A cautionary tale for EDDC and Greendale

“Bath & North East Somerset Council has taken direct action under s.178 of the Town and Country Planning Act to demolish a large building that was built nearly ten years ago without planning permission in the Green Belt.
Cllr Bob Goodman, cabinet member for Development and Neighbourhoods at the council, said the local authority, so far as he was aware, had never taken enforcement action this far.

The two-storey building at Folly Lane, Stowey, was built in 2008 without planning permission sparking numerous complaints, the council said.

Following an investigation by Bathnes, in 2008 the land owner and the company responsible (AJP Growers) were served an enforcement notice requiring the demolition of the building and the restoration of the land.
The notice was appealed but the appeal was dismissed in 2009 giving the landowner until 2010 to comply with the enforcement notice.

However the owner repeatedly failed to comply with the notice despite what the council said was numerous attempts to regularise the development. The local authority launched prosecution proceedings over non-compliance with the notice.

A successful prosecution in July 2016 saw the owner of the land and AJP Growers convicted of an offence under S.179 of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1990.

Councillors then agreed direct action to have the building demolished in order to ensure compliance with the notice. Works were due to commence in 2017 however bats were found in the building, so the council had to have an ecologist survey the site and obtain a licence from Natural England to allow its lawful demolition.

Demolition works pursuant to S.178 and in line with council’s resolution were due to start on site on Monday (19 February). All costs associated with the demolition will be recoverable against the land, the council said.

Cllr Goodman said: “I am disappointed that the owners have let it get to this point. However we have pursued this case and at long last this illegal building, which is a real eyesore, will be demolished and the land put back as it should have been done almost ten years ago.

“Nationally there are only a handful of these interventions each year mainly because people comply with Enforcement Notices before it gets to this stage, however the public must have confidence in Bath & North East Somerset Council as a planning authority that we have the teeth to follow through with the most extreme form of enforcement available to us when necessary.”

http://localgovernmentlawyer.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=34265%3Acouncil-takes-direct-action-under-tcpa-to-demolish-large-building-in-green-built&catid=63&Itemid=31

EDDC to help unauthorised Greendale businesses to relocate

Owl says: Here is EDDC’s version of the Greendale High Court decision.

With hindsight, EDDC might have been better served by not allowing the unauthorised businesses on to the site in the first place. And if the owners allowed businesses on an unauthorised site, maybe the owners and the businesses should be paying for specialists when those businesses have to move this time, not availing themselves of a free service from EDDC – especially as the rest of us are paying more and more for OUR EDDC services.

EDDC PRESS RELEASE

21 February 2018
Enforcement action taken to remove unauthorised development at Greendale Business Park
Council will work with park owners to find alternative locations for businesses

East Devon District Council has successfully fought a planning appeal by Greendale Business Park against an enforcement notice requiring the park owners to remove an unauthorised extension.

The business park has been extended into the countryside after four fenced compounds were created, concreted over and were used variously for the storage of mobile homes, shipping containers, portakabins and, in the case of one of the compounds, had two permanent buildings on it.

Following the latest High Court hearing, it now means that the owners of Greendale Business Park, FWS Carter and Sons, must comply with the enforcement notice, remove the extension and return the land to countryside within six months of the court’s decision.

Councillor Mike Howe, chairman of the district council’s development management committee, said that the council will work with the park owners to find alternative locations for businesses on the unauthorised site affected by the enforcement notice.

“This case demonstrates that we take unauthorised development very seriously and as a local authority are charged with using our enforcement powers to ensure that development carried out without planning permission is removed.

“We will work hard with the site owners to find alternative locations for the businesses currently operating from this unauthorised area.

“We’re pleased that the courts have now stopped this appeal from proceeding any further and the enforcement notice to get these works removed has now taken effect.”

The works were all carried out without planning permission and a subsequent planning application was refused due to the harm that the extension caused to the countryside and the visual amenity of the area.

Following the refusal of planning permission, the council served an enforcement notice on the owners requiring the uses to cease and the land returned to its former condition including the removal of temporary and permanent buildings, fencing and hard surfacing.

Although the owners appealed against the enforcement notice, a planning inspector ruled in favour of the council and directed the owners to stop using the land in the way it was and return it to its former condition within six months.

