“How ‘basic’ Cranbrook has gone from pioneering new town to almost unfit for purpose”

Anyone remember the “good old days” when the likes of Diviani, Twiss, Thomas and others extolled the virtues of the “new” town – and even got themselves not one but TWO awards for it? Many people wondered how that had come about at the time!
https://www.theexeterdaily.co.uk/news/uk-news/two-national-awards-cranbrook

Devon County Council pointed out its flaws FIVE ago in a 2014 in a damning reporht which identified ALL its current problems, but no-one at EDDC listened:
https://eastdevonwatch.org/2015/09/14/what-mainstream-media-isnt-telling-you-about-that-dcc-cranbrook-report/

Now the price is being paid – this is what you get when your government and your council is developer-led.

And what does the current council leader suggest: ANOTHER talking shop!

Owl thinks a few heads should roll first for the mess the council finds itself in … starting with lead officers CEO Mark Williams and Deputy CEO Richard Cohen who have masterminded the omnishambles …

“… East Devon District Council’s cabinet on Wednesday night heard that the legal agreement that plays a critical role in establishing the trigger points for the delivery of facilities has become ‘an inflexible legal document which was negotiated in a different financial era’ and some of the facilities were ‘no longer fit for purpose’.

Among the current obligations is the Cranbrook Consortium must provide a children’s centre at 2,500 occupations. Devon County Council has now served notice on the consortium and requires them to design, construct and complete them by either June 10, 2021, or when 2,500 homes are occupied.

Andy Wood, projects director, told the meeting: “We are therefore in danger of defaulting to a scenario that may not be fit for purpose or affordable over the longer term. Given the looming trigger points we are rapidly approaching the point of no return. …”

https://www.devonlive.com/news/devon-news/how-basic-cranbrook-gone-pioneering-3288218

The East Devon electoral roll – is it up-to-date and fit for purpose this time round?

Householders are currently receiving a form from EDDC about checking that the household occupants are registered to vote.

It comes with a prepaid envelope and an alternative option to complete online. If you choose the latter, one can end up being told the information has already been supplied. The wording implies the visit to the website may have been unnecessary.

If it WAS unnecessary then itis a waste of time and money – or perhaps the wording could be more appropriate if it WAS necessary?

One wonders about the scale of this and whether it really is necessary to ensure inclusion on the electoral roll? Perhaps CEO Mark Williams’ (Election Officer, for an extra fee and staff budget) ought perhaps to be better targeting – making extra sure he doesn’t “lose” another 6,000 or more voters like he did in the next-to-last general election.

Home visits to addresses in ever-spreading Cranbrook might be a good idea along with some of the other large new estates that have sprung up all over East Devon since the last election (there must be hundreds of new households). How many of those, in the current political climate, might prefer a candidate other than incumbent Tory Swire and where a few hundred votes mught be crucial?

And he doesn’t have the excuse of it being too dark at night for his canvassers to go out … like he said when he tried to explain to Parliament why telephone contact (sometimes to people newly arrived in the area where their telephone numbers would not usually be known, or these days where they are likely to have only mobile phones) was more preferablethan canvassing

Which you can read about here:

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

Scrutiny definitely needed this time around … where the stakes are so very high.

EDDC “Independent” Leader firmly nails his colours (blue?) to his CEOs mast

 

Owl sees no “misunderstanding”.

Another “TiggerTory” policy?

And what does Mr Marchant, the person accused of being “misunderstood” – and Ford’s QC who perpetuated the “misunderstanding” several times at the public inquiry – think about this?

And where’s Councillor Hughes’s explanation for not sharing information about the meeting with other councillors, particularly those on the Development Management Committee – or did he share it with only a select few of his colleagues?

Remember, the Development Management Committee is a STATUTORY committee with rules and regulations … and it must NOT be subjected to party whipping or interference, nor must they “avoid undue contact with interested parties”.

https://www.local.gov.uk/sites/default/files/documents/planning-committee-manage-1cd.pdf

EDDC CEO tries to slither out of responsibility (NOT successfully!) for his planning advice to developer in private meeting

Owl has SO many questions!

First, Mr Williams’ ‘explanation’ defies belief, he basically accuses the developer of lying about the meeting. Then, he issues his denial of the circumstances of the event to the press, rather than to the councillor who asked him for an explanation. THEN, there appears to have been a totally undocumented meeting between him, Stuart Hughes and the developer – something that is extremely worrying – how many other such meetings with developers and hand-picked councillors have occurred? How do they happen?

But judge for yourself from the full text of the DevonLive article.

Owl thinks the very least EDDC majority councillors should do is suspend him until this is satisfactorily sorted.

“Calls have been made for an independent investigation after 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.

East Devon District Council in 2018, on the grounds of harm to highway safety, relating to increased heavy goods vehicle usage of the area’s narrow roads, refused the plans for land, currently used for agriculture, the east of Two Bridges Road in Sidford.

A larger scheme submitted by the applicants was rejected previously by the council in 2016.

Applicants Tim and Mike Ford challenged the 2018 refusal of the council and three days of arguments for and against the development took place in July.

