Gypsy and Travellers policy: 7 years and still we don’t have one (but EDW has the answer!)

Planning Inspector Mr Thickett comes to East Devon – again – next week to see if the Council’s Local Plan is yet fit for purpose.

One of his comments in March last year was that the district had no gypsy and traveller policy. Fifteen months later, and with the subject due to be investigated next week, we learn that we STILL don’t have a policy but we DO have half a million pounds set aside to try to come up with one:

http://www.devon24.co.uk/news/500_000_allocated_to_find_sites_for_gypsies_1_4126709

And, as Councillor Mike Allen so clearly puts it:

“This particular approach had been an absolute essential since around 2008, when we started looking at the proposals.

“I’m very disappointed that it’s taken six or seven years to bring forward any proposals because if the local plan fails, it’s due to lack of gypsy and traveller sites.

“I thoroughly endorse the proposal – it’s long overdue.”

The article goes on to say:

“Subject to approval by the local plan inspector, the council will put out a call for sites – areas, such as Cranbrook, on the western side of East Devon have been earmarked as potentially suitable.

As well as the proposed £500,000 budget for purchasing sites, the council is looking into other sources of finance available to it.”

Bet people in Cranbrook didn’t see that one coming!

Fear not councillors – East Devon Watch has the answer! Simply put the site next to EDDC’s new Headquarters at Heathpark, Honiton. That way, councillors get to keep an eye on the site and ensure that it works!

Then again, Skypark has a lot of empty space now, we hear!

Tories of East Devon – You just don’t get it, do you?

Wednesday 3rd June

The motion to delay the Knowle Sale by 6 months was placed before Full Council by Cllr Cathy Gardner and Cllr Matt Booth.  They both presented very reasoned cases for the delay and were conciliatory in their approach.  They stressed Transparency to the residents of East Devon and in particular Sidmouth.  They did not oppose the move merely asked for more time to allow greater consultation to ensure that the Council made the right decision.

The reaction was set by Cllr Williamson who insisted that as the decision had already been validated by the Overview and Scrutiny Committee (with a set of “independent” auditors) there was no need to delay – in fact he maintained that there was a need for greater speed.  Other speakers opposing the motion spoke of the need to move and how inappropriate the current building was.

Tories – you just don’t get it!  It is recognised that the current buildings are not fit for purpose AND SOMETHING HAS TO BE DONE – but what that is and how due process is applied is the central issue in this motion.

Previous Committees and Councils sanctioned a move to Sky Park – not a mention of that! Then a sudden concept of two premises – why the change?

The appeal to the Freedom of Information request was scathing of the Council – no acceptance of that or any explanation of what was so important within the papers that they could not be released – I doubt most Tory members had even read (or been able to read) them.

Reference to election results and other “facts” but no concept of the Perception of the public – they rightly feel marginalised.

Tories – you seem to have forgotten that you serve your community – these assets are not yours – they are not even EDDC’s – they are owned by the Council Tax Payers of East Devon – you merely act as temporary custodians in the passage of time.  You MUST consult with your Community – you have failed to do this as on other occasions.  You were given the opportunity last night to make a fresh start with Openness and Transparency – you rejected that offer with your customary arrogance.

The motion was defeated by a recorded vote – this may come back to bite you!

Owl

 

Who will take the decision whether to appeal the appeal for disclosurof Knowle relocation documents?

The Chief Executive (Williams) and Deputy Chief Executive (Cohen) along with ? who else must have taken the original decision to suppress the reports discussed in secret meetings when they were requested by Mr Woodward,

This decision to suppress the reports, to our knowledge was never brought to any public council committee.  Who took the decision to suppress?

Eventually, the Information commissioner said that (redacted) reports should be published.

The ” council” then decided to appeal this decision.  Who made that decision and why?  Who reviewed it and agreed with it?  How many councillors knew what was happening?  Who thought up the idea of saying reports could not be published because the consultant was “an embedded employee” of the council?

The Deputy Chief Executive (Cohen) was chosen to present the justification for suppression and appeal at the court case in August 2014.  The council’s solicitor (Lennox Gordon) presumably must have been asked for advice (though at the Court case they had engaged an outside barrister to present the case).  The Chief Executive and ? who else must have then sanctioned this course of action.  It was, to our knowledge, never brought to any public council committee.  Who else knew about this?

