WHY are the consultants reports on housing to remain secret until after district elections?

We know what the Leader of East Devon District Council gives as his “reason”

We are very much aware of the need to finalise our Local Plan, but at the same time we have to take the reports with proposed changes to the Plan to our members for consideration and consultation. We had envisaged that the earliest we would have been able to take the reports to our members would be March or early April 2015. The process of consultation would then take around six-weeks.

“However, because of the forthcoming local and national elections this would not appear to be a viable route to follow, as there is concern that the process could be seen as politically motivated, which would overshadow the soundness of the plan.

“While mindful of the need to progress quickly, the significance to the process of members consideration and consultation should not be overlooked, and consequently it is unlikely that we will take the report to our members until shortly after the May election.”

but let us look at this forensically.

The Planning Inspector, when he looked at the Draft Local Plan, threw it out.  A main reason was that the number of houses to be built had no evidence to support the figure.  What slight evidence given was very old, based on out of date information and therefore not to be trusted.  He basically told EDDC to go back to the drawing board and give him hard evidence for his figures.

Under the National Planning Policy Framework, EDDC had a “duty to co-operate” with adjoining local authorities in case those authorities had housing needs that could not be met within their areas and must therefore be shared.  For reasons never explained, although this meant in practice liaising with Exeter City Council and West Dorset, EDDC took the decision (where? when?) to extend the area to include Teignbridge, Mid Devon and Dartmoor National Park.  This meant that consultants had more information to gather and more situations to take into account.  It should be noted that the “duty to co-operate” is NOT a duty to agree – only to be seen to be consulting with neighbouring authorities on their needs.

So, two sets of consultants were employed.  Edge Analytics were employed to look at the link between housing and employment, Ash Futures Limited were employed to look at future job growth levels in East Devon only.  It appears now that both companies have produced their reports.

Usually, when consultants have produced reports, they are circulated to councillors who then have the opportunity to comment on them.  Unfortunately, in East Devon, this has often been misinterpreted as an opportunity to rewrite them almost in their entirety.  When EDDC doesn’t like numbers, it likes to have them changed, rather than accepting that they might be right!  Take the employment land figures that were produced by two consultants for the Draft Local Plan.  EDDC (or rather the East Devon Business Forum under its Chairman, disgraced ex-councillor Graham Brown) decided the figure was too low, gave their own much higher figure and this was the one which EDDC chose to go with.

Now, here we are with two reports and the Leader has decided that their contents are too politically sensitive for the public (and councillors not in the “need to know” group?) to have sight of.

What is politically sensitive about consultants reporting hard facts and evidence?

As we noted earlier, there are only two possible explanations:

1.  The number of houses is below that which EDDC put in its Draft Local Plan.  In this case, EDDC has egg on its face.  Not only does it have egg on its face, all the current developments rushed through because we have no Local Plan would be surplus to requirements.

2.  The number of houses is higher than that which EDDC put in its Draft Local Plan, either because:

(a) they just got the number wrong or

and this is more likely

(b) now that they are having to take the housing needs of not only Exeter and West Dorset into account but also Teignbridge, Mid Devon and Dartmoor National Park, EDDC will have to commit itself to taking overload from all these areas into its own area (for example, by making Cranbrook even larger than planned).






Complaints against Devon and Cornwall Police rise

“The number of complaints against Devon and Cornwall Police increased 11% to 1,364 in 2013/14, according to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).

The spike comes on the back of a 17% increase in 2012/13.
The definition of “complaint” has now been broadened, which is responsible for some of this year’s increase.

There was a total of 2,276 allegations made against Devon and Cornwall Police – 359 allegations per 1,000 employees against a national average of 251 complaints per 1,000 employees.

17 per cent of complaints were upheld by the force.

Of the allegations rejected by the police, of those that went to the IPCC a third were upheld.

On average it took Devon and Cornwall police 108 days to handle a compliant, a week longer than the national average.

