Ware Farm – back on the estate agent’s website

Although it was not found on Symonds and estate agent’s website after its brief appearance in one edition of the Midweek Herald, Ware Farm is now being given its appropriate exposure.

Ware Farm

The farm, belonging to former disgraced District Councillor Graham Brown is advertised not only with details of its agricultural tie but also with the comment:

“Basic Payment Scheme
The vendors will endeavour to transfer the entitlements under the BPS, with the purchasers being
responsible for the agents costs involved.”

These are, of course, the Basic Payments received from the European Union for farming subsidies that ex-Councillor Brown neglected to mention when he applied to East Devon District Council to have his agricultural tie lifted saying that he had not practised farming on the land for many years.  The council refused the application as “[it] was not satisfied as to the lawfulness at the date of application of the use specified in the application”.

see: Planning Application 14/2032/CPE

Click to access obj.pdf

And just to be absolutely clear, the brochure says:

Planning
The house was built subject to an Agricultural Occupancy Condition. Planning Reference 00/
P0940/01309 which states that “The occupation of the dwelling shall be limited to a person solely or
mainly working, or last working, in the locality in agriculture as defined in Section 336 of the Town
and Country Planning Act 1990, or in forestry or a dependant of such a person residing with him or
her or a widow or widower of such a person”.

Ottery St Mary farm for sale with agricultural tie – or is it?

Former East Devon District Councillor Graham Brown’s home was apparently briefly on the market this week. The home, with its agricultural tenancy, was advertised as up for sale for £1 million plus. Here is where it appeared in a local newspaper on 11 May 2016:

image

However, if you are interested in buying it, that may prove to be a little difficult, as it does not appear on the Symonds and Sampson estate agent website, nor on either of the major property websites Rightmove and Zoopla and Google searching does not bring it up.

Ex-councillor Brown attempted to remove the agricultural tie a year or two ago saying that he had not farmed the land for many years, but his application was refused after EDDC received evidence that the land had been receiving EU farming subsidies.

Removal of an agricultural tie can add at least 40% to the value of a property.

There are companies that will work on a “no win, no fee” basis specialising in removing such ties, but rules say that the property should be marketed first with its tie for a reasonable price and continuously for a reasonable period of time, usually at least six months.

As it seems to have been marketed only for a very short period before disappearing completely from the internet, it seems that the owner must have decided to stay put or perhaps he has decided to change estate agents and to market it again later.

Update: The property was on offer in March 2013 for £1.55M via Hall and Scott. See

http://www.rightmove.co.uk/property-for-sale/property-41090060.html

Note that at the time the spec was for approx 25 acres — but now it’s being advertised at 22 [sic] acres – and that it was clear that “Ware Farm is subject of an Agricultural Tie”.

Self-evidently if that tie were lifted, the owner should expect to get substantially more than the £1.55M asking price of three years ago. That wouldbe a nice little earner.

External auditors: watchdogs or bloodhounds?

Interesting article in Sunday Times Business section with the boss of former external auditors Grant Thornton (Sacha Romanovich, who lives in Exmouth and London). EDDC were forced by new government rules to change to KPMG recently.

The reporter quizzes her about several recent alleged failings at Grant Thornton (including a very high-profile law suit taken out against the company involving alleged pressure used by the company with the Serious Fraud Office to do with a property tycoon) and reveals that the Financial Reporting Council fined the firm £1m over flaws in its auditing of a Manchester building society.

She points out that the company has more than 40,000 clients so this should be put into context.

She ends her interview by saying: ” … audit is a watchdog, not a bloodhound. If people have deliberately gone about their affairs to hide things, it won’t always be found by a statutory audit … “

which then begs the question – so how will it be found?

Grant Thornton were criticised in East Devon for producing a very superficial consultants report into whether disgraced ex-councillor Graham Brown (who chaired the first iteration of the Local Plan committee and was Chairman of the East Devon Business Forum) brought too much influence to bear on the council after he was secretly filmed telling Daily Telegraph reporters how he could influence planning but “didn’t come cheap”.

Here is an extract from the Daily Telegraph front page expose almost exactly three years ago:

Another councillor in Devon appeared to use his position in a similar way. Graham Brown has been a Conservative councillor for Feniton and Buckerell ward on East Devon district council for more than 10 years.

