EDDC Lib Dem councillor asks: “When is an Independent really independent?”

Opinion piece from EDDC Lib Dem Councillor Eileen Wragg. Though Owl feels obliged to add that she was flexible enough herself as a Lib Dem to be a member of the overwhelmingly Tory council cabinet last time around!

“We are living in uncertain times, with politics in turmoil, unrest at home and abroad. We seem to have lost direction and are desperately in need of leadership.

For some years now, I have believed that the party political system has been failing, the public despairing that they are not being listened to by those in positions of power.

Recent local elections gave voters the opportunity to express their frustrations and disquiet, which resulted in the Conservatives being ousted from power at East Devon District Council (EDDC), after 45 years, and at Exmouth Town Council after twelve years.

Having attended the first full council meeting at EDDC, I found the situation bizarre.

The Independents now form the largest group on that council.

I cannot get my head around how an Independent can become part of a group.

To me it is a contradiction; either you are an Independent or you’re not.

I tried to reason this view with the chief executive there, and he told me that it was due to political balance.

My beliefs became further compounded when, at that first meeting, the Independents, who sat together at the front of the council chamber, appeared to vote in unison in making appointments to the various committees.

The electorate who voted in May’s elections were mostly disillusioned with how local government had been operating, and there was definitely a strong protest made.

But what do we have now?

An intake of new councillors, who, unless they are known to voters, many of us don’t know what they stand for.

The next four years will be interesting, during which time the new councils will be able to prove their worth.”

https://www.midweekherald.co.uk/news/east-devon-wragg-independent-council-opinion-1-6127634

EDDC Ceremonial roles … and naughty councillors

Leader Ben Ingham is on record as saying of his choice of Tory Stuart Hughes as Chairman of the council:

“The Tories are not in our Cabinet whatsoever. They hold the Chair because we felt we needed an experienced Chair to make sure Full Council is run properly. This is a civic appointment only.”

Apparently, there wasn’t a suitable independent (of either faction), including those who have already served for 4+ years in previous councils, that he felt would be able to take on the role of representing the council and chairing some of its meetings. So, it seems like a Catch 22 – you can’t get get the role if you don’t have experience – and you can’t get experience because it needs someone who already has experience, not even watching someone in the role for years and learning from it, so it seems the role might remain Tory forever!

But it ISN’T a purely ceremonial role – the Chairman of the Council also chairs the Standards Committee – the one that taps the wrists of naughty councillors.

Surely that isn’t a “ceremonial role”?

Or maybe now it is!

EDDC Tory chairman appointed by Independent Leader adores Boris …

Really, this council gets more and more strange! After the massive Independent surge in May when people voted to put old-guard Tories out power, we get a Tory chairman who promotes himself and his party in the local press going dotty about Boris! So, everywhere he goes as the Chairman on behalf of the Leader he will be extolling the virtues of a different party!

… Cllr Hughes said: “I am certainly backing him and told him so. I think he’s the only candidate who will pull and unite the Conservative Party.

“I’d just finished chairing my first meeting of PATROL Parking and Traffic Regulations Outside London. On the way out of the rear entrance of Church House near Westminster Abbey met Boris and his team just getting into his Range Rover. [Rear entrance … Boris having been criticised for avoiding the public and journalists]

“I was delighted he agreed to photo, and yes, feel privileged to have been one of the few to have had opportunity to speak to him prior to the BBC candidates’ hustings tonight.”

https://www.sidmouthherald.co.uk/news/sidmouth-councillor-backs-boris-johnson-for-pm-1-6112478?

Reply from EDDC Leader Ben Ingham on previous post

Councillor Ben Ingham, Leader of EDDC and the Independent Grouphas responded to the article below. He responded in red print, which Owl cannot reproduce, so his comnents are in BOLD and a

LARGER FONT

One of the reasons so many Independent councillors were elected was because they were not Tories! People had become sick of the way the district had been run for the last 45 years and demanded change. Part of that change was to see exactly what Tories had been up to in those 45 years when transparency was in short supply.

So, on 3 May, we were presented with:

31 Independents
(20 mostly eastern-based/central-based Independents,

(8 from Exmouth & Budleigh area – west)

11 mostly western-based Independent East Devon Alliance)

(Central and eastern)

19 Tories
8 Lib Dems
2 Greens

An alliance of Independents, Lib Dems and Greens would have produced 41 non-Tories – easily outnumbering 19 Tories.

36 would have been a workable maximum. Some were mutually exclusive.

What we now know happened is that eastern-based Independents (Leader Ben Ingham, Exmouth) refused to work with East Devon Alliance.

The EDA wanted to implement a Leadership Board of 6 at the annual meeting 22nd May, which was considered by the Independents as unnecessary, unworkable and definitely unconstitutional.

We assume that Lib Dems (who agreed to work with an Independent majority, but not form a coalition with them), were similarly excluded by Mr Ingham from working with his group.

The Lib Dems refused to join the cabinet or take up any part if the administration. They turned down Lead positions as well.