The owners subsequently appealed against the decision in the High Court arguing that the planning inspector had made an error in law by concluding that the East Devon Local Plan specifically covered the issue of development at Greendale Business Park.

In responding, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government argued that FWS Carter and Sons had misinterpreted the Local Plan and that their interpretation was “patently wrong”. Ultimately, the court did not grant the owners a further opportunity to proceed with an appeal and they will have to pay all costs arising from the case.”

“Find out if your local councillor is being wined and dined”

Of course, the complication we have in East Devon is that several of our district councillors are, or have been, in the “hospitality trade” as Owl has pointed out in the past:

https://eastdevonwatch.org/2016/05/19/when-does-private-become-public-and-public-become-private-a-very-fine-line/

“The timeless practice of “gastronomic pimping”, as Nye Bevan put it, is a tool long used by commercial lobbyists to curry favour. These “meetings” are deliberately social occasions designed to create bonds, establish shared values and ultimately influence council decisions.

Robert Davis, the most wined and dined politician in Britain while he was chairman of Westminster council’s planning committee, was entertained 150 times by property industry figures in three years. But hospitality is not the only tool in the property lobbyist’s box. One of the surest ways to access and influence the officials you seek to influence is to employ people who know local government inside out. Councillors up and down the country are employed in the property lobbying business. They are elected to represent the public interest and at the same time employed by developers seeking to influence the public sphere.

Full list of Westminster councillor Robert Davis’s 514 freebies
Take one of the scores of firms in this business, which claims to have “won successful planning consents for over 20 years”. It employs numerous local councillors, including one who sits on a council planning committee, as well as prospective and former councillors, plus a former council leader. These people not only understand how decisions are made, but in many cases are the decision-makers themselves. This is valuable for any developer needing council backing.

Besides trying to ensure that elected officials are onside with their clients’ development plans, these planning lobbyists also deal with any resistance from local communities. Developers have a statutory duty on large projects to consult with communities. Consultation, however, in the hands of lobbyists, is a tool that serves to draw out community opposition and provide it with a managed channel through which to voice concerns, but with no hope of tangibly changing the outcome. As the ex-Tesco lobbyist Bernard Hughes explained: “Businesses have to be able to predict risk and gain intelligence on potential problems. The army used to call it reconnaissance; we call it consultation.”

What do developers want from their relationships? It may be straightforward planning permission; or relief from paying a tax used to fund local amenities; or an agreement with the council on the amount of affordable homes the developer has, or doesn’t have, to provide. All of which can be, and is, negotiated by the councils upon which such lavish hospitality is poured.

That the “local lobbying” industry has got away with such practices for so long is no surprise. It lacks the one thing necessary to drive them out – scrutiny. As Davis says in his defence, all his meetings with developers “were all properly declared and open to anyone to examine”. But people need to have a proper look at what is happening in their council. Take a look at the registers of interests to see if any of your councillors double up as lobbyists. Get hold of the registers of hospitality and see if they are taking from the developers they should be overseeing. Use freedom of information law to dig deeper into who is meeting whom, and what they are seeking to do, and then hand the information to your local paper.

Until a light is shone on these relationships they will continue to flourish, and we will continue to get developments that serve no one but the investors and developers.”

• Tamasin Cave is co-author of A Quiet Word and a campaigner with Spinwatch

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/feb/21/local-councillors-lobbying-entertainment

So, how is EDDC’s office relocation going? Update and some odd figures

With the new barn-like EDDC HQ taking shape in Honiton, how is the project going? How much has it cost so far? What is the current projected cost?

Hard to say. Owl searched for news of the “Office Relocation Project Executive Group” and was directed to its website:

http://eastdevon.gov.uk/council-and-democracy/committees-and-meetings/other-panels-and-forums/office-relocation-project-executive-group/

where readers are told to consult the project archive:

http://eastdevon.gov.uk/access-to-information/historical-information/relocation-project-documentation-archive/project-document-archive/

Alas, the last document posted there was on 20 February 2013 (in response to the requirement of the Information Tribunal which EDDC lost) and Owl’s attempt to find anything more up-to-date (including current costings and financing arrangements) has so far failed.

Perhaps an EDDC councillor or officer can let Owl know where the latest information is – and who is in charge of the project these days?

