New “garden village” for Devon

To be called Culm Garden Village

Owl hopes that it will fare better than “Cranbrook Eco Town” where the “eco” got very quietly dropped some time ago!

The local blog Cullompton Eye says:

“Proposal for Culm Valley Garden Village was released this week by MDDC which included some very interesting issues for Cullompton.The obvious one being a new town development East of the Motorway of up to 5000 homes, enlargement of the Kingsmill Commercial area,provision of 2 new schools, retail & community facilities.

Most importantly the provision of a new road which loops from the back of the present Kingsmill site via Honiton Rd at Aller Barton then through the fields between the old greenhouse site & Upton Lakes to a proposed new road crossing site over the Culm ,Railway & motorway at a point approximately between the Jubilee Wood & the junior football pitches. The proposal also includes south facing slip roads onto & off the M5 & a junction with a new Town Relief Road running from Station Rd roundabout across the CCA fields via a route to be decided to join Meadow Way by the Pumping Station.

The timescale put on this is by 2023 meaning the town would double in size by 2030 but have the infra structure to cope with the traffic generated.

By itself the growth of the Commercial area demands a better motorway access as the traffic of artics is already having difficulty moving around the junction to access the M5 North let alone swamp the town via Fore St.

Within the proposal MDDC also suggests that the J28 as now configured has reached capacity & the congestion in town is affecting air quality levels as well a being detrimental to the development of the Fore St/ High St area so i would assume that puts emphasis for approvals .

This proposal also includes a section on the study into reopening the Railway Station which will be perfectly placed between old & new town areas.

Within the report there is a large section on flood alleviation & a country park looks to being developed around the NE fringe stretching to more than 100 acres to include attenuation lakes renewable forest area for fuel & leisure.”

Exeter Green Party wants transparency on proposed LEP and other secret partnerships including with East Devon

“Proposals by Exeter City Council to restructure decision-making in Devon are being challenged.

In a letter to Council Leader, Pete Edwards, Exeter Green Party has raised concerns about the ways Exeter City Council is developing initiatives to restructure the authority – all of which will give binding powers to new layers of local government.

[The letter states]

Exeter Green Party is deeply concerned about the ways in which the various initiatives to restructure local government decision-making in Devon are being pursued. We are referring to:

The “devolution” proposals for a combined authority covering the Heart of the South West, from which we understand the City Council withdrew at a meeting on 9 December.

The proposal for a Greater Exeter Growth and Development Board (GEGDB], agreed in principle by the City Council’s Executive on 8 November.

The proposals which emerged at the end of last week for a South Devon Unitary Council, involving Exeter, Plymouth, East Devon, Teignbridge, Torbay and possibly South Hams councils.

We do not at present wish to take a position on the merits of the various alternatives, though there are many concerns and questions to be addressed.

At this stage, we ask the following questions:

1. What mandate does the City Council have from the residents it serves to:

(a) attempt to reorganise local government decision-making structures?
(b) propose arrangements which would suck key decisions upwards from the elected representatives of the people of Exeter to a new superior authority – the GEGDB – which would not be directly elected?
(c) propose a strategic authority – the GEGDB – which on the evidence of the 8 November paper would focus solely on economic growth to the exclusion of social and environmental considerations?

2. When does the City Council plan to publicise its thinking and actively consult residents and businesses on whether they actually want new local government arrangements and, if so, on the form they should take and how any new body might be fully accountable to local people?

Because we believe there should be public debate now on these issues, we are issuing this letter to the media. I am also sending a copy to Karime Hassan.
I look forward to your reply.

In a surprise move proposals emerged at the end of last week for a new super South Devon Unitary Council. It could see a ‘super mayor’ governing Exeter, Plymouth, East Devon, Teignbridge, Torbay and possibly South Hams councils.

The Greens concerned that decisions are being made without any public consultation or mandate to give power to unelected bodies.

Exeter City Council had previously committed itself to the Heart of the South West “devolution” proposals for a combined authority. It is now understood Exeter City Council withdrew from this plan at a meeting on Friday. The Council’s Executive has also agreed in principle to set up a ‘Greater Exeter Growth and Development Board’ with East, Mid and Teignbridge Councils, and give this new body powers to make binding decisions on each Council.

Green Party spokesperson, Diana Moore, said:”These decisions about major changes to the structure and functions of local government are taking place behind closed doors.

“We want to know what mandate the City Council has for these proposals and when they intend to consult residents and businesses on whether they actually want new local government arrangements.

“They need to be transparent about their intentions and the power they intend to give away.

“The proposed arrangements would take away key decisions from the elected representatives of the people of Exeter and hand them to distant unelected bodies.