Nationally the most common complaints are neglect and rude behaviour by officers.

Read more: http://www.exeterexpressandecho.co.uk/Complaints-Devon-Cornwall-police-rises-11-cent/story-25960619-detail/story.html

It took one year to deal with the complaint concerning ex-Councillor Brown – three times longer than usual.

“Quite honestly, we have fallen flat on our face” with the relocation project, warns Honiton Councillor, Peter Halse

At last night’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee senior Tory councillor Peter Halse lashed EDDC’s Relocation Project. He said it risked the Council’s reputation for financial prudence. “At the time (the relocation project) looked OK, but now, with hindsight, it looks pretty bad….Quite honestly we have fallen flat on our face!” He was sceptical about Deputy CEO Richard Cohen’s claimed energy savings, and said employees based in the newer 1970/1980s building, “can’t see any reason why they’d want to move”. He concluded “It’s not just the leadership who are responsible. We need to look this thing full in the face. We can get out of this”.

Sidmouth resident Richard Eley, had already mauled Richard Cohen’s assumptions on future energy cost savings which were “way out of line” with those predicted by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). Mr Cohen in response welcomed the fact that auditors would now be taking “a useful look under the bonnet, as it were”. In the meantime a preferred developer had now been selected for a mix of care home and residential properties at Knowle. The planning process would have to be gone through by the developer and further attempts to delay the Knowle sale have been factored in to the costs, he added.

When Independent Cllr Claire Wright expressed concern that EDDC’s planning committee would be under extreme pressure to grant permission to develop the Knowle because the whole relocation project depended on it, she was accused of casting doubt on the integrity of councillors.

Independent Councillor Roger Giles didn’t get a clear answer from Mr Cohen about where his 10% annual energy inflation figures came from, only that they were “conservative”! And there was no answer to Cllr Giles’ second question about how much extra the renovation of Exmouth Town Hall would cost.

Tory Cllr Graham Troman (Vice Chair of the OSC) said the Knowle site was an appreciating asset while refurbished offices or new-build on an industrial estate (e.g. Heathpark) would not recoup the money spent on them.

Tory Cllr Sheila Kerridge urged her colleagues to show transparency and “not to be seen to be doing things underhand….Put the matter on hold until we know the figures”. (echoing Cllr Claire Wright’s proposal voted down a few weeks earlier.

Chair Tim Wood concluded that all would be examined in great detail by the auditors so there was no cause for alarm.

The second burning issue was the suggested reform of Task and Finish Forums.

A proposal from a Democratic Services Officer (advised by CEO Mark Williams?) that the scope of TAFFs should be proposed by officers, seemed pretty well acceptable to the obedient majority – though it is going to be thought about first by one of Cllr Bloxham’s Think Tanks.

The controversial Business TAFF will continue with the same members as before, but without too much embarrassing looking back at relations with the East Devon Business Forum whose demise seemed to be lamented by Deputy Leader Andrew Moulding. He assured everyone that the TAFF will now have perfectly respectable relations with the new East Devon Business Group which genuinely represented the District’s entrepreneurs.It was time to turn the page, he said, and stop attacking the perceived influence of the EDBF on crucial planning decisions. The representative from Axminster concluded,fittingly, that he was not “trying to sweep anything under the carpet!”

OSC draft minutes: “remaining inaccuracies”, and “a little more for the record” from EDA.

Councillor Tim Wood, Chair of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee (OSC), has been copied in to this e-mail just sent to EDDC from EDA Chair, Paul Arnott. (This evening’s OSC meeting begins at 6.30pm at Knowle.)

‘ I note that Tim (Wood) as Chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee in question, has removed the falsehood that Mr Williams had been “accused” by me of “meddling” with the police investigation. It is regrettable that EDDC published this in draft form online, and an apology from the council would be usual in the circumstances.

