East Devon a benefits hot-spot?

Sunday Times article on new unemployment areas – high street decline, business rate penalties, jobs moving abroad and reduced demand for labour due to automation are some reasons given. Owl would like to see the breakdown per town – oldies in some towns, unemployed youngsters in others …

Poor people to be disenfranchised – and EDDC was the trailblazer!

Story here:

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/general-election-roll-conservatives-boris-johnson-labour-cabinet-office-register-a9179716.html

EDDC Electoral officer and CEO used “light touch” as the reason/excuse when he “lost” 6,000+ voters from the electoral roll in 2014 (that and not wanting his canvassers out in the dark were just two of his reasons at the time):

https://eastdevonwatch.org/2014/10/13/highlights-of-mr-williams-audio-transcript-of-evidence-to-the-parliamentary-select-committee-on-voter-engagement/

At that time it was also the poorer and more itinerant renters who were not contacted or followed up.

The Tories, having realised that poorer and rent-trapped people were more likely not to register to vote, jumped at the chance to do their best to ensure they never reach the electoral roll again.

Nice one Boris – bet you’ve made Mr Williams very proud! Maybe he will even get a gong for it like Swire got for cosying up to Cameron!

Jurrasic Park: a Halloween scary story

A scare story fit for Halloween. So scary that Owl is hooting with laughter.

 

Here is Owl’s dissection of the substance of the scare story recently spun by EDDC ex-Tory Councillor (and ex-leader) Ian Thomas, previously posted here:

https://eastdevonwatch.org/2019/10/22/eddc-ex-tory-councillor-doesnt-like-the-idea-of-a-jurassic-national-park/

Whilst he may now claim to be “Independent” the “Project Fear” he spreads is the established view of the previous Tory Council (and many in the current council).

It’s all about the proposal to create a new National Park by combining the East Devon and Dorset AONBs.

This proposal is not new. Like the creation of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site before it, a considered and reasoned case has been building for a number of years now.

The bit that SCARES Cllr. Ian Thomas (and others in the council) is that, despite EDDC attempts to pour cold water on the idea in the past, it has now been given endorsement by the Glover Review. (The Glover Review of Designated Landscapes was commissioned by Michael Gove to report in the 70th anniversary year of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act).

It calls for National Parks and AONBs to have a clear national mission to reverse environmental decline and specifically calls for the creation of two new National Parks and a National Forest – one such park being the area of the Devon and Dorset AONB/World Heritage site.

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/833726/landscapes-review-final-report.pdf

Cllr. Ian Thomas’ stated FEAR is that house prices in East Devon could rise ‘considerably’ if proposals for a new ‘Jurassic’ national park’ covering East Devon and Dorset are successful (when did prices last fall,in the recession)?

The REAL FEAR, however, is, Owl thinks, loss of power, particularly the power of development. As Ed Freeman (Service Lead Planning) put it in the penultimate paragraph of his review of Glover Report for Cllr. Susie Bond’s Strategic Planning Committee:

“….there may also be felt to be concerns around loss of power by this authority to another body.”

https://democracy.eastdevon.gov.uk/documents/s7143/4Protected%20Landscape%20Report.pdf

It is interesting that Dorset has no such worries and has enthusiastically endorsed the idea.

How fitting then at Halloween that Owl should do the scary thing and examine the FACTS!

In terms of protective policies, both National Parks and AONBs have identical aims. These are to “conserve and enhance natural beauty”. (National Parks have the further responsibility to conserve and enhance “wildlife and cultural heritage” as well.) National Parks also have a duty to seek to foster the economic and social well-being of local communities within their park (note – communities not just developers). The Glover review proposes that in respect of this duty, National Parks should go further and “respond proactively to local housing needs”.

So where is the scare?

Could it be that under past EDDC regimes AONB responsibilities to “protect and enhance” the area have simply been ignored, something that might be harder to do under different management and wider scrutiny?

If this is the case, then EDDC is in for a REAL SHOCK – a LOOK BEHIND YOU moment – because the Glover Review also proposes that both AONBs and National Parks should be staffed by a shared National Landscape Service and that AONBs should be given greater status in the planning system. AONBs should become statutory consultees, and should be supported to work towards local plans for their areas, prepared in conjunction with local authorities. For larger AONBs such as East Devon (specifically mentioned), this plan should have statutory status in place of local authority plans. So even if the National Park idea doesn’t get off the ground immediately, the cavalier approach EDDC has adopted in the past to its AONB will have to change if the Glover Report is taken up.

We don’t know what the next government might make of the Glover Review but, whatever political persuasionit has, we can safely assume it will look for ways of demonstrating its Environmental Protection credentials. Not pushing forward with Glover would be an obvious own goal.

There are many positive reasons to embrace the proposal to create a new National Park by combining the East Devon and Dorset AONBs with the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site. Here are four in addition to the proactive management of local housing needs mentioned above.

