Insolvent (Tory) council – the blame game begins!

“Cash-strapped Northamptonshire County Council should be scrapped, according to a government report.

The report, ordered by Local Government Secretary Sajid Javid, recommends “a new start” which is “best achieved by the creation of two new unitary councils”.

Council leader Heather Smith resigned following the report’s publication.

Northampton North MP Michael Ellis called the management of the authority a “national scandal”.

He said he was “appalled” by the report, which “makes for chilling reading”.

Conservative councillor Ms Smith criticised “vicious attacks by four local MPs”, adding “you cannot win” if the “machinery of government turns against you”. …

The report said its findings are “very serious” for the council and its residents.

The council “did not respond well, or in many cases even react, to external and internal criticism”, Mr Caller said.
He added individual councillors “appear to have been denied answers” to legitimate questions. …

Mr Caller was also critical of the council’s ‘Next Generation Model,’ which planned to outsource all services and create four new bodies for child protection, care of vulnerable adults, providing health and well-being services, and improving the county.

The report said the model did not have “any documented underpinning” of how it intended to deliver £68m of savings, and “served to obscure and prevent effective” budgetary control.

It does add the council “employs many good, hardworking, dedicated staff”.”

Blackill Engineering Extension – is this an excuse to drive a new industrial site into the heart of the Pebblebed Heaths?

These days most large developers pay for pre-application advice before submitting a planning application. A recent Freedom of Information request has uncovered the advice that was offered to someone (name redacted) seeking such advice on proposed business units at Blackhill Quarry, Woodbury in early October 2017.

Specifically this proposal was for the erection of AN ADDITIONAL industrial building to support the existing business, Blackhill Engineering, being operated form the site together with the erection of FIVE ADDITIONAL industrial buildings for use by other businesses.

In summary the advice given was that this would not comply with the protective policies that cover this sensitive site. A much stronger employment benefit case regarding the expansion of the existing business to justify a departure from these policies would be needed. The five speculative industrial buildings would not justify a policy departure.

On 20 December 2017, within three months of this advice, planning application 17/3022/MOUT was submitted for outline application seeking approval of access for construction of up to 3251 sqm (35,000 sq ft) of B2 (general industrial) floor space with access, parking and associated infrastructure.

The accompanying justification reads:

“There is considerable and clearly identified need for the existing business at Blackhill Engineering to expand as a result of that business having grown considerably over recent years and with its existing premises now at full capacity. The provision of additional facilities on the application site would allow the company to continue its expansion and so deliver additional economic and employment benefits to the local area…. With the winding down of the existing quarry use of the site, there is a short and fortuitous window of opportunity in which to address BESL’s growth requirements with the reuse of an area of former minerals processing site….It is a crucial part of both local and national employment strategy to protect existing businesses and to encourage their expansion. If approved, the scheme would allow the existing business not to only remain at the site but also to expand. The resulting investment will enable a substantial increase in the provision of highly skilled jobs in the area, increased training opportunities for apprentices and added value to the local economy. Furthermore, the expansion of the Blackhill Engineering will help reinforce the vitality of its parent organisation…”

So, is this application all about the needs of Blackhill Engineering to expand, having already designed flood defence gates for New York City Hospital, worked for the European Space Agency and the pier at Hinkley Point, which in October seemed to require only one building; or more about Clinton Devon Estates trying to generate rent from a new industrial park? Restoration provides no income.

For those interested here is the detailed pre-application advice, given on an informal basis and without prejudice, in about half the words:

The extant planning permission on the site requires a restoration and aftercare scheme to be implemented following cessation of the quarrying operations. As part of this condition, alternative schemes (subject to planning permission) can be considered but two policies are of particular relevance:

East Devon Local Plan- Strategy 7 – Development in the Countryside.

This strategy states that development in the countryside “will only be permitted where it is in accordance with a specific Local or Neighbourhood Plan policy that explicitly permits such development”. In this instance, there is no local or neighbourhood plan which would permit the proposal and, therefore, it is considered that it would not comply with Strategy 7.