As you have already sent out the amendment, there is little point in my further commenting on its remaining inaccuracies. I will take the Chairman’s thanks for my taking time in transcribing the recording and pointing out the errors in the minutes as read.

However, it seems worth saying just a little more for the record, for Tim to consider in his role as Chairman of Overview and Scrutiny. As a former MP his experience in these matters carries much weight in the district.

Mr Mark Williams’ own published account and recorded statements in November disclose that very early in the timeline of the investigation – in the Spring of 2013 – he offered prejudicial opinions to the police in relation to the motivations of those who may have wished to give evidence in this matter.

Then, on the conclusion of the matter in November 2014, he repeated this course, and attempted to heap more blame on these same people, to their material disadvantage. It was an open effort by him to discredit councillors and public alike.

In summary, Mr Williams sought to do reputational damage both before and after the investigation. He then interfered with the course of any further internal investigation by attempting to eliminate a named councillor from the process.

In his November 2014 statement, sent to every councillor before your last meeting, he then falsely smeared the East Devon Alliance, of which I am chairman.

For your information, the EDA was not even constituted until some months after Mr Williams’ own colleague, Ms Denise Lyon, freely decided to report Mr Brown to the police, presumably with his knowledge and tacit approval.

If Mr Williams was keeping a cooler head he would understand that the East Devon Alliance was constituted after the event, and well after his own council had decided it must involve the police.

Many independent-minded, experienced council tax payers considered at the time that from that point on the whole process would require strong independent scrutiny. This is a function which the East Devon Alliance, amongst others, has performed valiantly, I’d suggest, on this and a range of other key district issues. They deserve greater respect than inaccurate and arrogant assertions from the man whose wage they pay.

On a personal note, just to be very clear indeed, I have never had any knowledge of Mr Brown, and had only ever heard his name mentioned, prior to the Telegraph report in March 2013, when local councillors, particularly my ward member Cllr Helen Parr, stated privately that they believed him to be one of a small number who had brought the planning system into disrepute over many years. Who could disagree with her?

These opinions were being freely offered years before Cllr Claire Wright, for example, was even a councillor. Perhaps they never came to Mr Williams’ ear.

I and many others consider that Mr William’s attack on Cllr Wright (and others) – both through the document he published before the November O&S, and indeed his disgraceful attack on Cllr Roger Giles during that meeting (which does not seem to have been seen as noteworthy enough to make the minutes) – were astonishingly ill-judged for one in his position. A matter for scrutiny, perhaps?

As to the police investigation into this matter, let it be recorded that it accomplished nothing other than to provide six hundred days political cover for EDDC to refuse to openly debate and make amends for its mistakes in Planning policy.

Any sincere and rigorous internal investigation carried out by councillors supposedly keen to get to the facts in Spring 2013 would have ranged from the inappropriate influence of the EDBF to the real narrative behind the catastrophic failure to implement a Local Plan in a timely fashion. This failure, predicted by many, leaves us without any protection for our district from opportunistic and unsustainable development. There is no gain in this for the residents of East Devon; the gain is plainly elsewhere.

With hindsight, it appears that the public interest in this matter would have been for Ms Lyon not to have made a report – not an allegation, it should be noted – to the police, but instead to have put extra impetus and urgency into the TAFF set up to look at matters in this area. Instead, this TAFF was put on ice. Tonight we shall learn of its refreshed remit, and precisely who the Chairman of O&S, and the officers he has consulted, deem helpful to sit on it.

As a layman, it would not be difficult to reach the conclusion that the police role as this story played allowed the council to keep this whole matter in the long grass. It can also be fairly commented that the police did not seem in any great haste to retrieve it.

all best wishes


Allegedly misleading draft minutes of OSC amended…in part.

From EDDC to EDA Chair, Paul Arnott, this afternoon:

The Chairman of Overview and Scrutiny Committee has provided the following words for proposed amendment to the minutes of the 13 November 2014 meeting.