1. Wildlife

East Devon and Dorset AONBs have distinctive and valuable ecologies which are important on a national scale. The East Devon Pebblebed Heaths, which forms 5% of the East Devon AONB is one of the largest areas of lowland dry heaths in England and has European designation. Consolidation of these two AONBs within a new National Park would increase the biodiversity of the environment creating a continuous wildlife corridor nearly 70 miles long.

2. Farming Culture and impact on Heritage Landscape

In the past, only the larger landlords like CDE had the management structure and financial stability to promote landscape enhancement projects within the AONB. However, subsidies based on acreage are going to be changed to supporting specific environmental enhancements, distributed more widely. Depending on how it is managed this could make significant changes to protected landscapes. For instance, there could be haphazard re-wilding on a considerable scale. AONBs in the future will need to be more involved and supportive of the independent sector of farming if the Landscape is to be conserved and enhanced, thus becoming more like National Parks.

3. Tourism and Economic benefits

National Parks promote understanding and enjoyment of their area’s special qualities by the public. A clear identity as a National Park would bring an economic boost to East Devon. The South Downs NP has attracted over £100M in core support and project funding since 2011 and it is reasonable to expect an East Devon and Dorset NP to attract a similar level of funding. On a smaller scale, experience from the Pebblebed Heaths are that funds and grants become more readily available with higher environmental designations, in this case SSSI, SPA and SAC.

4. Recreation and Well-being for an ageing and growing population

Encouraging Recreation is already a National Park priority. Improving public enjoyment would go hand in hand with promoting activities to improve health and well-being. Improving these will become an overriding priority in our area which is not only set to grow and age but already has more than 30% of the population aged 65 or older. It will become even more necessary if Cllr. Phillip Skinners dream of creating a North West Quadrant of linked villages to support immigration of 12,000 is realised.

https://www.devonlive.com/news/devon-news/east-devon-could-getting-network-3454612

A confidant and forward-looking EDDC would now seek to form a joint liaison committee to work with the East Devon and Dorset National Park Team so as to get a seat at the table and maximise the opportunities, rather than continue to sulk in its (developer built?) kennel.

Are you scared now?

EDDC spending £3.5 million in Exmouth: Tory gets the spotlight, Independent has reservations … dog, tail and wagging again?

Here’s Tory Skinner waxing lyrical about £1.5 million for Exmouth College (though Tigger Nick Hookway has concerns):

https://www.exmouthjournal.co.uk/news/cil-money-for-community-college-expansion-1-6344922

and here’s news of cash for the completion of a road in Dinham Way – with Skinner again seeming to have the biggest voice and Hookway again expressing reservations:

https://www.radioexe.co.uk/news-and-features/local-news/exmouth-projects-backed/

Tail … dog … wagging … again?

And so near general election time.

And when will other towns and villages get their shares of Community Infrastructure Levy goes into one big pot rather than being locality-based like Section 106?

“ALTERNATIVE LOCAL VISION FOR QUEEN’S DRIVE”

Press Release

“Challenged by EDDC to come up with a solution for the development of Phase 3 Queen’s Drive, Councillor Nick Hookway and a team of committed local residents present their scheme to the Delivery Group at EDDC on Monday 28th October.

Highlight of the costed plan include a free play area for the under 8s and an innovative pay play area with high ropes, water wars and climbing towers for older children and adults.

The vision is to create a destination that will complement the Watersports Centre and Restaurant offer on phase2 and will cater for all age groups, all abilities and huge variety of interests. It is backed by research into current trends in the leisure industry, the experience of other seaside towns in England and surveys carried out by locals and HemingwayDesign.

In addition to the play areas there are plans for an intimate arts/performance space for hire, a sunken garden where the Swans used to be and a gift shop and café. The educational feature of the scheme is an interactive Discovery Centre telling the story of our unique coastline and estuary. Fronting the site a brand new Crazy Golf.

All this will be delivered by a not for profit organisation so that community benefit will be felt by local residents. Councillor Hookway will be asking EDDC that these proposals will be given equal opportunity alongside Hemingway Design so that the Town can decide what happens on the Seafront.”

and here:

https://www.devonlive.com/whats-on/alternative-vision-exmouth-seafront-site-3476360

More flack for EDDC Leader Ingram on spending and transparency

Not looking good … now being attacked for  wanting to employ consultants to tell him what town centre problems are:

“East Devon District Council ‘lacks good detailed intelligence about its towns and their economic wellbeing’.

Cllr Ben Ingham, leader of the council, admitted: “This is not a good state of affairs,” when questioned at Wednesday night’s full council meeting.

It came after Cllr Mike Allen asked questions over the decision of the portfolio holder for economy, Cllr Kevin Blakey, to commission a major study into town centres.

Cllr Allen asked for an indication of the cost proposed and in the interests of proper transparency, for the Consultancy brief envisaged be put to the next Overview Committee for discussion before any expenditure is committed. …”

https://www.devonlive.com/news/devon-news/east-devon-lacks-good-intelligence-3474769

“Leader says in hindsight, notes should have been taken when CEO met developers”

Owl says: Well, duh! And just how long has EDDC’s CEO been in the job? Where was his “hindsight”?.