At the Court case, Deputy Chief Executive Cohen admitted that at least one report from the outside consultant (Pratten) had been changed by him – Cohen – before being given to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee.  The Overview and Scrutiny Committee were not aware of this at the time and (as far as we know) still do not know what was changed or why.  Who else (if anyone)  was involved in the decision to change the document before it went to them?  Have members of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee since seen the original?  Would it have changed their views if they did not see it and have not since seen it?

Are there more reports (changed, not changed) other than those under review that they and other councillors should have seen prior to making an informed decision about relocation either to Skypark or Honiton/Exmouth and then sale of Knowle that might have affected their decision?

After the Court case in August 2014 it appears that EDDC dragged its heels in providing the judge with documents and insisted that some of them were illegible.  However, subsequently, legible copies were found and submitted as late as March 2015.  Who insisted that only illegible copies were available?  Who knew that there were legible copies available and why were they delayed?  Why the long delay?

Now that the court has heavily criticised all those involved, the decision can again be appealed, at probably even greater cost than the last appeal.  We do not yet know the full cost of the last appeal except that it is more than £11,000 PLUS officer time, as EDDC never apportions cost of officer time to its work.

So, who takes the decision to appeal the appeal?  The same people who suppressed the documents?  The person/people who altered at least one document before it went to a committee?  The people who said that some documents were illegible when they were not?   The people criticised by the court for being “unhelpful and discourteous?

Who is left who has not been involved in this sorry saga who can be trusted to find out the answers and make decisions now?  If we return the “same old” how can we be sure this will not be brushed under a carpet so precariously balanced on all that is now underneath it?

Brave independent councillors kept bringing this subject up time and time again only to be told to stop tilting at windmills.  What is here is definitely not windmills.

Only a vote for Independents tomorrow can ensure that the carpet is lifted so that we can all see what has been swept underneath it all these years.

Including, of course, some searching questions about the seven year delay to a Local Plan which has left us at the mercy of rapacious developers.

The  future is in your hands tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“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!”

Draft Local Plan – update (and not good news)

Recall the Inspector suggested October 2014 as a suitable date for EDDC to deliver an amended Draft Local Plan to him for re-examination. Now even October 2015 is looking unlikely.

And contrast the figure of £172,000 spent so far on this project with the £700,000 spent on HQ relocation plans – much of it on the abortive attempt to relocate to Skypark.

Just half of the money spent on Skypark, if redirected to resources to finalise the Local Plan, could almost certainly have had us protected from rapacious developers. A hidden cost of relocation.

Conservative majority EDDC chose to prioritise relocation of its offices over the Local Plan. Remember this at the May 2015 district elections.

http://www.exeterexpressandecho.co.uk/delays-East-Devon-District-Council-8217-s-vital/story-25900099-detail/story.html

Tory Party reveals its vision …the tarmac road ahead

EDA has been sent this spoof version of the new Conservative Party poster (rumoured to be a photo taken in Germany), with added accompanying features of the Government’s vision for growth. !cid_Image2638
Let your friends know the important choice facing Britain this year…More green fields cut through by tarmac and disappearing under sprawling cloned housing estates? Or new voices at Parliament and around the country, who will bring changes to the NPPF (National Planning Policy Framework…the so-called ‘developers’ charter’)? More info at Community Voice on Planning at http://covop.org/

Could there be another, very different, route to long-term prosperity more suited to Britain’s natural assets, particularly in East Devon…..?

Council staff speak out about office relocation

..and they should know! Some telling comments (already referred to on our own website) are put into context in the comprehensive summary of how the plan to move from Knowle has proceeded, on today’s blogpost at http://futuresforumvgs.blogspot.co.uk/2015/01/knowle-relocation-project-if-knowle-is.html

Information Commissioner v EDDC: are press releases and FAQ web pages “public consultation”?

Readers will be aware that only 2 “public consultation” events have ever neen organised regarding Knowle relocation – a very brief and rather uninformative event in Sidmouth and a highly stage-managed “stakeholders meeting” at Exeter Airport.

However, it seems that EDDC believes that highly stage-managed press releases with only good news and a highly stage-managed Frequently Asked Questions page on their website where they choose all the questions is all the public consultation required.