Minute 47 (page 4) second paragraph be replaced with:

‘Mr Paul Arnott spoke from the floor putting some critical questions regarding the work both of the police and the Council in the investigation of a former councillor. He claimed that “the chief executive of the compromised authority did what he could to meddle with the internal investigations​” and also asked the police and crime commissioner, Mr Hogg, if he found it coincidental that something like six hundred days after a report was made from this authority to the police about the conduct of a former councillor, five hundred and ninety-nine days later, and one day before he appeared before the committee, the police finally announced that there would be no further action. Mr Hogg did not comment at the time but later, in response to questions to Mr Hogg and senior police officers, it was made clear by Superintendent Perkin that the police investigation had been long and complex and that they did not think the senior investigating officer would have been aware of this meeting.’

Minute 54 (page 12) 8th paragraph from the start of the minute be replaced with:

‘Councillor Claire Wright commented on the recent circulation of a letter of the East Devon Alliance. She went on to state that any attempt to eject her from the membership of the Business TaFF would send a message to the public that the Council had something to hide.’

These proposed amendments have been circulated to the Overview & Scrutiny Committee, for their meeting this evening (6.30pm, Knowle).

For EDA’s response, see next blogpost….

Business TAFF under new stranglehold?

Lots of new rules being instigated at EDDC recently (a possible unseemly distraction from the focus of getting a new Local Plan in place?). Interesting that priority has been given to drawing up new rules for task forums (fora?). http://www.claire-wright.org/index.php/post/changes_proposed_for_east_devon_council_task_forums_to_avoid_risk_of_hijack

Which makes us all wonder about the crippled Business Task and Finish Forum (Business TAFF). It was originally set up by the Overview and Scrutiny Committee’s then Chair, Cllr Stuart Hughes, who was rapidly replaced by Cllr Tim Wood. The latter seems to have no enthusiasm for the Business TAFF’s purpose which was to undertake “an in-depth” investigation into EDDC and business (inevitably including the group formerly known as the East Devon Business Forum, co-founded by Cllr Paul Diviani, and described by EDDC Chief Executive Mark Williams as a “joint body” with EDDC.). No “in-depth investigation” is known to have been done, and key players such as EDDC’s former Economic Development Manager, Nigel Harrison, who had a dual role as the EDBF’s Honorary Secretary, have not been available to answer questions.

If the Business TAFF does at last continue, will its scope have been altered, for what reasons, and by whom? One assumes that EDDC’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee Chair and Vice-Chair have complete and independent control of the matter, without any officer interference. This evening’s meeting may or may not confirm that.

For a timeline for the Business Forum, try the SIN archive: https://sidmouthindependentnews.wordpress.com/2013/09/02/the-business-taff-drags-on/

OSC draft minutes may be ‘unacceptable in law’, as they stand.

Further to yesterday’s East Devon Watch blogpost* about alleged misrepresentation in the Overview and Scrutiny draft minutes:

From EDDC to EDA Chair, Paul Arnott today, by e-mail:
The Chairman of Overview and Scrutiny has read your request and has decided that some small changes will be made but not exactly as you have requested. He has advised me that he is working on a rewording of that section of the minutes to take into account your request.

Paul Arnott’s e-mailed reply: ‘..it is unacceptable in law to place on the public record an endorsed minute wrongly stating that someone has spoken at a meeting and “accused” the Chief Executive (the implication in the wording being that this is the CEO of EDDC) of “meddling” in a police investigation.’


A bumper Overview and Scrutiny Committee agenda with some hidden gems!

Thursday 22 January 2015, 6.30 p.m. Knowle

The agenda is here:


It really is hard to know where to start! So much to overview and (maybe not quite) scrutinise!

1.  An update on relocation – the first for this committee since June 2014 (pages 14-35). Includes a long report about why Knowle is too run down to work in and the horrendous cost of putting this right. No mention of the fact that the buildings have had little or no maintenance for the at least the last 4 years (and almost certainly longer) so they have been allowed to deteriorate. Costings that would include stripping out and replacing just about EVERYTHING!