Instead, Mr Ingham chose to work with the 19 Tories, an ex-Tory (former Tory Leader Ian Thomas) and several so-called Independent councillors whose late-onset Independent roots had never been obvious or put to the test. He gave the job of Chairman of the Council to Stuart Hughes.

The Tories are not in our Cabinet whatsoever. They hold the Chair because we felt we needed an experienced Chair to make sure Full Council is run properly. This is a civic appointment only.

a Cabinet post to Ian Thomas, one of the jobs representing EDDC at Greater Exeter Strategic Plan meetings to Tory Philip Skinner.

that is not a GESP appointment. His influence iinsignificant (sic) or he would not be there.

and several other posts to other Tory councillors.

The outside bodies and panels are as they describe, not within the core team of the council

Owl has no idea what the two Green (Exmouth-based) councillors think of this arrangement.

They too were invited to join the cabinet or take Chairs/vice chairs. They declined everything until they are better acquainted with the Council’s functions, which is understandable.

Despite this, CEO Mark Williams presumably decided that there were NOT 31 Independents, but two kinds of totally different Independents (Independent Group, EDA).

Very foolishly, it was EDA who created the second group, without any consultation. Their leader insisted this was necessary to get the correct seat allocation. For the four previous years we were one group. EDA opted out with no discussion, therefore making the Tories the biggest group! The Independent group of 15 immediately worked to stop this by inviting the other 5 to join them, there was no choice. Otherwise the Tories would have challenged for leadership of EDDC as the largest group!

and declared Tories as the “official opposition” –

Fortunately the Independents did increase to 20, and stopped that happening, no thanks to the EDA!

in spite of them holding Cabinet and other posts.

No Tories in Cabinet

Is this constitutionally correct? How does one decide? One asks the CEO – dead end there, then!

This has led to a Tory (“official opposition”) Alan Dent, being the head of the Scrutiny Committee – the only committee that now has wide investigative powers.

The main opposition select the Chair of Scrutiny, just like we selected Roger Giles 4 years ago

The Chair of this committee can say Yes or No to requests for scrutiny of any subject – his word is the only word on what goes on an agenda (as long as the CEO agrees, of course).

So, is there any chance of the Scrutiny Committee holding the previous Tory administration to account? No, zero, zilch, nada in Owl’s view.

Your opinion, no evidence

So those Tory bodies – lying quietly tucked away for the last 45 years are almost certain to continue enjoying their slumbers.

Your opinion, no evidence

And all because some Independents can’t or won’t work with other Independents and local Lib Dems are keeping themselves well apart where, in other areas, coalitions of Independents, Greens and Lib Dems is promising real change in formerly true-blue districts.

Unfortunately the EDA leadership ruled EDA out by insisting on a leadership board and splitting the Independent Group in two. We were left on our own. The new 5 Independents would not work with the EDA.

What is so ironic about this whole story is that, in his political career, Ben Ingham has been a Tory councillor, an Independent Councillor and Leader of the East Devon Alliance!!!

And you were a die-hard socialist, but claim now to be an independent? All things must pass.

Pitiful and shameful.

REAL independence in politics – when ALL independents are in one group

“… As with all the independents I meet, they insist that orthodox party divides have no relevance to politics at the most local level. “If you look at our 16 candidates, we have got leftwing people and we have got a supporter of the Brexit party,” says another DIG councillor, Ged Yardy. “We have not been elected on the basis of our previous politics. Party politics is not in the room.”.

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/jun/12/how-to-take-over-your-town-the-inside-story-of-a-local-revolution?

BUT party politics IS in the room when, as in East Devon, Independents from one group appoint Conservatives into positions of power and/or influence in order to give that pairing a majority rather than appointing other independents whose origins differed from theirs.

Cranbrook to get massively BIGGER – first planning test for no-overall-control council

The first test of The Independent Group on large-scale development. It got to make up the EDDC Cabinet and its Leader, Ben Ingham, has appointed several current and former Tories to positions of influence.

What will each group’s stand be on large-scale development? And what happens if the smaller parties have different views to that of the Independent Group and Tories if they agree? Interesting.

There are a few worrying words in this press release – potential, proposed, outlines, capable of, vision, could, opportunities. Lots of leeway for developet mund-changing at a later date.

And missing words: affordable and social housing.

Plus our local NHS Trust wants more than £1.3 million before it considers the proposal sustainable for health needs.

“Plans for 930 new homes as part of the western expansion of Cranbrook have been revealed.

The proposals for the Bluehayes site would also see a primary school, sport and recreational facilities, community uses, green infrastructure, as well as a mixed use area of shops, food and drink and professional services built.

The Bluehayes site, which lies between the existing Cranbrook development and Broadclyst Station, is one of four proposed expansion areas of Cranbrook.

A new link road that would run from the Cranbrook railway station to London Road and to Broadclyst Station, through the middle of the Bluehayes site, is also proposed in the scheme handed in recently to East Devon District Council planners.

And the plans also reveal that a footbridge over the London Road that would connect the Bluehayes site with the proposed Treasbeare site, south of the road, could be built.

The Cranbrook Plan was backed by East Devon District Council’s Strategic Planning Committee in February which outlines the land where a further 4,170 new homes will be built.