East Devon Local Plan- Policy E5 – Small scale Economic Development in Rural Areas.

This policy states that the expansion of existing businesses designed to provide jobs for local people will be permitted where

1. it involves the conversion of existing buildings. Or

2. if new buildings are involved, it is on previously developed land. Or

3. if on a greenfield site, shall be well related in scale and form and in sustainability terms to the village and surrounding areas.

In this instance, the Local Planning Authority recognise the previously developed nature of the site, however, in the ‘Glossary of Terms’ section of the Local Plan (which echoes those contained in the National Planning Policy Framework) previously developed land specifically excludes land that has been developed for minerals extraction or waste disposal by landfill purposes where provision for restoration has been made through development control procedures.

Accordingly, the land would be considered as greenfield.
In terms of Policy E5, as the site would not be well related in sustainability terms to Woodbury or surrounding areas, the proposal would be contrary to policy.

However, if sufficient justification can be made in terms of the needs of the existing business being operated from the site to expand into an additional building, then the economic benefits may outweigh the environmental harm, of the unsustainable location as a departure from the Local Plan.

For this purpose, an economic benefits statement would need to be submitted as part of an application.

The five speculative units being located in an unsustainable location would not be acceptable.”

Last legs for Thelma Hulbert gallery?

Owl says: The gallery, in Honiton, has swallowed up around £500,000 of our council tax money over the last few years. Could The Beehive (also a gobbler of funds in the past) perhaps house the gallery’s art and activities?

Or, here’s a thought: display it in the new £10 million HQ currently under construction in Honiton!

“Unprecedented increases in council tax starting in April will not offset cuts to services including children’s centres and libraries, local authorities have warned.

The Local Government Association (LGA) said councils in England would raise an estimated £1.1bn through higher council taxes in 2017-18, but this would not cover the £1.4bn lost through cuts to central government funding plus the higher wage bill of £1bn.

Nearly half of English councils with responsibility for providing social care for adults and children will increase council tax by the maximum 5.99% allowed – 2.99% for general council tax plus a further levy of up to 3% to pay for the care of older and disabled adults – but this will not prevent further cuts to services, according to the LGA.

Councils will continue to reduce or close services such as children’s centres, libraries, leisure centres, parks, museums and road repairs to plug growing gaps in adult and children’s social care and homelessness services, it says.

The widespread emergence of what some councillors have dubbed “pay more, get less” budget settlements comes as town halls struggle to balance the books after years of cuts in core government funding.

Northamptonshire county council effectively declared itself bankrupt earlier this month after admitting that rising costs and shrinking income made it unable to set a legal budget.

The council must set out revised plans for cuts at a meeting this week after an auditors report warned that its existing proposed budget plans were “not credibly achievable”.

Northamptonshire’s predicament highlights how councils are increasingly reliant on one-off measures such as dipping into reserves, or selling buildings and land, to meet the spiralling cost of social care. Those pressures are being compounded in some cases by the failure to deliver savings with existing cuts.

The LGA said 147 of the 152 English authorities that provide social care services would levy a 3% council tax precept from April to raise extra cash for the care of older and disabled adults. Although this will raise an extra £548m, it will be wiped out by the cost of meeting the national minimum wage.

These councils face additional costs estimated to be at least £400m over the next 12 months as result of a legal judgement that requires care employers to pay the minimum wage to carers working sleep-in shifts, backdated for six years.

Out of the 152 “social care” authorities, 108 also plan to increase general council tax by between 2.95% and the maximum 2.99% allowed. This will raise an estimated £548m. Five councils have said they will freeze council tax for 2018-19. …

… A spokesman for the Department of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “As part of our finance settlement, we are delivering a real-terms increase in resources to councils over the next two years, more freedom and fairness, and greater certainty to plan and secure value for money.

“We want to work with local government to develop a new funding system for the future and encourage councils to submit responses to the review currently under way.”

England’s councils have experienced a 40% cut in central government funding since the start of the decade and face a £5bn funding gap by 2020.

The Local Government Information Unit thinktank warned this month that many English local authorities were teetering on the edge of financial crisis.”

