EDDC councillors slammed for voting like sheep

“A district watchdog has called for evidence-based decision-making after the conduct of some council members was called into question.

Councillors admitted being swayed by ‘powerful speakers’ when they agreed on last-minute changes to the draft East Devon Local Plan against the advice of officers and on the basis of claims that later proved unfounded.

Votes taken in the final stages of developing the document – which sets out a planning blueprint for the region – saw Dunkeswell and Chardstock added to a list of villages classed as ‘sustainable’ and thus suitable for further development.

Both decisions have now been overruled by the Planning Inspectorate, but members of East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) scrutiny committee have criticised the process that allowed the controversial votes to be taken without any evidence being checked.

Speaking before the committee on Thursday, March 17, Chardstock parish councillor David Everett said: “Chardstock is now – as far as the East Devon Local Plan is concerned
 – unsustainable.

“But the damage has been done because we now have five houses we should never have had.”

The meeting heard how Councillor Andrew Moulding had spoken out in support of a developer and proposed Chardstock be classed as ‘sustainable’.

An extraordinary meeting of the full council days later saw Dunkeswell added to the list with voters swayed by claims that a school was due to be built in the village – information that was later found to be erroneous.

Scrutiny chairman Councillor Roger Giles asked if members should have been debating and making major changes to the Local Plan at such a late stage without any evidence and against the recommendations of the chief executive.

Committee members argued that this should not have been allowed, but officers at the meeting said it is down to elected councillors to make decisions and, if there is not enough evidence, they should have declined to vote.

It was recommended that all councillors in future should beware of taking claims at face value and make decisions on the basis of factual evidence.”

http://www.sidmouthherald.co.uk/news/make_decisions_on_basis_of_factual_evidence_1_4483591

Chardstock and Dunkeswell: Scrutiny Committee report throws up worrying matters

How sensible it was of Councillor Gardner to make her own recording of this meeting, as it appears the Council’s own audio equipment broke down for this section of the meeting.

What follows is Councillor Gardner’s report.

Scrutiny of late amendments to the Local Plan: what did we learn?
Written by Cathy Gardner on 22-Mar-2016. Posted in Cathy Gardner EDA web site:

“On Thursday 17 March 2016, EDDCs Scrutiny Committee finally examined what went on in March last year when, at the 11th hour, two changes to the draft Local Plan (LP) were voted through. Using clear criteria, Officers had compiled a list of ‘sustainable’ villages, which excluded Dunkeswell and Chardstock. However, at the final Development Management Committee (DMC) meeting for the LP, Dunkeswell was added to the list and at the extra-ordinary Council meeting to finalise the LP, Chardstock was added in. These actions were taken without any request for Officers to verify the evidence supporting the changes.

The decision to include Dunkeswell was made on the suggestion by the then-ward member that a school was going to be built. This was not the case. Arguments made in support of Chardstock by the Deputy Leader Andrew Moulding, on behalf of the ward member, the Leader of the Council Paul Diviani, were also erroneous.

It seems that Planning Officers did not think it was necessary (or even appropriate) to check the information stated by the then ward member for Dunkeswell, despite there being time to do this before the Council meeting. Even more interesting was the assertion by the Councils’ Legal Advisor that it is not the role of any officer (including the CEO Mark Williams) to “…withhold decision-making powers from Councillors” (1). This may be true but surely Officers must give clear advice to Councillors, especially if a proposed decision might be unsound. In this case the CEO did not provide clear advice (2) to full Council that they were being asked to vote on amendments which were both against Planning Officer advice and based on information that had not been verified. He did not suggest that Members might prefer to ask for the information to be confirmed before voting or that making a decision under these circumstances was inadvisable.

The urge to get the draft LP signed off seems to have overridden any caution that making last minute changes might be unsound. Fortunately, in these cases, the Inspector did not uphold the changes and neither village is now in the ‘sustainable’ list. Unfortunately there have been consequences for Chardstock and development was approved on the understanding that the village was to be classified as ‘sustainable’.