And our “Leader” is now fully au-fait with the language if the previous majority party as far as giving non-answers is concerned!

Everything changes, nothing changes …

“At last Wednesday’s full council meeting, Cllr John Loudoun, asked questions around the keeping of notes from meetings that officers of the council are involved in.

Notes of meetings when senior council officers meet with developers over planning issues should be made in future, councillors have been told.

It follows an instance where East Devon District Council’s chief executive allegedly told developers to appeal his own council’s refusal of planning permission for the Sidford Business Park.

Paragraphs 13 and 14 of the Richard Kimblin QC final closing arguments at a planning inquiry held this said: “After the 2016 application was refused, there was a meeting with Councillor Stuart Hughes and the CEO of the Council. The CEO advised that the way to progress was to appeal. That is an extraordinary state of affairs.”

The claims, made both in writing and verbally, were unchallenged by East Devon District Council during the inquiry, but afterwards, an East Devon District Council spokesman said that Mr Williams did not advise the appellant of anything but the applicant chose to interpret the comments he did make as encouraging an appeal, and the comments were made in a ‘situation where a degree of hyperbole and exaggeration is not unusual’.

At last Wednesday’s full council meeting, Cllr John Loudoun, asked questions around the keeping of notes from meetings that officers of the council are involved in.

He said: “Sometimes officers from this Council, beyond those directly responsible for local planning matters, meet and/or discuss with developers their planning applications. Sometimes these meetings take place to discuss applications that this Council has failed to support.

“Does the leader of the council agree with me that when such meetings and/or discussions take place, it is most imperative that they are held in ways that give residents faith that the Officers are transparent and accountable in these matters?

“Does the leader agree with me that it would be appropriate that at such meetings, or in such discussions, there should be more than one Officer present, such as a legal adviser and/or planning officer? Do you agree that any meetings or discussion with developers when they relate to planning should have a formal record kept of what was discussed and agreed, and why?”

In response, Cllr Ben Ingham, leader of the council, said: “The circumstances surrounding any meeting will determine whether it is necessary for them to be held in any particular way. I have the upmost faith that our officers would appreciate the need to act in a way that ensures nothing untoward occurs.

“But in hindsight, it is probably a very good advice and many members and officers of the council may say in future they will.”

It was of a number of questions raised at the meeting relating to concerns about the processes of the council which followed what some councillors called the ‘shambles’ of the previous full council meeting which left councillors unclear as to what they were voting for.

Cllr Loudoun added: “At the last Full Council meeting there was lengthy debate around a motion. A Member at one point interjected and proposed ‘that the question now be put’ and the chairman put this point of order to the meeting.

“Many members did not fully appreciate the implications of voting for or against this point of order and when passed by a show of hands, there appeared to be confusion amongst some Members as to what had just been agreed. When the chairman invited the meeting to vote on the motion on the agenda paper, some Members appeared not to understand what was happening and what they were now being asked to vote on.

Once the meeting had voted on the motion some Members were confused and it was only at this point that it was fully explained what had happened and the implications of their first vote, but by this point the votes had been cast and decisions made.

“The meeting ended with some Members expressing frustration and/or confusion about what the meeting had decided. Does the Leader recognise this set of events and if he does, what would he recommend this Council does to avoid a similar set of circumstances occurring in the future?”

In response, Cllr Ingham said: “It is not for me to say what other members may or may not have understood. I understood what was happening but members are always able to ask for confirmation on what is going on and I am sure the Chairman would, in such circumstances, ensure that clarity was given on the procedures from the officers present. We have may acted at a speed that was not appropriate for new members.”

Asked by Cllr Paul Millar on the potential merits of ensuring Members can make informed decisions when asked to vote in Council meetings, Cllr Ingham said that any council or committee makes mistakes, but as the new council learns, he hopes members and officers will make fewer mistakes when acting in a hurry.

Cllr Eleanor Rylance also questioned why a significant number of meetings had been scheduled to take place during the half-term break. As well as the full council meeting, a Strategic Planning Committee, an Audit and Governance Committee, and a Scrutiny Committee meeting took place last week.

She said: “In the spirit of inclusivity, how is it that this council is wilfully disadvantaging anyone with school aged children, caring responsibilities for school aged children, or those who work in schools or other educational establishments, by organising major meetings including this one during school half term? This is entirely avoidable. Please can the council set its timetable with school dates in mind in the future?”

In response, Cllr Ingham said: “Whilst it would clearly be difficult to plan a yearly meeting cycle to accommodate school holidays, particularly bearing in mind the length of the summer holiday and the potential impact on the business of the Council, it would be helpful to consider if changes could be made in future. “

https://www.devonlive.com/news/devon-news/leader-says-hindsight-notes-should-3475242