And, by the way, a little paragraph tucked away that confirms that EDDC was somehow planning to enter a “fixed price” contract for Skypark that would have been against EU regulations. Now, why wasn’t THAT spotted by the experts right at the start?

2.  Then we move on to how to “improve” Task and Finish Forums. Basically, this would be done by agreeing the scope of such TAFFs in advance and not deviating from them one little bit. Oh, and getting the Legal Officer’s “advice” on such scoping. You see what we mean about a lot of overview and very little scrutiny. In this case, the Legal Officer fires the arrow, the Overview and Scrutiny Committee draws a bulls-eye around it and a TAFF says “look at that – exactly in the centre of the target!”.

A TAFF is meant to INVESTIGATE. To investigate it has to have a format that allows it to explore areas that might not at first be evident. No way, says EDDC, a TAFF does what our officers tell it to do, no more no less – though less would be good.

3. And then we get to an agenda item on the Business Task and Finish Forum (pages 61-65) which basically says that, as its Chairman Graham Brown is no longer with us, what’s the point of all this – let’s kick it into the long grass where it belongs just before an election.

It misses the point entirely: this was not (just) about its Chairman and his myriad of council and business interests. It was about a group of big local landowners and developers carving up the district in their own image (something which has,to a certain extent, since happened) and whether this was an appropriate way to bring together evidence and policy for a district council and its Local Plan.  Well, that isn’t going to get an airing is it!

Much is made of a successor to the East Devon Business Forum – the EAST DEVON BUSINESS SUPPORT GROUP.

This group apparently has a one-page website which lists its members (basically Chambers of Commerce, the NFU and Federation of Small Businesses) but contains no mention of any constitution, meetings, scope, etc (perhaps the EDDC Legal Officer could help with that, just like the Economic Development Officer was SO helpful to the East Devon Business Forum as its Hon Sec). However, at least two of the “same old” names appear on the list of members crossing over with the old EDBF.  And it has this addition:

“The East Devon Business Leaders Group.

“This organisation represents the larger businesses that operate within our district & it provides them with a forum where they can meet together to discuss matters which are of interest to the larger businesses.”

No web pages, no names of members, no names of businesses involved- oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!


‘Enforcement action is being considered’ in the Ware Farm case

The delegated report re the failed application by Graham Brown for a ‘certificate of lawfulness’ can now be seen on the EDDC planning website.

Some issues that make this of interest to the general public, are raised at this link: https://eastdevonwatch.wordpress.com/2014/09/23/express-and-echo-reports-on-concerns-about-browns-application/

The expelled ex-Councillor Graham Brown planning decision

A number of apparent anomalies in Mr Brown’s planning application may have led to its just-published refusal, by an EDDC officer. But should the application it have been heard in public and how many councillors would have had to disqualify themselves from the decision-making if that had happened?

It is also to be noted that, whilst he was leading the East Devon Business Forum and Chairman of the (then secret) Local Development Framework group at EDDC, he may have been aware that he was in a difficult planning position regarding his own home.


Other quick news in brief

Expelled-ex-Tory Councillor Graham Brown (former Chairman of the first Local Plan panel and former Chairman of the East Devon Business Forum) has had his application for a certificate of lawfulness in breach of a restrictive covenant for more than 10 years at his home at Ware Farm refused:


Feniton developers Wainhomes make their buyers agree to a restrictive covenant that says they must not object to adjacent development:


Councillor slams CEO Mark Williams over “outing” of witness in police inquiry

More on the Overview and Scrutiny Committee (OSC)……

A heated clash took place at last night’s OSC meeting, between Independent Councillor Roger Giles and the Chief Executive, over the content of Mr Williams’ letter to councillors on 12 November, 2014.