So, apparently, Members can make unfounded and unconfirmed assertions and if other Members accept what they are told, they can vote through changes to a document as vital as the LP, contrary to the result of proper process and Officer advice without any difficulty. In the end the Council is accountable for its decisions and they should be evidence-based, but the only recourse for communities affected by an error is a Judicial Review (JR). If someone can afford to bring a JR and wins, the result will be a cost to the Council – which is our money. There are no sanctions for any Members who may present incorrect information to bring such a result about.

Can this happen again?

Yes, almost certainly. In the short term the Villages Development Plan is being finalised. In the medium term the LP will be up for review. So there will always be opportunities for incorrect information to be used to sway the content of development plans.

So what can we do?

I suppose the only thing we can do is to be alert to events like this and make efforts to call them out as they happen; to request that Officers confirm what is being suggested and to ask for any vote to be deferred until this has happened. We have to insist that all decisions are based on sound evidence.

The lesson for Members has to be to not take anything at face value, no matter who says it. Put the interests of residents first, follow evidence-based advice and do not be swayed by persuasive speakers. And perhaps wonder about the motives behind such actions.

Personal audio recording of Scrutiny Committee meeting, March 17 2016 (Council system broke down during this part of the meeting), C Gardner
2. Audio recording of extra-ordinary Council Meeting, March 26 2015, EDDC website (2:42:44) http://eastdevon.gov.uk/recordings/council/eocouncil260315recording

Source: Scrutiny of late amendments to the Local Plan: what did we learn?
Written by Cathy Gardner on 22-Mar-2016. Posted in Cathy Gardner

Beach huts, Dunkeswell and Chardstock: meeting of Scrutiny Committee on 17 March 6 pm

A most interesting agenda for the next Scrutiny Committee:

The beach hut omnishambles shambles on .. graphs, pie charts, illustrate how best to fleece beach hut renters …

A most interesting section on why Dunkeswell and Chardstock were added to the Local Plan at the last minute (and removed by the Inspector at the last second).  A tale of meetings between Diviani and Moulding (the latter unable to attend the meeting and having sent in a written report), of an eloquent developer coincidentally having the same views as Moulding and the unfortunate absence due to sickness of Diviani when the decision was made ….

What’s that smell?

How did Chardstock and Dunkeswell get introduced into the local plan at the last millisecond?

The timeline of how the decisions were taken make VERY, VERY interesting reading – in documents accompanying the Scrutiny Committee agenda for

18 February 2016, 6.00pm

here:

http://eastdevon.gov.uk/media/1531428/180215-scrutiny-agenda-combined.pdf

particularly page 13 onwards:

DUNKESWELL

“Councillor B Buxton asked for inclusion of Dunkeswell on the BUAB list, on grounds of size of settlements, 160 firms many on industrial site and felt that the village met most of the criteria. In response, the committee were informed there was no school- Cllr Buxton responded that a school was expected as consultation was underway with the County Council and a site had been designated.
Recommendation from DMC to add Dunkeswell to the list with build up area boundary.
What evidence supported that statement by Cllr Buxton?
Follow up by officers and Clerk of Dunkeswell confirmed that no plans by Devon County Council for a school. Clerk also checked if a ny plans for a free school, again no plans. When produced the sustainability assessment was undertaken (which determines which villages should retain BUABs) DCC confirmed no plans for a school.”
CHARDSTOCK
Council 26 March 2015
David Mortimer (public) spoke to as k to add Chardstock to list of sustainable villages on the Local Plan having build up boundary, in light of DMC recommendation to include Dunkeswell.   He stated that he agreed
with the DMC recommendation to add Dunkeswell;
transport as a measure of sustain ability is too simplistic. Why not add other villages with similar; in terms of Chardstock, stated that it had an undersubscribed new primary school with 66% of pupils coming from
outside the parish village school, and a number of other facilities and services available in the village.
Councillor Andrew Moulding proposed to add Chardstock; Including stating reasons of school of 150 pupils in place, community services and transport available at one end of location which could be reached by the community. The proposal was debated with councillors speaking both for and against inclusion; in response on request of the Chairman, the CX reminded the Council of the officer advice that the village did not meet the criteria but there were clearly opposing views an d the proposal should be voted on.
Carried on vote to include Chardstock in the BUAB list. DMC recommendations agreed, therefore also including Dunkeswell.
Email from Cllr Giles to Chief Executive
27 March 2015
I am writing to express my great unease about the way a decision was made about Chardstock at yesterday`s Extra Ordinary meeting of EDDC to make submissions to the Local Plan Inspector. I was unaware, and I suspect the vast majority of councillors were unaware, that a decision about the status of Chardstock was to be made at the meeting. Certainly there was no specific documentation supplied for the meeting to suggest this.
At the beginning of the meeting, under the public speaking arrangements, a Mr David Mortimer spoke in support of Chardstock being a sustainable community and seeking its designation to be changed. As I recall Mr Mortimer gave no details of himself, of where he lived, of whether he was a landowner in Chardstock, or whether he was acting for a landowner in Chardstock. Of course if he fitted into either of the last two categories that  ould not have stopped him speaking – but it would have been relevant to know.
There was no further mention of Chardstock until much later in the meeting when the Council Deputy Leader, Council lor Andrew Moulding (who is not the ward member) spoke in favour of Chardstock`s status being changed because it is a sustainable location. As I recall (but I apologise if I am wrong), Councillor Moulding said that Mr Mortimer was speaking on behalf of Chardstock Parish Council. There seemed to be considerable doubt about whether Mr Mortimer was actually speaking on behalf of Chardstock Parish Council. My recollection is that he did not say he was.
My particular concerns are that a decision was taken without any  information to justify it, in spite of the Inspector making very clear that he wanted an evidence-based Local Plan submission from EDDC.
Specific questions that I would like answered please are:
What is the Chardstock Parish Council view on the redesignation of Chardstock, as far as we are aware?
Did Chardstock Parish Council make a recent submission to EDDC relevant to the Extra Ordinary meeting of yesterday?
When and what was the nature of the most recent Chardstock PC submission to EDDC about its situation in the EDLP?
What evidence does EDDC have of consultation exercises undertaken within the Parish of Chardstock about the EDLP? If EDDC has such evidence, what does it show of the view of Chardstock residents?
What discussions specifically about Chardstock took place at or following the EDDC LDF/LP Panel hearings?
I look forward to early answers to the above questions.
Meanwhile I am greatly concerned that a fundamental change of policy was agreed at a meeting yesterday without any supporting documentation, purely on the basis of arguments made at the meeting by just two people–one a councillor and the other a member of the public, on a matter that (unlike the Sidford 5ha of employment land) had not previously been discussed, and on which the view of the Parish Council was uncertain.”
 
1 April 2015
Approved 15/0217/FUL in YARTY ward (Chardstock) for five dwellings against officer advice on unsustainable location.
17 June 2015
Representation from one Chardstock Parish Councillor that decision taken by Council was not evidence based.
25 June 2015
Representations from two Chardstock Parish Councillors that the decision taken by Council to include Chardstock was not evidence based.
4 July 2015
Application 15/1007
South View, Chardstock decision was refused:
“Whilst in other respects the application is considered to be acceptable and despite the site’s location within the village and the builtup area boundary, defined under the Adopted East Devon Local Plan, this is not considered to be a sustainable site to accommodate new development. Chardstock has only a limited range of services and access to a wider range of services and employment opportunities, necessary for day to day living, is only available via private transport due to the lack of public transport service to the village.   Despite the site being included with the draft New Local Plan Strategy 27 as a sustainable village, this policy can only be afforded limited weight as the Strategy has been out to public consultation and has not been endorsed by the Local Plan Inspector and as such the application falls to be considered on the basis of its sustainability.  As such, the limited social and economic benefits that would arise from the delivery of a single dwelling are considered to be outweighed by the environmental impact of the development resulting from its unsustainable location served by a limited range of services and lack of public transport.
The application is therefore recommended for refusal on this basis.
January 2016:
Inspector report on Local PlanParagraph 31–
“Chardstock and Dunkeswell have limited facilities and do not benefit from access to public transport. Their addition to Strategy 27 is not supported by the Council’s Small Towns and Villages Development
Suitability Assessment 2014 and I have removed them from Strategy 27”.
”.

