked for a public apology from Chairman re charges made in Diviani email – told he’d receive a written reply
  • M Temple asked why EDDC was destroying heritage blg, community asset with gardens being spoilt – received no reply
  • B Sangster asked about effect of £4.8 million loan for relocation – no reply. Later some Cllrs claimed they knew nothing about the possible loan which is in Cohen’s July report to cabinet.
  • Cllr Twiss makes clear that jobs lost from Knowle will be found in Sid valley

30 Oct Full Council meeting:

EDA and SOS members staged a protest outside Knowle at a secret meeting to brief Cllrs about relocation, public not admitted because of “commercially sensitive” info.

EDA Area Report – Seaton – October/November 2013

TESCO AFFORDABLES?

Sandra and Paul attended and spoke at the DMC meeting which rubber stamped Tesco’s demand that the amount of affordable housing to be provided on the massive site next to the new superstore would not be 25% (down on the 40% normal at the time of first permission) but a mighty 0%.

The DMC covered their shame with a resolution to demand overage from Tesco, and their councillors spread word of this Pyrrhic victory far and wide. Yet the Decision Notice issued by Ed Freeman to Tesco makes no mention of overage at all. At the time of writing a number of people, including town and parish councillors, have written to him to ask him to clarify. He has not replied.

Meanwhile, some spinning is going on in the local press trying to claim that the less expensive market housing in the plan for the site announced by Tesco/Bovis a fortnight ago will be “affordable”.

FYI – the published proposal which could not afford even 1% Affordable Homes is for 222 new homes (54 x 4 beds, 111 x 3 beds, 18 x 2 flats, 35 x 2 bed houses.) And a Hotel!

GREEN WEDGE

The Harepath Road Green Wedge scheme refusal by EDDC (following a mass attendance by campaigners at the DMC) is being appealed, and an inspector will be holding a hearing in the coming month.

But the developers have muddied the waters by submitting a slightly amended application on the same site which comes before the DMC next Tuesday. And again the Planning Officer has recommended Approval!

Campaigners will be there in force again – still reeling from the fact that last time the only councillor to abstain rather than vote against was their own Helen Parr.

EDA Area Report – Feniton – October/November 2013

A meeting at Feniton School was held on the 4th November, jointly hosted by Feniton Parish Council and Fight for Feniton’s Future. The meeting was arranged to discuss the Super Inquiry into three developments that will swamp the village with up to 235 houses. Residents of Feniton packed the school hall: with over 180 people present, it was standing room only!

Parish Council Chair Martyn Smith explained the appeal process to residents, and said that it would be extremely hard to fight such an inquiry without legal representation. Feniton Parish Council (FPC) has applied and been successful in obtaining Rule 6 (6) status. This allows FPC to take an active part in the inquiry, i.e. being able to cross-examine the developers. Many residents were clearly angry about the way in which the village is being targeted, and rallied round and pledged more than £2000 towards the fighting fund for legal fees.

Please see full report from Cllr’s Claire Wright and Susie Bond’s Blogs

Feniton’s plight has attracted the attention of the media. BBC TV’s Inside Out filmed the meeting for a programme to be broadcast very early in the New Year. Earlier that day BBC TV’s Spotlight also visited Feniton to film and interview a number of villagers angry at the threat facing their community.

The Super Inquiry will be held at the Bowling Club in Feniton on January 7th 2014. It is expected to last 2 weeks. Martyn Smith and Fight for Feniton’s Future urge people to attend the Inquiry.

People can download a poster from the FFF website and display in gardens and windows. It would be great to have a display of posters throughout the village for all see. On January 11th 2014 the East Devon Alliance and Fight for Feniton’s Future intend to arrange a march through Feniton so please keep this date free!

Telegraph undercover planning investigation: A summary

A guide to the Telegraph’s undercover investigation into planning reforms, which exposed how councillors across England were offering to help people take advantage of relaxed planning laws.

The Telegraph exposed how councillors across England were offering themselves for hire to property developers who were hoping to take advantage of a relaxation in planning laws. An undercover investigation published in March 2013 showed how councillors traded on inside knowledge of the planning system to receive fees of up to £20,000 for advice on how to get developments approved.

“If I can’t get planning, nobody will,” boasted one councillor to undercover reporters, adding that he didn’t “come cheap”. He later resigned after his council reported him to the police.

Another councillor gave tips on how developers could “prepare the ground” before a planning application to a council, including cutting down trees so neighbours or interested parties did not get a chance to apply for protection orders.

One councillor who also sat on the council’s planning committee described himself as “Mr Esher”. He told undercover reporters that he was the man to go to for securing planning approvals.

Another councillor for hire confided that even if certain councillors would not talk to them about a planning application, there were certain “tricks of the trade” which offered “a good way of, of getting round this”.

The same investigation also found that planning officers were offering to draw up applications for developers who could then take advantage of “vulnerable” councils in the wake of the relaxation of building laws

After the publication of these revelations, the investigations team obtained a recording of a meeting between Nick Boles and some of the country’s biggest property developers in which the Planning minister privately promised to relax laws to allow them to begin a house-building boom.

The investigation prompted an appeal to Telegraph readers by Eric Pickles, who mounted a defence of the government’s proposed planning reforms.

The increasing controversy over the Coalition’s planning reforms eventually prompted Labour to pledge to scrap them altogether.

Hilary Benn, the Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, wrote an article for the Telegraph condemning the reforms and promising to overturn them.

Council anti-corruption report slated by campaigners

A report into the ‘governance’ of East Devon councillors following the resignation of former councillor Graham Brown has been criticised by a campaign group as ‘a waste of council-tax-payers’ money.’

The report, by South West Audit Partnership (SWAP) into Governance Arrangements-Councillors was published last week, but only after pressure from independent councillors Claire Wright and Roger Giles. It examines the adequacy of council controls and procedures to ensure that councillors act appropriately and ethically. There is, it says, a ‘low risk’ that ‘councillors might use their positions unfairly for personal gain’ or that ‘the Council might be criticised for poor decision-making’.

Ian McKintosh, Chair of the East Devon Alliance, a campaigning umbrella organisation uniting community groups throughout the District, commented:

“This is a naively complacent report at a time when the reputation of East Devon District Council is severely damaged by the Graham Brown affair and widespread distrust with the planning system. It will do nothing to reassure the public or the vast majority of hardworking, dedicated councillors.

The SWAP Report appears to be largely a box-ticking exercise based on conversations with council officers. No evidence is presented to justify sweeping conclusions such as ‘All council members, management and staff were found to be diligent…’

The auditor fails to question the Council’s decision not to implement immediately the robust national guidelines on Probity in Planning produced by the Local Government Association. These provide an obvious template for effective council governance.

Instead the Report proposes superficial ‘safeguards’ against some serious risks. For example, it claims that invitations to councillors to attend voluntary ‘personal development reviews’ will seriously deter them from acting ‘ unfairly for personal gain’, despite some councillors not accepting the invitations. It also suggests that somehow, merely listing the attendees at meetings will avoid criticism of poor council decision-making.

Most crucially, it fails to address burning questions raised by the Brown affair, and revelations concerning the activities of East Devon Business Forum. These include not only issues surrounding the Council’s relations with developers, and councillors’ conflicts of interest, but also concerns over the way council leaders have responded to criticism.

This unconvincing Report will confirm suspicions that it is impossible for an audit partnership- that includes EDDC as a partner and has a council representative on its Board – to conduct a truly independent investigation”.

The SWAP report will be discussed at next Thursday’s meeting (14th November) of EDDC’s Audit and Governance Committee at 2pm at Knowle. The public can ask questions, and a lively debate is expected.