Why are we not surprised?

http://www.exeterexpressandecho.co.uk/Decision-East-Devon-District-Council-publish/story-25781816-detail/story.html

Yet more questions for the Leader at Full Council (17 Dec 2014)

Question 7: Procedure Rule 9.2 to the Leader of the Council from Councillor Ben Ingham

During the last ten years, the Conservative Group at EDDC have managed to deplete millions of pounds of reserves to nothing. The Leadership of this council, following the advice of senior officers, now want us to believe that selling the Knowle, refurbishing Exmouth Town Hall and extending a site at Honiton, which only weeks ago we were told should be sold, will save us money. The premise is based on a twenty year payback and a heating inflation rate of ten per cent over the period. On top of that, at a time when we are told to expect extensive cutbacks in local government funding, you say we should be borrowing millions. What on earth makes you think this is a rational strategy to deploy on behalf of the people of East Devon when you plainly have no idea whether EDDC will even exist in five years time?

Answer:

The Council’s audited Accounts as at 31 March 2004 showed usable reserves of £13.6m, the latest audit Accounts as at 31 March 2014 show usable reserves at £12.7m. The reserve levels will fluctuate between years to reflect what is considered the appropriate level to hold depending on risks and the Council’s need to earmark monies for specific expenditure in the future.

This Council is faced with extensive and unpredictable basic repair costs if it remains at the Knowle not to mention any investment in modernisation. These costs would be unfunded in the absence of a capital receipt from the sale of Knowle. Selling Knowle and prudent borrowing considered against capital and operational costs makes sense. The future may well be unpredictable so we need to be flexible in how we operate and able to manage change. One thing we can be certain of is that the Knowle is not fit for purpose and not a part of that future.

Question 8: Procedure Rule 9.2 to the Leader of the Council from Councillor Roger Giles

When was advice first given to the Council Leader, that the process for site acquisition and development of Skypark aspect of the Knowle relocation project would be likely to be required to meet EU regulations?

What advice was given about the likelihood of the proposals meeting EU regulations? What advice was given about the cost and timescale of meeting EU regulations?

Answer:

Throughout the process EDDC has received advice in respect of procurement including EU aspects from the Relocation Manager and EDDC Procurement Officer. Land acquisition and contracting are matters that need to include consideration of EU requirements. No secret has been made of the complexity of European law – one specific recommendation at the June Cabinet meeting was that the Council commission specialist expertise as required to advise on the detail of appropriate procurement, value for money and legal matters in relation to Skypark.

Between Feb and June 2014, the way forward on Skypark was the subject of discussion between officers and Executive Members including the Leader.

The advice we received was that EU requirements could be met as part of a build out on Skypark and negotiations began to that end. Various possible options were under consideration. These included the Council procuring the building contractor itself which would have added something of the order of 3-4 months time and associated preparation costs.

In actuality, negotiations with St Modwen began but did not conclude – the reason being that the Heathpark sale price was reduced and the marketing of Knowle and Manstone process got underway. At which point the Skypark discussions (and further legal costs) were parked.

Supplementary Q from Roger Giles:
In the 3rd paragraph of the answer it is stated: “The advice we received was that EU requirements could be met as part of a build out on Skypark and negotiations began to that end.” Does he accept that the advice given was flawed?

Supplementary Answer from Paul Diviani:”It was the right advice at the time”

Better than the telly, but more depressing than East Enders ….! Tonight’s Cabinet meeting at Knowle

The Cabinet meeting will take place tonight at Knowle, 5.30 p.m

Here is the agenda

Click to access 031214-cabinet-agenda-public-version.pdf

The main item of interest is Agenda Item 11:
Part A matters for decision – key decision
Office relocation update
(pages 37-58)
Report of the Deputy Chief Executive on progress made to date in respect of the office relocation initiative App 1 – refurbishment of all existing Knowle Office building App 2 – refurbishment of 1970s Knowle Office accommodation

Expect more smooth-talking about why EDDC has wasted nigh-on half a million pounds of our money on a move that isn’t now going to take place because (a) they fell foul of (unspecified) EU regulations and (b) they put all their eggs in a supermarket’s basket and when they thought they would get a dozen eggs ended up only with the egg on their faces.