“The economic growth priorities of any of these bodies doesn’t address social and environmental considerations or the rising inequality in the city.

“Councils must focus on their duty to co-operate – and do that to the benefit of local people and not obsess about new structures which will only serve vested interests.

“Any new proposals for local government must be fully consulted on and that whatever structure emerges must be transparent and accountable to local people.”

Oh, oh, trouble: a mini Local Enterprise Partnership or a maxi East Devon Business Forum on its way?

Another unelected, unaccountable, non-transparent secret society on its way?

Another shady group of “private sector representatives and business community” Tories wetting their pants with the excitement of yet another trough for their snouts?

Cabinet Agenda for 14 December, 2015
Item 19
Page 147

The “Exeter Travel to Work Area (TTWA) area recommendations:

Click to access 141216combinedcabagendafinals.pdf

“It is presently proposed that the desired formal body for the Exeter TTWA will be a ‘Greater Exeter Growth and Development Board’ (GEGDB) including the local authorities covering the Greater Exeter functional economic area.

The Board would be a Joint Committee under s101 (5), 102 Local Government Act 1972 and s9EB Local Government Act 2000 and pursuant to the Local Authorities (Arrangement for the Discharge of Functions) (England) Regulations 2012.

It will comprise the 5 local authorities [Exeter, East Devon, Mid Devon, Teignbridge and DCC] as voting members

and a number of non-voting co-opted private sector /other representatives drawn from the wider business community.

This approach was agreed by Exeter City Council in principle on 8 November and is now being considered by the other potential partners.”

“Journalism is finding out what someone else doesn’t want you to know – everything else is public relations

Mid-Devon is one of the four councils that makes up the secretive “Greater Exeter”.

“THEY say that journalism is finding out what someone else doesn’t want you to know – everything else is public relations, writes Katie French.

This week especially that distinction has felt rather relevant.

With the news that two prominent councillors had been removed from their high-profile positions at Mid Devon District Council, it was important to find out why.

But how can a reporter get to the bottom of a story when those involved are not speaking to you?

This paper is regularly inundated with requests from the council for photo opportunities and self-congratulatory coverage but in the last seven days, the phones have been nigh on silent.

In a quest to get to the bottom of the Tiverton Portas Company investigation, repeated attempts have been made to contact councillors Sue Griggs and Neal Davey.

Neither has answered calls nor responded to emails.

This would all be very well if they hadn’t chosen a life in public office. But when you begin to take an allowance from the taxpayer to stand as a councillor, your decisions as a public servant open you up to a reasonable expectation of scrutiny.

Through their roles at the Tiverton Portas Company – Cllr Griggs as chair and Cllr Davey as secretary – the pair have become the trusted faces responsible for the £100,000 of government money supplied to improve the town.

Both have enjoyed ample column inches celebrating their successes. Yet when asked to comment on this investigation they have been silent.

This refusal to respond to reasonable requests has infuriated the chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance.

John O’Connell said: “Local residents will be incensed. This repeated refusal to speak to reporters shows a shocking contempt for scrutiny and transparency.

“The individuals responsible must be held to account. This is an utter disgrace and the council needs to sort it out without delay.”

But the councillors are not the only ones who have been difficult to reach.

Mid Devon District Council carried out the investigation into the Tiverton Portas Company after a complaint was made by a member of the public.

Numerous sources told this paper that a deficit of £18,000 had been discovered. That claim turned out to be unfounded but had the findings of the investigation – as presented to the standards committee on October 6 – been held in public, the claim would have had no credibility in the first place.

This increasing trend for public-funded bodies to attend to matters in private is not good for anyone – and it is not good enough.

As taxpayers we have a right to learn how our money is spent. Press and public should stand together and challenge unreasonable attempts to keep private matters relating to the taxpayer’s purse.

Next week a meeting will be held at Tiverton Town Council to discuss the findings of Mid Devon District Council’s audit.

It has been hinted that it will be held in chambers – meaning the press and public will be excluded.

This is not acceptable and the Gazette will be challenging the motion.

After all – if it is deliberately being held away from a reporter it’s likely there is going to be something worth hearing.”

Two mid-Devon Conservative councillors removed from committees following investigation

News announced in a press release, presumably from the council, that very carefully excludes the reasons why they were removed:

Neil Parish gets pompous (and evasive) about his tax affairs too

Note: MP Mel Stride represents a small part of the East Devon area. Mr Parish was an MEP from 1999 to 2007.

THREE out of four Devon MPs would not answer questions about wjhether they have benefited from offshore accounts, the Echo can reveal.

Hugo Swire, Neil Parish and Mel Stride chose not to respond to questions from the Echo about their tax affairs.