He is also chairman of East Devon Business Forum, a member of the council’s overview and scrutiny committee and the business and tourism champion.

“I’m the best,” said Mr Brown at a meeting with undercover reporters in Devon last month. “If I can’t get planning, nobody will … I’m low-profile, have access to all the right people for the right clients. Don’t come cheap.” He said he was no longer involved in planning decisions and would need to be careful when talking to other councillors about projects he was involved in, but he was clear about what benefits he would bring.
“I know — without trying to be clever — I know more than most of the councillors, and I know more than most of the officers.”

When a reporter asked what his “strategy” was when it came to winning approval for a planning application, Mr Brown explained: “Where I’m good, I know all the different people to go to … Like if you came to me with a set of problems, I’d say, ‘Right the first thing we do, we need to go and talk to, say, the economic development manager’.

“So I’d pick up the phone to [name removed for legal reasons] and I’d say, ‘I’ve got a project, I want to talk to you about it.’ And it’s about almost kick-starting a dead motorbike”. Mr Brown told the undercover reporters that Devon had traditionally been one of the hardest areas in which to obtain planning permission for new developments, but that it might change because the council had not met its targets for land supply, meaning it was “quite vulnerable to any planning application that can be seen as sustainable”.
Mr Brown explained why this might be useful for the overseas developer the reporters were purporting to represent.

“What it means is — or what it could mean, and I can’t tell you definitely yet because it could get a deal worse or a deal better depending on — I’ve talked to three Government ministers about it because I’m reasonably — I sound terribly pretentious but I’m not — but you know, I’ve spoken to three individual Government ministers I know because I’ve been sort of in the Tory party for a long time and — how can I say it without sounding – I bet you go away and say, ‘that fat arrogant bastard’.”

“It sounds like you’re very well-connected?” the reporter suggested.
“Let’s take that for granted then,” Mr Brown said.

“Which means that whereas East Devon was traditionally one of the three hardest areas in the country to get planning permission, that will change … They will retain within the rules the ability to refuse things which fall down like if the design is poor, certain green belt areas, there will be certain areas so I don’t see it as the floodgates opening, but I do see a stampede coming.” His costs would vary according to the project, but he said he was normally paid £80 an hour or between £1,000 and £20,000 for a project.

His fees would vary “depending on the viability of the scheme, if we get it, like if I turned a green field into a housing estate and I’m earning a developer two or three million, then I ain’t doing it for ­peanuts … especially if I’m the difference between winning it and losing it.”

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/9920971/If-I-cant-get-planning-nobody-will-says-Devon-councillor-and-planning-consultant.html

Whose fault is it the Local Plan took so long? Sidmouth says EDDC’s Mark Williams!!!

Not the false start made by the first Local Development Framework group, which spent 2-plus years visiting sites of favoured developers.

Not the East Devon Business Forum and its Chairman disgraced ex-councillor Graham Brown which attempted to get an iron grip on it.

Not the officers and councillors who employed consultant after consultant until they found one they agreed with.

Not the same officers and councillors who had their drafts thrown out twice by the Planning Inspector.

NO! NO! NO! IT IS ALL THE FAULT OF – SIDMOUTH!!!

Sidmouth delayed the Local Plan! and Mark William’s loses it!

At a heated meeting of EDDC councillors tonight to approve the Local Plan, CEO Mark Williams lost control of himself in a big way.

In response to a fairly conciliatory speech from resident Richard Eley, on behalf of Save our Sidmouth, a furious Williams lambasted Sidmouth for delaying the Local Plan and increasing the number of houses in it!

“But for Sidmouth we would have had a local plan three years ago,” he ranted, adding that “the end result of all your objections is that we’ve ended up in the local plan with more houses than originally proposed.” (Gasps of astonishment from the public and cries of “rubbish” and “nonsense”.)

A few minutes later he rounded on Richard Eley again accusing him of “churlishly” calling the Inspector “idiotic”. Eley sprang to his feet and angrily denied he had used that word about the inspector, and demanded an apology – supported by more cries of “scandal” and “apologise” from the public.