Greendale Business Centre: FWS Carter and Sons application fails at the High Court


“After 3 years challenging the planning system, Greendale Business Park owners are required to return an area back to Agricultural use.

It may have taken 3 years but finally the Planning Department at East Devon District Council (EDDC) has succeeded in winning a long running planning and legal challenge.

It was the 8th Feb 2015 when earth moving and general building works were first reported to EDDC Enforcement Officers by neighbours of Greendale Business Park. This was on a 3.5Ha site, east of the existing permitted development area at the Business Park near the village of Woodbury Salterton.

Following investigation, the Local Planning Authority (EDDC) served an Enforcement Notice to the owners FWS Carter and Sons, but they chose to ignore the notice and carried on developing the site at “their own risk”.

A planning application was submitted nine months later (06/11/2015 15/2592/MOUT) but the development was considered to lie outside the agreed development area for Greendale Business Park and it was refused by EDDC. A second attempt was made with a similar proposal split into 2 separate planning applications the following December but this was also refused (06/12/2016 16/2597/FUL and 16/2598/MFUL).

The Local Planning Authority then issued the owners with an Enforcement Notice, requesting the removal of the industrial concrete hardstanding, fences, buildings and the return of the land to agricultural use. The company then appealed to the Government’s Planning Inspectorate in March 2017 for the decision to be revoked.

on Dec 7th, 2017 the Inspector found in favour of the Local Authority and upheld their enforcement decision, but within days the Company lodged an appeal with the High Court. Last week 08/02/2018 the Judge ruled that there was no case to answer and therefore the decision by the Local Authority was upheld and costs of £3998 was set against the applicants, FWS Carter and Sons.

The Company now has 6 months to remove all industrial activity and return the land to agricultural use. This work will be monitored very closely

Another section of the Business Park (an area approximately 1Ha) south of the Greendale Business Park and just off Hogsbrook Lane, has also been developed without planning consent. The owners FWS Carter and Sons claimed in Oct 2017 that this land has been in “unlawful” industrial use for more than 10 years and they applied for a little-known planning regulation loophole known as a “Certificate of Lawfulness ” (17/2441/CPE) to enable the area to continue to be used without requiring further planning approval.

However, the Local Planning Authority followed Legal Advice and concluded that the land had not been used “unlawfully” for 10 years because there was lawful permitted development with a gas pipeline contractor occupying the site for 3 years. Because of this, the Certificate of Lawfulness was refused and it is expected that an Enforcement Notice will be served on the Company for this breach of planning shortly.

Councillor Geoff Jung, EDDC Ward Councillor for Raleigh Ward which includes Greendale Business Park says, “It is a great shame that the Company started to develop this area prior to any planning permission being in place. The efforts and costs incurred by the company in developing the site, including the cost of architects, planning consultants, barristers, solicitors, court costs, contractors’ costs and everyone’s time has all been wasted.”

“Add to that the considerable costs to the local authorities` planning, enforcement and legal teams in endeavouring to provide a sound and fair case.”

“It’s quite clear the Planning System has moved on enormously in the last 15 years, with much more openness and clarity, mainly down to modern technology. Planning applications and official documents are now open to scrutiny at the touch of a button and can be viewed without leaving your house.”

“Previously documents were available only at District and Town Halls, for interested parties to view but now the internet and Local Authority Planning Portals provide everyone with a better understanding of the planning regulations and legal issues involved.”

“I look forward to the day when all developers will follow the normal planning procedures and not proceed in such a cavalier way. This may have been the way it was done in the past but its proving much more difficult now.”

“I would like to thank the many local people who have frequently written to the Planning Authority to comment whenever it was required, as well as the Planning and Legal Team at East Devon District Council who ensured that the Planning Regulations were correctly upheld”

“Councils used as ‘human shields’ for cuts, says John McDonnell”

“John McDonnell has accused the government of using cash-strapped local councils as “human shields” to absorb deep spending cuts by the Treasury.

The shadow chancellor seized on reports that Surrey – where the Runneymede and Weybridge constituency of the chancellor, Philip Hammond, is located – was facing a £100m cash crisis.