It allocates 40 hectares of land at the Bluehayes Expansion Area for around 960 new dwellings, land capable of accommodating a community building, formal open space recreational land, a 420 pupil place primary school, formal play space with facilities for children and youth and allotments totalling an area of 0.55 hectare of land

Details with a planning statement submitted with the planning application says: “The submission of the new outline application for the Western Expansion of Cranbrook and the change of use of agricultural land to the north of Cranny Brook to SANG land, is consistent with the planning policy and the longstanding policy to deliver new homes to meet the needs of the area.

“The submission of the application for the Western Expansion area and their progression delivers certainty required in the long term delivery of growth and of the delivery of the vision for Cranbrook.

“The proposals have been designed to be residential led with the potential for the delivery of a new primary school and formal outdoor sports pitches to provide complementary community and social infrastructure to meet the needs of new residents.

“The application demonstrates provision of the necessary infrastructure to include internal roads, public transport provision, formal and informal open space uses to support itself and to mitigate any impacts of development on existing communities and wider infrastructure.

“Cranbrook and its Western Expansion have been fully justified in the context of local planning policy and in the context of the growth agenda and the national and local need for housing.

“The proposals will result in substantial and demonstrable benefits in terms of meeting the need for new homes in a sustainable manner, fostering economic development and further underpinning the sustainability of Cranbrook.

“The proposals will also help deliver the vision for Cranbrook and underpin the planning and delivery of infrastructure and the town centre.”

A 1.14 hectare site for a one-form entry primary school could come forward as part of the plans. The primary school will be built in either the Bluehayes or the Treasbeare allocation, depending on which is constructed first.

Details with the scheme also outline that a new link road from the Cranbrook station to London Road and to Broadclyst Station will be built.

There will be a new frontage to London Road which will comprise a mixed use area, providing opportunities for a range of residential, retail and small scale employment uses, and in future, a crossing over London Road to the southern expansion area may be accommodated.

But the Royal and Devon Exeter NHS Foundation Trust have requested a contribution of £1,332,313 from the developers, cash which will be used directly to provide additional health care services to meet patient demand.

Commenting on the application, they say: “Without the contribution being paid, the development would not be acceptable in planning terms as the consequence would be inadequate health services available to support it.”

Having considered the cost projections, the Trust say that they will require the full figure to ensure the required level of service provision is delivered in a timely manner.

They add: “Failure to access this additional funding will put significant additional pressure on the current service capacity, leading to increase delays for patients and dissatisfaction with NHS services.

“The contribution will ensure that Health services are maintained for current and future generations and that way make the development sustainable.”

The Bluehayes expansion is one of four proposed expansion areas for Cranbrook, which development also proposed for Treasbeare and Grange, south of the existing town, and Cobdens, to the east of the town.

A reserved matters application has also been submitted for 80 homes, for which outline planning permission has already been granted, for land north-east of the Cranbrook Education Campus.

East Devon District Council planners will determine the fate of the applications at a later date.”

https://www.devonlive.com/news/devon-news/cranbrook-getting-bigger-930-new-2923726

Greater Exeter Strategic Plan: change or no change?

Now that the Local Election is over, we can see from this report in the Sidmouth Herald:

https://www.sidmouthherald.co.uk/news/possible-locations-for-new-devon-villages-set-to-be-released-1-6061225

that potential sites for new villages in support of the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan (GESP) have been found and are due to be unveiled shortly.

A whopping 57,000 new properties cross the four council areas adjoining Exeter will have to be built to satisfy Exeter’s growth aspirations.

Quite soon, therefore, we can expect that the newly elected Councillors who represent us on the GESP, Councillor Susie Bond and Councillor Philip Skinner, will have to decide how many new villages East Devon will take and where they will be sited. Obviously close proximity to Exeter will be a significant factor and places like Lympstone, Woodbury, Clyst St Mary, Farringdon and West Hill must be in the frame.

To give an example of the impact to expect. A tiny community between Broadclyst and Pinhoe – Westclyst, has had a whopping 1200 houses imposed upon it. Where the highest quality agricultural land lay four years ago, bounded by about 30 bungalows, there are now sprawling housing estates.

In the past these decision have been kept a closely guarded secret. Will the new regime now act with transparency and openness?

We know from the CPRE study on “Devon’s Housing Needs” that:

•​Far too many homes are already being planned for Devon in the next 10 years.
•​Two thirds of these will be occupied by inward migration.
•​Vacant and second homes are becoming a problem across the County.
•​We in East Devon are taking a disproportionate share of development. Our Local Plan annual housing target is the highest in the Greater Exeter Area: 58% higher than Exeter, 53% higher than Teignbridge and nearly three times that of Mid Devon.
•​Whilst we are planning too many houses, we are failing to plan for enough homes of the right type in the right location, especially for locally generated households.

Ex Councillor and one time Leader, Paul Diviani boasted in council, just before Christmas, that the high growth policy he advocated for East Devon was justified because “we have the land and we are good at it”.

In the election Paul Diviani was decisively rejected by the electorate, receiving a derisory 319 votes.

On 3rd May the voters clearly voted for change but are they going to get it?