It comes after leaked documents showed politicians, footballers and celebrities had benefited from offshore investments designed to avoid UK taxes. Following calls for greater transparency amongst politicians, the Echo asked the MPs if they had ever used offshore accounts and whether they were prepared to publish their tax returns.

But Mr Swire, whose family was listed at 42 in the most recent Sunday Times Rich List, mounted robust defence of MPs’ right to keep their tax affairs private, which the Echo is publishing in full [see Owl’s post below for Swire’s letter].

His family’s business, which owns a stake in Cathay Pacific, has scores of subsidiaries operating from Panama, Bermuda and the British Virgin Isles.

A county councillor has criticised the 56-year-old foreign office minister for failing to answer the questions posed to him and said he should reveal his tax affairs.

Councillor Claire Wright, who represents Ottery St Mary Rural, said: “Hugo needs to be open and transparent about whether he has offshore investments or not.”

Ben Bradshaw, Labour MP for Exeter, was the only politician in the Echo’s circulation area to respond to all five questions.

He answered “no” to questions one, two and three, meaning he and his family to the best of his knowledge had not benefited from any offshore investments.

Mr Bradshaw said: “Sunlight is the best disinfectant. I have no problem with MPs who, after all, make the laws, being required to publish their tax returns and perhaps the same should apply to our tax-exiled newspaper proprietors too.”

Meanwhile an assistant to Mel Stride, MP for Central Devon, said he was not prepared to make a statement on whether Mr Stride had benefited from offshore accounts at the moment.

The assistant said: “All I can state is he has no offshore trusts.”

The office for Neil Parish, MP for Tiverton and Honiton, did not respond to any of the questions, but came back with the following statement.

Mr Parish said: “This Conservative Government has done more than any other Government to close tax loopholes, a move which I welcome and I voted in favour of these measures.

“All of the items where I have a pecuniary interest have been registered in the Register of Members’ Interest which can be found online.”

Cllr Wright, however, said she believed MPs should be open following the scandal.

She said: “Tax avoidance has been a growing public concern and after the release of the Panama papers, it has reached a point where it is a top story on the news every day.”

“It is beholden on every MP to be open and transparent. They are in a position of public trust if they do have money in off-shore accounts,” Cllr Wright said.

“Hugo is a government minister and as the government make attempts to try and tighten up tax avoidance, the public needs to have confidence in its MPs so we know that they are practicing what they preach.”

Jonathan Isaby, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, however said he thought it would be unfair for MPs to have to publish their tax returns.

He said: “David Cameron made a rod for his own back by moralising about the legal tax arrangements of others in the past and was clearly clumsy in his handling of questions about the Panama papers.

“But it would be unfair to start forcing politicians into publishing their tax returns. MPs already have to declare external sources of income, significant shareholdings and so on in the publicly-available Register of Members’ Financial Interests but enforced publication of full tax returns would be an undue invasion of privacy.

“Our politicians’ energy would be far better spent simplifying our labyrinthine tax code instead of pontificating about the tax arrangements of those abiding by the very laws which they have written.”

Our questions

The questions put to the four Devon MPs were:

1. Have you used a tax haven, tax incentive or deliberate means of avoiding tax in the past to your knowledge?

2. To the best of your knowledge has anyone in your immediate family?

3. Have you ever benefited from any offshore investments?

4. Are you prepared to publish your tax return?

5. What are your thoughts on the PM and Chancellor’s connections to the tax havens in Panama?

A letter from East Devon MP Hugo Swire in response to The Echo’s Offshore Tax questions

East Devon District Council, Exeter City Council and Teignbridge recognised as developers’ friend

The three councils make up the “Greater Exeter” consortium and, along with other chosen council Mid-Devon, ensures a speeded-up planning process in a continuous ring centred on Exeter.

Half a dozen councils across Devon and Cornwall have been chosen to pilot a new Government scheme designed to speed up the creation of new homes.

Housing ministers have selected the six local authorities to take part in the trial launch of their brownfield register initiative.

Under the policy, councils will draw up lists of derelict land and other underused sites which could be used for new developments.

Records will then be available to investors and construction companies to highlight prime redevelopment opportunities. …

… Cornwall, East Devon, Exeter, Mid Devon, Torbay and Teignbridge council have all had their bids to pilot the scheme accepted. They will join 70 other local planning authorities in trialing the scheme, and helping to shape the future implementation of the policy.

Registers will eventually become mandatory for all councils under proposals going through Parliament in the Housing and Planning Bill. Other measures in the Bill will enable “permission in principle” to be granted for registered sites, giving developers “a greater degree of certainty” and ultimately speeding up the planning process. …”

The keywords are “under-used” and “prime redevelopment opportunities”- who decides? EDDC, helped by developers, of course!