“Real Power” to Exmouth with EDDC move

… or just a touchdown hot-desk base for those ever-roving, lower-level employees destined to roam the outer reaches of the district for ever whilst their Lords and Masters enjoy life in their new Honiton HQ.

Could “working for EDDC at Exmouth” become the new Siberia?

http://www.devon24.co.uk/news/eddc_to_bring_power_to_exmouth_1_3866187

Left hand, right hand, upper hand, under hand – or no hand at all?

The agenda for the Cabinet next week makes reference to:

The Office Accommodation Executive Group,
the Office Accommodation Project Executive Group and the
Member Executive Group.

We have heard only of a fourth group: the “Office Relocation Working Party”.

Is the “Member Executive Group” a jargon phrase for the Cabinet?

Why does it seem there no less than FOUR groups working in this: Secret, Top Secret, MI5 Secret and So-Secret-That-Don’t Officially Exist secret perhaps!

Or is it just one group with four names or three groups with two names or two groups with one nameor 4 groups with four names? My head hurts.

Or no groups at all – just one or two people working without supervision calling themselves whatever name seems good on the day?

Or, is it a case of divide and rule, more groups les information? Or just plain old incompetence?

It gets easier and easier to see how omnishambles happen!

Is this why Skypark fell apart?

Page 42 of next week’s cabinet papers:

“Also, a key plus point regarding Skypark was the prospect of a turn-key guaranteed maximum price arrangement to completion of a new HQ that would minimise uncertainty and reduce risk”.

This reads as if EDDC were expecting their new HQ to be constructed (by whom?)ready to move into at a fixed price (turn-key). They say in their paperwork that it was only after “due diligence” and a “legal opinion” on 4 June 2014 that a situation about the need to take account of EU regulations was revealed, coincidentally around the time that the supermarket was reducing the price it was prepared to pay for the Heathpark site.

Of course, we cannot know what went wrong for sure as all costs and cost deliberations have been kept secret not only from the public but also from the majority of councillors of all parties.

This debacle urgently needs Overview and Scrutiny and/or Audit and Governance intervention – and possibly a report by internal and/or external auditors so that those involved can learn from their mistakes and other councillors can understand what was being done in their name and work out how to stop it happening in future.

Presumably the Cabinet will recommend one or more of these actions at their meeting next week.

Knowle relocation and EU Regulations: the questions that Overview and Scrutiny and/or Audit and Governance probably won’t ask

In Cabinet papers:

“On 4 June 14, Cabinet agreed that specialist expertise be commissioned to advise on the specialist area of European procurement, relating to Skypark. This advice has confirmed that a European procurement process for site acquisition and development was likely to be required, with additional cost and associated delay. Since June, however, as the body of the report explains, Skypark has in any case become less affordable due to the reduction in projected capital receipts likely to be available for the office relocation project.”

So, how come that for around 3 years no-one spotted that the new HQ project would require that it be done under EU regulations to promote fair competition and that this would result in additional costs?

What was EDDC planning to do that would have fallen foul of the regulations?

Who spotted it and how?

How much did the expert advice cost?

Why did the Relocation Manager not spot it earlier – wasn’t he recruited as an expert in these matters at huge cost?

Why is the construction of a new HQ in Honiton not under the same rules (or is it)?

Has anyone checked?

Why was Skypark dependent on the “all eggs in one basket” approach that fell at the first hurdle when the supermarket lowered its offer?

Was this included in the risk assessment?

Was there a risk assessment?

Whose head will roll?

And for future reference councillors and officers, here are the thresholds above which strict EU procurement guidelines are mandatory:

http://ec.europa.eu/internal_market/publicprocurement/rules/current/index_en.htm

We like to be helpful where we can.

EDDC Tory party line on omnishambles: East Devon is “sovereign”

Response sent to a correspondent by EDDC councillor Peter Sullivan on the EDDC omnishambles. You can see the original request at the end of this post.

Interestingly, the reply was copied by Councillor Sullivan to EDDC councillor Phil “I am not and never have been a Whip” Twiss, who responded:

“Thanks for cutting to the chase on this one Peter and saying it as it is”.