Cllr Giles took advantage of the presence of Chief Superintendent Keith Perkin to as what view the officer would take of someone divulging the name of a person interviewed by the police in connection with a criminal inquiry. “A dim one”, was the reply.

Cllr Giles then asked “What view would you take of the Chief Executive of EDDC yesterday issuing a message in which he named a person interviewed by the police, that person being an East Devon District Councillor”.

Cue applause from the public seats and tut-tutting from some Tory members.

Commissioner Hogg intervened: “You can’t put the police in this position!”, and Chair Tim Wood hurried on to the next question.

Later, after the Police & Crime Commissioner(PCC) and his colleagues had left, Mr Williams called on Cllr Giles to apologise to the PCC for asking an embarrassing question.

Cllr Giles retorted angrily to the CEO that he had never known such inappropriate behaviour from a Chief Executive.

While no Conservative councillors expressed any concern over the revelation, Independent Susie Bond commented that such “outing” of witnesses in police inquiries could well discourage “whistle-blowers” from coming forward in the future with information of possible interest to the police.

Repercussions of the Brown affair at last night’s Council meeting

There were several…
For starters….

Devon and Cornwall Police & Crime Commissioner(PCC),Tony Hogg, spent nearly an hour and a half addressing last night’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee(OSC). He answered a barrage of councillors’ pre-submitted questions, some directly or indirectly linked to the police investigation into an influential EDDC ex-councillor. (The case was closed on 12/11/14, the day before yesterday ).

For example (N.B. Below is a summary only.Recording of the meeting, available on EDDC website soon):

1.Q. Is a PCC informed of progress of ongoing police investigations?
Ans. Only ones that promote a risk to the public or to the reputation of the police/ only high-profile ones

2. Q. Are there safeguards to monitor police relations with partner organisations?
Ans. “I have every confidence” that D&C police are impartial. A joint Audit Committee keeps checks, and a complaints process and appeal system exists.

3. Q. Is declaring membership of the Freemasons a requirement for all staff?
Ans. Membership of this large, charitable organisation “has no bearing on police membership”. No obligation to declare, as it is not a prohibited organisation.

4. Q. As Transparency International warns that bribery in local government, and electoral corruption, are both increasing, what measures should be taken?
Ans. a) Electoral corruption..follow Electoral Commission guidance. b) Bribery…local governments have their own defence against fraud.

5. Q. Why had the Graham Brown Investigation been so lengthy?
Ans. (from the PCC’s colleague, Chief Superintendent Keith Perkin) There were delays in the initial part of the investigation, which “didn’t start for a number of months”. That was regretted, he said. The case was “a complex one” , with “in excess of 40 individuals” being seen. It was “undertaken by specialist investigators”, who had not found enough to reach “the threshold of evidence” for criminal charges to be made.

Three supplementary questions were asked. Two were from Cllr Claire Wright (Independent), who picked up Mr Williams’ phrase (in his e-mail to councillors, 12.11.2014), that the Brown investigation “hasn’t identified (anything) worth pursuing”. She asked if there would be a report and recommendations from the police to EDDC, and whether that would be made public. “I’ll get back to you.”, Chief Superintendent Perkin replied. He gave the same reply to her second question about whether or not Devon and Cornwall are satisfied that they have interviewed everyone.
Cllr Ben Ingham (Independent) was concerned that the initial delay had contributed to the findings, and had perhaps influenced the outcome of the inquiry. The Chief Inspector assured him that “No evidence was lost as a result of the initial delay”.