He insisted on reading the offending part of his speech again which proved his point that the i-word was never used. In fact, he described the decision to include land at Sidford for a business park as “stupid”.

After more moments of mayhem and shouting from the public, a reluctant apology was extracted from the CEO.

Many observers were left wondering if Mr Williams might not need a long rest –as in retirement on a generous pension………

Feniton, tanks, the stump and ex-Councillor Brown – oh, and voting!

The latest blog post of Independent Councillor Susie Bond:

It’s been a fascinating run up to the 2015 election.

I’ve enjoyed dropping off my leaflets to the houses in Feniton, Gittisham and Buckerell and chatting to those who were at home and had time to talk to me. People are really engaged with this election and want to talk about national issues as much as local ones … and there was a lot of interest in the ‘rise of the Independents’, as one resident described it.

There were several recurring themes which were of concern to everyone in my ward … planning inevitably being at the top of the list.

On the stump, Question 1:

What about the attenuation tanks?

This is a continuing issue in Feniton, where developer Wainhomes eventually succumbed to pressure from me, the Parish Council, EDDC and the media, and provided the attenuation tanks which were required of them following the planning inquiry in 2012. However, the Parish Council is not happy with the system the developer was forced to install and has grave concerns that the tanks will fail. This is an unresolved issue and a great worry to those who live ‘downstream’ of the site.

There is quite reasonably very little faith in developers and the promises they make to sweeten the offer of concreting over precious sites. Residents still bemoan the loss of the tennis courts which were such a feature of life in Feniton before the developer of the existing Acland Park site bulldozed them in pursuit of profit. Promises were made that they would be reinstated, but the tennis courts never reappeared.

On the stump, Question 2:

Whatever happened to the Graham Brown affair?

The police investigation into former Councillor Graham Brown was closed with no action taken in 2014 as there was insufficient evidence to take the case forward. End of story.

My concern is not with the individual, but what process allowed anyone whose main source of income was building and development to be put in a position of such authority (he was for some time Chairman of the Local Development Framework panel, the committee set up to steer the Council towards adoption of a Local Plan, identifying possible sites for development and deciding on strategic allocations for development within the district), and who must have found it extremely difficult not to confuse the two roles. I have called on a number of occasions for an internal inquiry at EDDC to look into the lapse in decision-making which allowed this to happen. Each time I posed the question, I was met with the response that the matter was in the hands of the police and therefore any internal investigation would be inappropriate.

At the full Council meeting in February, and given that the police investigation had concluded, I asked the question again.

I was surprised on this occasion when my request for an internal inquiry was met with the minimal response, ‘Why?’, with no further explanation. In other words, whether the former councillor was charged with any misdemeanour or not, EDDC never had any intention of conducting a full internal inquiry.

Something to think about for the next council.

On the stump, Question 3:

What is the East Devon Alliance?

There was lots of interest on the doorstep in this umbrella organisation formed to support independent candidates.

It’s a lonely business being an Independent.

I chose to stand as an Independent in 2013 so that I was not constrained by party politics which, to my mind, should have no business in local government. But standing alone means that you don’t have the backup of the party machine to write your leaflet for you and even pay for it to be printed, as well as the advice of those who have been councillors before.

Had it existed at that time, I would have welcomed the help and advice of the East Devon Alliance to steer me through the minefield of the election process. Two years on and EDA candidates have the support of their leader, Cllr Ben Ingham, whose 25 years of experience is invaluable to those who don’t know how the system works. Their excellent website (http://www.eastdevonalliance.org.uk/) has given the candidates an on-line profile and their YouTube videos have reached a wide audience.

Once elected, every ‘Independent EDA’ candidate will work hard in their ward and represent that ward at Council. No Party Whip to ‘encourage’ them to vote in a particular way and no question of being lambasted by senior party figures if they fail to conform.

Final thoughts

Don’t forget to voteBut whatever the issues and whatever hue your politics, the main thing is to make your voice heard and Remember To Vote. The turnout at elections has fallen steadily from an all-time high of 83% in 1950 to just 65% in 2010, reflecting disillusionment and mistrust of party politics.