What is ” countryside”? What is “sustainability”.

Is this the definitive list of “sustainable” villages in East Devon?

“Replace Strategy 27 with the following:

The following settlements vary in size and character but all offer a range of accessible services and facilities to meet many of the everyday needs of local residents and they have reasonable public transport. They will have a Built-up Area Boundary that will be designated in the East Devon Village DPD though they will not have land specifically allocated for development.

 Beer
 Broadclyst
 Clyst St Mary
 Colyton
 East Budleigh
 Feniton
 Kilmington
 Lympstone
 Musbury
 Newton Poppleford
 Sidbury
 Uplyme
 West Hill
 Whimple
 Woodbury”

http://eastdevon.gov.uk/media/1450922/appendix-1-main-modifications-2.pdf


page 48

Does this mean that highly controversial plans to extend Chardstock and Dunkeswell hits the buffers? This paragraph (page 13) suggests that places other than those listed above come under this policy:

“The countryside is defined as all those parts of the plan area that are outside the Built-up Area Boundaries and outside of site specific allocations shown on the Proposals Map. Development in the countryside will only be permitted where it is in accordance with a specific Local or Neighbourhood Plan policy that explicitly permits such development and where it would not harm the distinctive landscape, amenity and environmental qualities within which it is located, including:

1. Land form and patterns of settlement.
2. Important natural and manmade features which contribute to the local landscape character, including topography, traditional field boundaries, areas of importance for nature conservation and rural buildings.
3. The adverse disruption of a view from a public place which forms part of the distinctive character of the area or otherwise causes significant visual intrusions.”

Or is there a loophole elsewhere that the unscrupulous could exploit?

Chardstock: Chair of its Parish Council raises worrying questions

Mary de Souza Chairman, Chardstock Parish Council and Neighbourhood Plan Team writes:

“I am writing in response to the article in Axminster’s Pulman’s Weekly News, dated March 31st 2015.

The article headline ” Amended Local Plan on its way to inspector” refers to the amendments to the plan that East Devon Councillors agreed to at a special meeting on Thursday 26th March, which included granting a “built-up-area Boundary ” for Chardstock, in order to facilitate sustainable development.

For the benefit of your readers, I would like to put this statement in context and point out how the agreement to include this amendment would appear to have been reached. But firstly a bit of background information.

Chardstock has always had a Built up Area Boundary ( BUAB) and the previous draft Local Plan allocated a quota of ten houses, which have subsequently been built. Since then planning permission has been granted for a further four dwellings. However, in December 2014 and February 2015, three planning applications, two of which went before the Development Management Committee ( DMC) were refused permission on the grounds that Chardstock was not considered to be sustainable.

This is the Planning Officers report : “The proposed development by reason of its location on the edge of a village in the countryside which has limited services to support growth, fails to accord with the definition of sustainable development, specifically the environmental role, found within the National Planning Policy Framework. In this case, the Local Planning Authority considers that the adverse impacts of this development in terms of unsustainable location with the occupiers of the dwellings having limited access to essential services and infrastructure (including public transport and access to it) significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits of providing these dwellings to meet the shortfall of housing within the district (5 year land supply) when assessed against the policies within the Framework as a whole.”

During this period a DMC “Think-tank” along with planning officers were making a careful study of all the villages in East Devon, looking at their services and facilities as well as public transport and access to it.

Chardstock is fortunate that it has an excellent local shop and Post Office, as well as a church, pub and primary school, but access to other essential services only found in Chard or Axminster necessitate a journey by car and are not realistically accessible by public transport, as the nearest bus stop is best part of a mile down a single track lane, with no lighting or pavements from the centre of the village.

These facts therefore meant that under the latest draft of the Local Plan, Chardstock was one of the villages recommended to not have a BUAB. This recommendation was upheld by the DMC at their special meeting on Monday 23rd March.

But at the full Council meeting on 26th March, a member of the public, who isn’t actually a resident of East Devon, but happens to own a plot of land in Chardstock on which he has applied to build 5 houses, spoke and asked that Members also consider the inclusion of Chardstock in the list of sustainable villages.