Much more to come on last night’s OSC…

Police and Crime Commissioner at this evening’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee (6.30pm, Knowle)

Heated debate is inevitable this evening at Knowle. The final Overview and Scrutiny Committee (O&S) meeting of 2014 will be handling red-hot issues, notably that of the Business TAFF rearing its head once again, much to the Chief Executive’s apparent displeasure. Whether the CEO will be present, and how O&S Chair Cllr Tim Wood handles the meeting, will be significant. Both seem at risk of having their fingers burnt…

See our latest posts, e.g. http://eastdevonalliance.org/2014/11/12/mark-williams-on-unfortunate-circumstances-arising-from-g-brown-case/
and http://eastdevonalliance.org/2014/11/12/eda-intense-disquiet-with-chief-executives-letter-to-councillors/

For this evening’s agenda, go to http://new.eastdevon.gov.uk/media/476265/131114-os-agenda-combined.pdf

EDA “Intense disquiet” with Chief Executive’s letter to councillors

Mark Williams’ letter this morning to all EDDC Councillors has provoked a strong response from the East Devon Alliance.
The Chief Executive’s letter is recorded in our earlier post http://eastdevonalliance.org/2014/11/12/mark-williams-on-unfortunate-circumstances-arising-from-g-brown-case/

This critical analysis of it, addressed to the Chairman, has been circulated to all O&S councillors today, on behalf of EDA:

To Cllr Tim Wood, Chair of EDDC Overview and Scrutiny Committee
Dear Councillor Wood,
We are writing to you to express our intense disquiet with the Chief Executive’s letter to councillors today following the Police announcement that they have completed their investigation into the activities of ex-councillor Graham Brown.
Leaving aside the question of whether the police inquiry could be described accurately as “extensive” and “robust” (please see the EDA press release attached) we object strongly to the tone and content of Mr Williams’ letter for the following reasons:
1. The CEO describes the TAFF inaccurately – it’s actually the Business TAFF not the “EDBF TAFF”.
2. He under-estimates the close involvement of EDDC and EDBF saying merely that the council provided “secretarial and administrative support”. He omits to mention council funding, and the fact that a senior officer (Nigel Harrison) was allowed to play a pivotal role in the organisation and lobbying activities of the EDBF. He also ignores the fact that in 2007, an EDBF committee was permitted to denigrate a consultant’s report concerning employment land, and propose recommendations to relax planning restrictions which were accepted soon afterwards by the Council.
3. He falsely implies that the TAFF was established amid the “unfortunate circumstances” and “febrile atmosphere” of the Telegraph revelations. In fact the TAFF was established in September 2012, six months before the Telegraph report and before EDA existed.
4. He falsely claims that those calling for the TAFF “were mainly Cllr C Wright and the East Devon Alliance/Save Our Sidmouth”. This would hardly explain why a majority of the OSC committee voted to begin such an investigation. As the minutes of the OSC (September 2012) show, Cllrs Stuart Hughes and Graham Troman played an important role in arguing that a TAFF should look at the influence of the EDBF over the draft Local Plan, especially in relation to the 12-acre business park proposed for Sidford.
5. He falsely implies that community groups were looking to smear individuals with allegations of “improper behaviour”. The concern of groups like SOS was that there existed serious conflicts of interest when councillors and officers were intimately involved in the lobbying activities of a group that represented landowners and developers. These concerns were subsequently proved to have been justified. As Cllr Twiss wrote to councillors on 17 March 2013, the chair of EDBF was revealed to have engaged in “inappropriate actions” which “brought the council into disrepute”
6. Mr Williams is disingenuous in claiming that “G. Brown chaired the Forum in his capacity as a representative of the NFU (not in his then capacity as an East Devon District Cllr”). It is impossible to disentangle his role as Chair from his role as a very senior councillor, with considerable influence in changing council planning policy which benefitted EDBF members, and on the shaping of the (stalled) Local Plan.
7. Mr Williams claims “the scope for the TAFF is vague and there are a number of caveats.” This could possibly be due to his unwarranted interference in the conduct of the TAFF. In advising, for example, that planning matters could not be discussed and preventing the Economic Development Manager from attending. He has also been accused of manipulating the minutes of the TAFF.
8. He falsely suggests that “it now makes sense to reconsider what is wanted” because it would be inappropriate for the TAFF to continue to ask probing questions as the police inquiry has been called off. The TAFF has never been concerned with possible illegal activities, but with the relationship between council and businesses, apparent conflicts of interest, and possible undue influence on council policy from a lobby group.
9. Mr Williams tells councillors “If a version of the TAFF is to continue the purpose needs to be quite specific and not some generalisation which would otherwise enable the TAFF to justify any and all lines of enquiry they choose to pursue.”
It is completely inappropriate for a Chief Executive to appear to be dictating what a Scrutiny committee should or should not discuss. Constitutionally the OSC must be completely free to hold the leadership to account.
10. Finally, and most seriously, Mr Williams implies that Cllr C Wright and EDA had been in contact with the police and somehow were responsible for a climate of “taint, innuendo or implication (sic!) ” that gave rise to the TAFF.
As said before, the formation of the TAFF predates the existence of the EDA, and the Alliance views this comment as, not only inaccurate, but bordering on the defamatory.
Mr Williams’ thinly veiled suggestion that Cllr Wright should be removed from the OSC because she could not “come to the matter with an open mind” is outrageous. It is totally inappropriate for a senior officer to attempt to influence the composition of a Scrutiny committee by suggesting a named councillor be excluded. This is possibly a serious breach of the Constitution of the Council and of the Officers’ Code of Conduct.
We hope, Cllr Wood, that you will take the opportunity at tomorrow’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee to completely disassociate yourself, and your Committee from Mr Williams’ intemperate and ill-judged comments.
Yours sincerely,
Tony Green
On behalf of the East Devon Alliance