If you want to change the status quo, Thursday 7 May is the day to make a difference!

https://susiebond.wordpress.com/2015/05/02/on-the-stump/

Susie Bond (Independent, Feniton) standing again and supports other independent candidates

See her latest blogpost here: https://susiebond.wordpress.com/2015/04/09/and-were-off/

You only have to look at the records of our Independent councillors such as Susie, Claire Wright, Roger Giles and Ben Ingham to see that independent councillors makes the biggest impact on scrutiny of our current majority Conservative council. Now we need them to be the decision-makers.

Recall that before Susie was elected Feniton was in the hands of ex- councillor Graham Brown …

… OF FREEDOM OF INFORMATION AND MANAGED DEMOCRACY: A PERSONAL VIEW OF EAST DEVON

Jeremy Woodward, whose Freedom of Information requests led to the current court case betweem the Information Commissioner and EDDC pens his personal story:

It all started with a simple request back in November 2012. I had asked the chair of the DMC – the Development Management Committee, which is the District Council’s planning committee – for details about the secretive ‘Office Accommodation Working Parties’. (I later discovered that there are in fact several of these…). This was because I thought there might be conflicts of interest should any from one committee be sitting on another committee, as the DMC was expecting to consider the Council’s own planning application for Knowle. Moreover, I had also asked for access to the ‘Reports, Action Notes and Updates’ on relocation which had been presented to Cabinet meetings, as I felt they should be available for ‘public scrutiny’ in the context of the planning application.

Of course the answer was ‘No’ to all of these. Perhaps that was to be expected, and over the coming months and years it became clear that the East Devon District Council is really one of the most intransigent and arrogant local authorities in the area not to mention the most secretive and least transparent.

For example: if you go to the whatdotheyknow website and type in the name of a pubic authority, whilst Mid Devon has 117 Freedom of Information requests, North Devon 102, West Devon 105, Teignbridge 109, Torridge 101 and South Hams zero, East Devon has 299 to date – three times that of any other in Devon.

Of course, East Devon District Council is not alone in refusing to allow more transparency when it comes to its planning decisions. To put this into context, the Guardian’s architecture correspondent Oliver Wainwright looked into ‘the truth about property developers and how they are exploiting planning authorities’ – and he concluded after considerable research that “Across the country authorities are allowing planning policies to be continually flouted, affordable housing quotas to be waived, the interests of residents endlessly trampled.”

These same authorities will insist that they cannot divulge any pertinent information because it is ‘confidential’. However, as Wainwright noted, “confidentiality is closely guarded, in order to preserve developers’ trade secrets, but where the sale of public assets is concerned, there is increasing pressure for the books to be opened.” And the pressures are increasing – helped largely by the Freedom of Information Act.

To quote again from Wainwright on a specific but illuminating case of cosy relationships: “Without some commercially sensitive information remaining private, developers could simply refuse to work with councils, leaving boroughs without the housing and regeneration we all need,” says a spokeswoman for Southwark Council. The borough brought a legal challenge against a decision by the Information Commissioner’s Office last year ordering the council to disclose the full details of a viability report, after a freedom of information request was denied. The tribunal concluded that the information must be disclosed, stating … ‘the importance … of local people having access to information to allow them to participate in the planning process’. It sets an encouraging precedent for campaign groups battling similar situations elsewhere.”

And perhaps we can be similarly ‘encouraged’ – especially as the FOI Act in the UK seems to be working to some extent. Most famously, Heather Brooks broke the MPs’ expenses scandal story by first filing an FOI request. In other words, much of this has been achieved only through the clenched teeth of the powers that be: Tony Blair regretted the introduction of the Act and, still, government generally would like to see the FOI Act ‘neutered’ and is not “embracing the spirit of openness but [prefers] finding ways of avoiding compliance while staying within the letter of the law.”

Disappointingly, in the USA, which trail-blazed the whole notion of freedom of information, the FOI system does not seem to be working – to such an extent, that in the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations about how the National Security Agency abuses access to information, people now believe that transparency can only be gained through whistleblowing: “[the NSA] don’t release anything through normal means. The only way the public really learns about them is through leaks.” Ironically, Snowden is now in exile in Russia, where lies and secrecy are the norm, where there is absolutely no tradition of a civil society and where the arrogance of power is all pervading.