Is it just coincidence, that what followed was a proposal from Cllr Andrew Moulding that Chardstock be added to the list of settlements to have a BUAB ? The minutes from this meeting also point out that,

• the village is not served by public transport,
• the views of the parish council had not been sought,
• it was more appropriate for the village to identify appropriate levels of development through a Neighbourhood Plan.

But the proposal was put to the vote and carried. This decision and the way in which it was reached also demonstrates the lack of support from the Council for the Parish Council, the local community agenda and an apparent lack of engagement with Chardstock’s emerging Neighbourhood Plan, failing to consult with the Parish Council or local community over a major policy change, rather being led by the wishes of a local developer.

The issue of sustainability is one that the Parish Council and Neighbourhood Plan Team have been looking at very closely, and is an issue that has generated a lot of interest from the residents of Chardstock, who have been consulted on this and other subjects as part of the production of our Neighbourhood Plan.

It’s not just about not having a realistic bus service in the parish – less than 12% of the population have any sort of relatively easy access to the service, and the majority are anything from 1 to 4 miles from the nearest bus stop, as well as the fact that this is also a bus service that as of 12th April will be reduced from an hourly service to a 90 minute service, making access to Chard and Axminster even more difficult. It is also about other aspects of our infrastructure, including poor roads, which with the cuts to services from Devon County Council will be receiving even less attention than they were before.

So what is it that has made the Council decide that all of a sudden we are sustainable. Are there measures that are being put in place that we are unaware of ? Or is this indeed an example of the influence that developers have over the Council ?

http://www.midweekherald.co.uk/council_s_decision_on_latest_draft_of_the_ed_local_plan_1_4024159

Two Successes but a thumping Failure for Chardstock at yesterday’s Scrutiny Committee

Two successes for EDA Independent councillors’ campaign for openness and democracy at last night’s EDDC Scrutiny Committee Meeting –and a thumping failure.

At the suggestion of EDA Independent councillor Ben Ingham, the committee unanimously recommended that the shadowy activities of the secretive Asset Management Forum should be dragged into the light. They agreed that Forum meetings from now should be minuted and open to press and public.

They also unanimously approved “best practice” recommendations from a recent Government training session for scrutiny committees.

In fact, EDA Independent councillor Marion Rixson was praised for having already pre-empted the recommendation that individual councillors should do detailed research into topics of concern. Her comparative study of different councils’ management of beach huts was crucial in influencing the EDDC’s recent decision to scrap its plan to auction the rental of its beach huts to the highest bidder.

Sadly the Committee was unable to shine a light on the scandalous Chardstock affair.

Two speakers expressed their frustration and disappointment that the Committee could not scrutinise the dubious way in which their small, isolated community had been declared suitable for large scale development in the Local Plan.

If any village in East Devon in “unsustainable” it’s Chardstock with its few facilities and poor access. The Parish Council thought so, EDDC’s planning officers thought so. But at an Extraordinary Council Meeting on March 25, called to finalise the Local Plan, Chardstock was designated “sustainable”!

Grave doubts have been expressed about the process that led to this astonishing decision. A member of the public, who many assumed was a Chardstock councillor, spoke strongly in favour of designation as sustainable. He was later identified as a developer, not resident in the village.

Deputy Leader Andrew Moulding spoke eloquently in his support – and a majority of the Council agreed to re-designate the unfortunate village.

To many observers, including Independent councillors, this appeared to be a shameful manipulation, and an earlier meeting of the Scrutiny Committee had agreed to investigate the process.

Last night it emerged that the Council’s Legal Officer had advised that the Scrutiny Committee should not discuss the matter until the Inspector had ruled on the Local Plan. By which time it would be impossible to change Chardstock’s designation!

The Legal Officer did not attend, and it was left to a deputy to try justify the decision.

In frustration, one of the Chardstock councillors accused the Committee of kicking the Chardstock scandal “into the long grass”. Chair Roger Giles denied it, and said it would be investigated whenever the Inspector had made his decision.

EDA Independent councillor Cathy Gardner said she was embarrassed to be a member of the Scrutiny Committee which had let down the public.

There’s obviously work to do before all the dark corners of EDDC are open to daylight!