Press Release from Paul Arnott Chair of East Devon Alliance, 12 November 2014

‘East Devon Alliance (EDA) notes the statement issued today by Devon and Cornwall Police that they have decided not to continue their inquiry into the activities of former councillor Graham Brown because of insufficient evidence.

Following the “Councillors for Hire” report in the Daily Telegraph of March 11 2013, EDA was contacted by several people who wished for information to be given to the police. EDA did this on a number of occasions between May 2013 and September 2014.

EDA has therefore followed the conduct of the inquiry with interest. It has been concerned by initial delays caused by an erroneous referral to Action Fraud following the Daily Telegraph revelations, slow progress once the inquiry was underway, and the apparently limited resources devoted to the investigation.

The Alliance is now considering what action it might take to express these concerns in the appropriate forum.

Whatever the result of the police inquiry, EDA agrees with the statement of the EDDC Majority Whip Phil Twiss, in a letter to councillors on 17 March 2013, that he was “hugely disappointed that the inappropriate actions of a former member of the EDDC Conservative group has brought (the council) into disrepute”.

Urgent questions remain concerning the role played by Mr Brown in determining planning policy at EDDC and shaping the failed Local Plan. It is vitally important that the Overview and Scrutiny Committee resumes its much-delayed investigation into the Council’s relations with business, particularly with the East Devon Business Forum of which Mr Brown was chairman.

However, we are very concerned that EDDC’s Chief Executive, Mark Williams, has responded to today’s announcement by writing to all councillors demanding the exclusion of a named councillor from this vital inquiry, and that its scope be limited. ‘

Notes for editors:
1.The Daily Telegraph article “Councillors for Hire” of 11 March 2013:
and follow-up article of 11th November 2013

Police and EDDC on closure of Brown inquiry

The following statements were issued this morning to the media:

From Devon and Cornwall police:

‘Following an extensive investigation regarding allegations of abuse of planning processes relating to a former East Devon District councillor, Devon and Cornwall Police will take no further action.
No arrests have ever been made in relation to the investigation, although there has been extensive and robust enquiries into the allegations as a result of a report in the national media.
East Devon District Council has been informed of the decision and the matter is now closed from a police perspective.’

Two lines from EDDC:

‘The council welcomes the announcement that the Police have completed their lengthy and thorough investigation into this case, which was referred to them by us very shortly after the revelations in the newspaper article.’

More on this news, will follow…