Which brings me to the question of: How is it possible for them to get away with it? After all, whilst the UK is not Russia, nevertheless, it does seem that those in power will generally prefer to deal with others in power and seek to limit the amount of information the common man should have access to.

On the one hand, we have ‘managed democracy’ – and the example of Russia is pertinent, as ‘Putin’s puppet-master’ Vladislav Surkov and other ‘political technologists’ seem to have done very well in creating a society of ‘pure spectacle’. And yet in the West, we have many more years’ practice: it was Edward Bernays, father of the modern PR industry (and nephew of Sigmund Freud) who said: “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society… It is the intelligent minorities which need to make use of propaganda continuously and systematically.”

And so we have the churning out of press releases from the East Devon District Council reassuring us that everything’s alright and that we can sleep well in our beds – whether it’s the surreal nonsense of ‘Another happy year for Cranbrook’, which contrasts somewhat with several other perspectives, or the production of clever pictograms to sell the notion of energy savings by relocating from Knowle, or the announcement that Skypark is no longer the centre of the known universe.

Meanwhile, the situation around the Knowle relocation project gets progressively more Kafkaesque , with “misleading figures, loaded and biased consultations and the heavy handed (and expensive) use of lawyers to force a decision through…” – all of which contrasts with a set of hopelessly out-of-date ‘Moving and Improving’ pages which provide plenty of questions but very few answers.

On the other hand we have what politicians complain of as the ‘democratic deficit’ – ie, that nobody can be bothered because we can’t make a difference anyway. Of course, we are ‘too busy changing nappies to change the world’ – although we manage to enjoy our regular dose of ‘bread and circuses’. Besides, as the stand-up comedian George Carlin said about the American Dream , we are expected to be “just smart enough to run the machines and do the paperwork. And just dumb enough to passively accept all” the other stuff.

Meanwhile back in East Devon, we have a Scrutiny Committee which does not scrutinise and a system which prefers patronage and cronyism to serving constituents.

In May 2011, the new District Council administration announced “a fresh outlook on serving East Devon for the next term, with a promise of greater transparency.” And yet it was Anna Minton’s excoriating analysis of ‘the local mafia’ in East Devon which captured the sense that ‘there have been a large number of concerns about the operation of the council subverting the democracy process… and that this culture won’t change.’ In the meantime, there are still serious, unanswered questions about lobbying and transparency – and particularly about the ex-Councillor Graham Brown saga and the influence of the East Devon Business Forum, especially with regard to development – all of which the District Council has been determined to both ignore and quash.

And so it is left to those ‘outside’ to ask the difficult questions and to try to bring to account those who manage our democracy. The Freedom of Information system might be flawed and terribly slow, but it is one of the few mechanisms we have to challenge the arrogance and insulation of power.

Jeremy Woodward
28th Feb 2015

MP who had ” done nothing wrong” resigns – deja-vu in East Devon

Oh, Malcolm, we know how hard it is for someone who has “done nothing wrong” who ends up being ditched by his party and having to resign.

We’ve seen it for ourselves here in East Devon a number of times over the years with our Tory councillors – and quite recently, too with our ex-Tory Councillor Graham Brown. AND he was stung by the Daily Telegraph too. AND he was on the front page too – saying that he “didn’t come cheap”.

People can be so unkind whe all you want is to have the money to live the life you deserve …

Our thoughts are with you.

“Cash for influence”

“It is claimed that Mr Straw was recorded describing how he operated “under the radar” and had used his influence to change EU rules on behalf of a firm which paid him £60,000 a year.

On the subject of payment, Mr Straw is heard saying: “So normally, if I’m doing a speech or something, it’s £5,000 a day, that’s what I charge.”

Sir Malcolm is reported to have claimed he could arrange “useful access” to every British ambassador in the world.”

Ring any bells? Only the place, names and the numbers change!

AND they both say they did nothing wrong.

Cynical smiles of the day

Came across this gem today from July 2013:

https://sidmouthindependentnews.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/brown-and-williams-and-carbon-trust-2009.png

and the EDDC “Ribbon Fairy” staking out its land grab in November 2013:

https://sidmouthindependentnews.wordpress.com/2012/11/03/ribbon-fairy-at-knowle/