Here is the reply, below is the original request for information. You be the judge – if we are a sovereign state. (NB: our bold text)

Definition: “sovereign”: 1. One that exercises supreme, permanent authority, especially in a nation or other governmental unit, as:
a. A king, queen, or other noble person who serves as chief of state; a ruler or monarch.
b. A national governing council or committee.
2. A nation that governs territory outside its borders.
3. A gold coin formerly used in Great Britain.

Dear [Correspondent]

“A memorandum of understanding has been put together which is a starter for taking forward shared services. It will put document on the table which we can now debate within the council and which can go through the democratic process. Without a document on the table there is nothing to discuss.

For as long as I have been a member there have been calls from all political parties for greater links between neighbouring councils I just see this as an on-going process.

In other areas of the country councils are coming together forming combined authorities and attracting considerable financial investment. Although this is not Unitary if that is your concern – the reorganisation into unitary will cost millions, it was about £120M + on-going costs in Cornwall’s case and they are now devolving to 19 regions within the county.

It’s about working together and maintaining our own sovereignty.

As for Sky Park and Manstone this was and has been going through a continuous evaluation recently and this has always been the stated position, as we all know this was only a preferred option not the final agreement as with any business case no decision will be made until ALL the relevant facts and figures are known and with member discussion.

I can remember a major exercise like this with a previous employer who had eventually to look at three different new locations / options for a new HQ, interestingly though it was the Board that made the final decision, the shareholders and workforce and public (even though there was public finances involved ) were informed after the event.

I believe we are being a lot more open and democratic with the way we are moving forward with our future plans.

As you know these issues will be discussed in future council meeting.

Peter Sullivan
[Conservative councillor for Sidmouth Town ward]

This was in response to this enquiry:

Councillors, (also sent to Cllrs Kerridge and Newth)

Three decisions with potentially major consequences for the people of east Devon have been announced by EDDC this week.

1. An agreement has been signed for ever closer union with Exeter and Teignbridge councils.

2. Skypark has been abandoned as a potential site for a new council HQ.

3. The Manstone depot may now be retained as an employment site and accommodate depot facilities currently based at Knowle

I can find no record of any Council, Cabinet, Working Party or sub-committee at which these proposals may have been discussed so can you, as my representatives on EDDC, please tell me:-

1. When and by what means did you first become aware of these decisions?

2. Do you know which Councillors or Officers were involved in making these decisions and on what authority they were published?

I look forward to your responses

[A correspondent]
Sidmouth

EDDC in danger of breaking the law with Skypark? Is there a smokescreen and/or a smoking gun?

No wonder EDDC wanted to keep its deliberations about a move to Skypark secret!

In Cabinet minutes they reveal:

However, within the negotiation, due diligence process and legal advice it has become clear that such an arrangement could potentially fall outside of European Union regulations. This would have then required a new site search exercise, cost and delay.”

Now, what was the deal that might have been unlawful? When was it revealed that it might be unlawful? How much did the legal advice cost? Did the project continue after the advice was given? Is this the real reason the project was abandoned and the loss of the supermarket just a smokescreen?

Click to access 031214-cabinet-agenda-public-version.pdf

page 37 onwards

If Honiton and Exmouth now makes so much sense why waste hundreds of thousands of pounds on Skypark?

All efforts now are towards saying what a sensible and brilliant idea EDDC upper echelons have come up with for Exmouth and Honiton presence.

So why did they waste hundreds of thousands of pounds of OUR money on Skypark?

From their press release we learn:

It is clear there is a need to increase service provision for housing benefits, Council Tax, housing advice and register and debt advice in both Exmouth and Honiton and there would be significant demand led presences in Sidmouth and Axminster.

“The council would provide surgeries in other towns as they do in Cranbrook, Seaton, Ottery St Mary, and would experiment with frequency and range of services depending on demand.”

It must have ALWAYS been clear that Exmouth, Honiton, Sidmouth and Axminster needed to be close to accessible services and that the need for these services would only increase as development increases. (Oddly Seaton doesn’t seem to need them – perhaps it will be left stateless when new mergers take place!).

Yet, given all of the above, Skypark was chosen. Why?

It is absolutely impossible to pull the wool over our eyes, EDDC – you blew it, you blew it spectacularly and no amount of “justification” for the latest plan will persuade us otherwise.

See you at the ballot box – though we would suggest to disenfranchised majority party councillors, as much in the dark as minority ones it seems, that a change at the top is now called for – and long overdue!