Well, officers and councillors must read this blog! I have been pointed to ANOTHER website (thanks):

http://eastdevon.gov.uk/access-to-information/historical-information/relocation-project-documentation-archive/

and here is the latest update:

http://eastdevon.gov.uk/access-to-information/historical-information/relocation-project-documentation-archive/

Archive 8 states on 18 October 2017:

“Progress – going well. Costs remain within budget allowances. Spend to date is £3.745,000 leaving a balance of £6,840,148m.”

and on 15 November 2017:

“Progress – going well. Costs remain within budget allowances. Spend
to date is £1.403m leaving a balance of £6.482m with a contingency of £245,000. Completion date is scheduled for 15 October 2018 with a relocation date of 21 December.”

http://eastdevon.gov.uk/media/2373382/joint-project-exec-and-officer-wkg-group-minutes-151117.pdf

Now – Can anyone explain the discrepancy? £3,745,000 spent to date in October 2017 and £1,403,000 to date a month later?

Exmouth: Queen’s Drive “sinkhole”

Picture:  Exmouth Journal

The Bible says:

“Everyone therefore who hears these words of mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man, who built his house on a rock. The rain came down, the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat on that house; and it didn’t fall, for it was founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of mine, and doesn’t do them will be like a foolish man, who built his house on the sand. The rain came down, the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat on that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.”

— Matthew 7:24–27, World English Bible

Port Royal: Modesty (EDDC) versus ambition (Hugo Swire)

Owl reported last week in Hugo Swire’s grandiose ideas about redevelopment of Sidmouth’s Port Royal, including his suggestion to bring in Prince Charles’s design team:

https://eastdevonwatch.org/2018/02/05/sidmouth-swire-fancies-flats-and-car-parking-at-port-royal-or-getting-prince-charles-in/

Thankfully, the district council has gone for a more “modest” plan. Swire bemoans this and says plans should have been more “ambitious”. Sadly, these days “ambitious” is a word often interchangeable with “greedy” in modern planning terminology!

“District chiefs will not bring in the Prince of Wales’ design team after they opted for a ‘more modest’ direction for Port Royal.

East Devon MP Sir Hugo Swire said the Prince’s Foundation could create a development that has the community’s backing.

But a scoping study for the site revealed a number of ‘unresolved uncertainties’ so East Devon District Council (EDDC) has limited its proposals to marketing the Drill Hall. A spokeswoman said: “Had we felt that it was possible to go forward with a comprehensive redevelopment of the Port Royal site then the involvement of the Prince’s Foundation was certainly worthy of exploration.

“However, as explained, this is a much more modest and specific direction proposed that involves the Drill Hall site only.”

Sir Hugo told the Herald focusing the redevelopment on the Drill Hall would be ‘missed opportunity’ and it required an ambitious approach.”

http://www.sidmouthherald.co.uk/news/modest-approach-to-port-royal-means-prince-of-wales-design-team-won-t-be-used-1-5395956

240 councils have taken out high-risk “toxic” loans

“A cash-strapped council which has banned all new spending is currently repaying £150m in “toxic” loans.

Northamptonshire County Council has invoked the ban on expenditure as it faces a £21m overspend for 2017-18. It said it would cost more than a quarter of a billion pounds to immediately repay the LOBO – or Lender Option Borrower Option – loans, described by critics as “risky”.

A council spokesman said “interest rate risk is inherent” in all borrowing.
The county council has a total of 19 LOBO loans, which are unregulated and typically spread over 40 to 70 years. They were used to meet expenditure on highways, infrastructure, schools and other such assets.

The authority said said it would cost £256m to repay them straight away.

Critics say the repayments would be better spent on under threat services such as bus subsidies and Trading Standards. Joel Benjamin, from campaign group Debt Resistance UK, called the loans “toxic”. He said the county council has “fallen victim to a lethal cocktail of cuts”, poorly run shared-services and “high interest, risky LOBO borrowing.” Financial expert Abhishek Sachdev said LOBOs “contained huge quantifiable risk at the outset”.

Mr Sachdev, who gave evidence about LOBOs to the Communities & Local Government Select Committee in 2015, added: “There is a reason why none of our large PLC corporate clients would ever enter into such a loan.”
Freedom of Information requests by Debt Resistance UK show around 1,000 LOBO loans have been taken out across 240 local authorities.

The figures show these have a face value of £15bn, while Mr Sachdev estimated it would cost about £26bn to exit them straight away.”

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-northamptonshire-42977061