At the planning inquiry though, Richard Kimblin QC, on behalf of the applicants OG Holdings Retirement Benefit Scheme, and Joseph Marchant, their planning agent, said that following the refusal of the 2016 scheme, Mark Williams, the council’s chief executive, advised them they should appeal.

The claims, made both in writing and verbally, were unchallenged by East Devon District Council during the inquiry.

Paragraphs 13 and 14 of the Mr Kimblin QC’s final closing arguments at the Inquiry 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.”

Following a request for comment from the Local Democracy Reporting Service on the remarks allegedly made by Mr Williams, an East Devon District Council spokesman said that the he did not advise the appellant of anything, 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’.

Cllr John Loudoun, who represents the Sidmouth Rural ward, though has called for an independent inquiry into the meeting and the comments, saying that the while the council says there was a ‘misinterpretation of events’, “misinterpretation is a nice way of calling someone a liar.”

The claim that was made by Mr Marchant was set out in his written evidence to the inquiry, which said: “Subsequent to the refusal of the 2016 application, an approach was made to Members, including Councillor Stuart Hughes and the CEO (Chief Executive) of EDDC, Mark Williams.”

The following paragraph added: “We were advised by Mark Williams….that in his opinion, the applicant (Fords) may make more advance in progress towards delivery through appealing the Council’s decision to refuse the 2016 planning application rather than resubmission.

Paragraphs 13 and 14 of Mr Kimblin’s final closing arguments at the Inquiry added: “After the 2016 application was refused, there was a meeting with Councillor 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.”

Asked to comment on the claims made at the inquiry, an East Devon District Council spokesman said: “The council officers and legal representative, acting on behalf of the local planning authority, did not consider the comments made by Mr Marchant or the appellant’s QC as material in specifically defending the reason for refusal, which is of course their role in the inquiry.

“The simple point is that the circumstances described have no bearing or relevance to the local planning authority’s decision and nor therefore to the focussing of all of their efforts in seeking to persuade the Inspector that the proposed development was unacceptable.

“As for the meeting itself, as was made clear at the inquiry the CEO was asked by the applicant/appellant to facilitate a meeting between them and Cllr Hughes to ascertain what options there might be available to them in the light of the refusal of planning permission.

“At the meeting, as reflected in Mr Marchant’s proof of evidence, Cllr Hughes expressed his opinion that he could not foresee any circumstances under which planning permission would be acceptable, notwithstanding the Local Plan allocation.

“The CEO did not advise the appellant of anything, but expressed the view that there were therefore three potential options open to the applicants: resubmit with changes to the proposed scheme; appeal the decision; or walk away from the site.

“The applicant appears to have chosen to interpret this as encouraging an appeal and we would note that the comments from their QC were in the context of also making an application for costs against the council – a situation where a degree of hyperbole and exaggeration is not unusual.”

However Cllr Loudoun said that having read the council’s response, he was even more convinced of the need for what he originally asked for, a genuinely independent inquiry in these issues, and he was appalled that the response to his concerns was sent to the press and not him.

He added: “Evidence provided at the Inquiry was fully tested by both the Council and the applicants’ representatives because this is the way in which facts are established or challenged. The statements made verbally and in writing by Mr Marchant for the appellants are, according to the District Council statement, misinterpretations of the events and comments at the meeting involving the Chief Executive.

“This is an extraordinary state of affairs as we now have a challenge to Mr Marchant’s evidence at a point where he cannot defend himself and after the point when the Council allowed the statements to be accepted as fact. It would appear that the Council is now saying that Mr Marchant spoke untruths and that these were untruths were in turn repeated by the applicants’ QC.

“They are essentially accusing them of lying. When it was raised in the inquiry, no-one complained about it and or questioned it. To me, saying it was a misinterpretation is a nice way of calling them a liar.”

He added: “The Council’s statement is disingenuous in that it tries to down play the quotes of what the Chief Executive said as put forward by the applicants’ QC as “hyperbole and exaggeration” whilst pursuing a costs order. This ignores the fact that Mr Marchant made the claims whilst giving evidence and that the appellants’ QC repeated them not only in his arguments for costs but also, and more importantly, in his broader closing submissions in support of the applicants’ case.

“It was not a throwaway comment as it was in the both written and verbal statements and made by two people.

“I am even more concerned having read the Council’s public response to these matters and I am now even more convinced of the need for what I originally asked for, a genuinely independent inquiry in these issues.

“If he did say that they should appeal then he has it then he was undermined the officers, the council and his role on a very serious issues, and if not, then why wasn’t it challenged at the inquiry?

“I am bemused at the response from the council to this matter which seems to be now turning into as much a focal point as the planning application and subsequent Inquiry.”

A decision on whether to allow the appeal to allow the plans for 8,445sqm of employment space built on the outskirts of the village is set to be made by the Autumn. If the appeal was allowed, then a further planning application would need to be submitted for the details of the scheme.”

https://www.devonlive.com/news/devon-news/independent-inquiry-calls-after-claims-3158474

Report on Sidford Business Park Planning Inquiry

Owl says: an excellent summary – but particularly pay attention to one interesting point in it:

QUOTE: …it transpires that after their 2016 application was refused by the District Council the appellants representatives met with the Council’s Chief Executive where he encouraged them to appeal the decision. UNQUOTE

Since when did the CEO give planning advice to appelants – and who (if anyone) was with him at that meeting. And to whom, who, if anyone did he/they subsequently disclose it?

“Apologies for this lengthy Update but we wanted to provide the full flavour of the Planning Inquiry.

As we are sure you all are aware last week there was the Planning Inquiry into the appeal lodged by Tim and Mike Ford, trading as OG Holdings Retirement Benefits Scheme, into the planning application to build a Business Park in Sidford that was refused by East Devon District Council at the end of last year. The Inquiry was held in public in front of a Planning Inspector.

The District Council was represented by a very competent barrister and had one of its planning officers and a highways officer from Devon County Council as their witnesses. On the other side, the Fords, known throughout the Inquiry as the appellants, were represented by a QC and had a plethora of witnesses.

Four representatives from this Campaign were present continuously at the Inquiry from the very moment when it commenced and over three days until the moment that it concluded. Indeed, three of the Campaign’s representatives gave evidence to the Inquiry, were cross examined by the appellants’ QC and were able to direct questions to be put to witnesses, as well as participating in several “round table” discussions on specific issues related to the matters under consideration.

The three Campaign representatives who gave evidence were District Councillor Marianne Rixson, Keith Hudson and John Loudoun. There were also three other witnesses, all speaking against the proposed Business Park. These were – Town Councillor Jeff Turner, County Councillor Stuart Hughes and Sidford resident Jackie Powell. In reality, and for all other appearances, this Campaign’s representatives were treated as, and able to participate as, full participants alongside the Council and the appellants.

At all stages of the Inquiry it was pleasing to have a number of members of the public in attendance for what on a number of occasions must have been a rather dry affair, particularly when legal arguments were being exchanged and technical data argued over.

The bulk of all of the evidence and legal arguments centred primarily, as one would expect, around the issue of the suitability and safety of the highway (the A375 through Sidford and Sidbury) as this had been the grounds upon which the District Council had refused the latest planning application. Its worth recalling that for the appellants the planning application which was the subject of this Inquiry was the latest on for that site, with the first one being back in 2012, whilst the Fords submitted their first in 2016, which as we know was refused in the same year.

On the final day of the Inquiry this Campaign’s representatives were able to make strong interventions on what could become an important set of issues. As in any such Inquiry the Inspector, whilst they have all the parties together, go through what planning conditions would apply should the Inspector uphold the appeal. None of this is meant to signify that the Inspector has made a decision one way or another, but rather makes good use of everyone’s time.

We were able to put arguments on behalf of local residents for some of the main planning conditions. These conditions include important matters such as the days and hours when noisy machinery could be operated, the days and times when deliveries or collections could be made to businesses using the Business Park, having an agreed site lighting scheme which would include the use of illuminated advertising, the days and times of when the construction can take place and when construction vehicles can access the site.

Both parties agreed that if the site becomes operational there will be provision made at it for a cycle/footpath through it. This would link to the existing cycle/footpath that goes from Two Bridges Road down to the Byes and is meant to be an additional link to join through to the centre of Sidbury. The only problem here is that the County Council appears to have made no progress in developing the route into Sidbury.

This Campaign argued that the appellants, if successful at the appeal, should agree to fund the full cost of the cycle/footpath from Sidford to Sidbury and that such a condition should remain for the next 10 years. The appellants, not unsurprisingly, did not accept that this should be a condition that either legally or voluntarily should be applied!
We were very pleased to hear from the Inspector that the day before the Inquiry started, he had visited the site, as well as key areas within Sidford and Sidbury.

At the end of the Inquiry the Inspector invited both parties and this Campaign to identify sites that we wanted him to revisit. We are pleased that our proposed locations were accepted by the appellants representatives.
During the Inquiry we were able to persuade the Inspector to pay five videos that we had submitted as part of our evidence. These videos, we argued illustratively show the effects on the A375 in both Sidford and Sidbury of traffic problems given the current level of traffic, and we argued that with the additional traffic that would be generated by the Business Park this would only get worse. Links to each of these videos are set out at the end of this Update.

Interestingly, three new pieces of information came from evidence provided on behalf of the appellants.

The first is that the appellants argued that the planning application as it currently stands is the least that would make the site financially viable for them. In other words, if the appeal is lost then there is no point in the appellants submitting another application as it wouldn’t make them enough money.

Secondly, it transpires that after their 2016 application was refused by the District Council the appellants representatives met with the Council’s Chief Executive where he encouraged them to appeal the decision.

The third was that even if the appeal is successful and the appellants are able to build the Business Park, they would not be intending to build a phase two development in the neighbouring field as was expected.
The documents that both parties, this Campaign and members of the public have submitted to the Inquiry, and which the Inspector assured us he has diligently all read are available via this link –

https://planningapps.eastdevon.gov.uk/Planning/lg/dialog.page?Param=lg.Planning&org.apache.shale.dialog.DIALOG_NAME=gfplanningsearch&SDescription=18/1094/MOUT&viewdocs=true