Analysis by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism identified Surrey as the council facing the largest gap between expected revenues and expenditures in the coming financial year. The average deficit at the 150 councils the bureau examined was £14.7m.

Meanwhile, a survey of senior council officials by the Local Government Information Unit thinktank found that almost 80% had no confidence in the future sustainability of council finances.

McDonnell said: “If you ever wanted to see the utter failure of this government, look no further than your local council. Many are struggling to maintain many basic services because they are being forced to pass on Tory cuts.

“There needs to be an urgent change of direction in local government funding in this country. We need to see an end to a situation whereby Tory governments are using local councils like human shields as they continue to drive ahead with their failed austerity agenda.”

McDonnell appeared at a conference in Preston alongside the shadow communities secretary, Andrew Gwynne.

Many of the councils under greatest financial pressure are in Tory-held areas, and Conservative MPs have put pressure on the government to relieve the squeeze in particular areas.

Sajid Javid, the communities secretary, announced an extra £150m this week specifically to be spent on social care in areas of greatest need, amid a growing backlash from backbenchers.

But council leaders said it would not be enough to meet rapidly increasing needs.

The LGIU’s survey of councils’ finances suggested that 94% are planning to raise council tax in the coming year to make ends meet, and 65% will be dipping into their financial reserves.

In his speech, McDonnell highlighted alternative approaches to delivering local services.

Labour believes the threat to council services, such as social care and support for children, are the latest stark illustration of the ongoing impact of austerity.

The government has promised to put social care funding on a sustainable footing; but a green paper on the issue is not due to be published until next summer.”

EDDC councillor desperately tries to justify expansion of Greendale and Hill Barton – going against Village Built Up Area requirements

Owl says: what a lot of help Greendale and Hill Barton are getting from (some) EDDC councillors! Hurriedly arranged meetings, a desperate race to find loopholes to allow expansion and now this. Is it a personal comment? Well, an awful lot of “we” in there!!! And quoting 2012 consultant’s views in 2018 – astonishing! AND playing down their own industrial sites (too big for small businesses) – REALLY!

“Mike Allen comment to Inspector on Hill Barton and Greendale issues

(The Lead Councillor for Business and Employment in East Devon District Council (EDDC) and past Chair of the Local Plan Forum which developed the current EDDC Local Plan)

EDDC welcomes proposals for business investment and the creation of units for small and medium sized enterprises across the East Devon area subject to NPPF and Local Plan criteria.

We appreciate that cumulative development along the A3052 road corridor has the potential to negatively impact upon existing communities and infrastructure and the operations of existing businesses. The lack of objection from Highways England on a recent nearby planning application is significant Hill Barton (HB) and Greendale Business Park (GBP) are situated near recently approved (on appeal) Yeo Business Park. This determination is of direct material significance in considering further proposed development.

I will examine four main areas of consideration for Economic development in respect of this SPD for Business Parks:

1) It could be reasonably assumed that the Planning Inspector’s view that employment space proposals of a ‘relatively small-scale development that would provide jobs for local people’ would be applicable to the current plans for Business Parks in the area. It is similarly likely that this location would also be deemed a suitable location for small scale business units at appeal.

2) Greendale and Hill Barton Business Parks are larger scale and vitally important to the economic expansion of East Devon outside of the Science Park and Skypark areas.

3) The lack of residential neighbours means no loss of amenity.

4) There is clear demand for the facilities at Hill Barton and Greendale, without which business expansion would not be accommodated elsewhere. The medium quality, flexibility and appeal of the industrial storage space and units for larger growing businesses in the district is essential.

To be clear, we have no economic basis on which to challenge further development within the perimeters set in the Villages DPD.

5) EDDC’s Economic Development team have reviewed the Draft Villages Plan as well as the Sustainability Appraisal. Having also reviewed Strategy 27 and Policy E7 of the adopted Local Plan, in addition to material evidence in respect of employment land delivery below, I recommend that the Greendale (GD) and Hill Barton (HB) employment sites be removed from this Villages Development Plan.
Approval of this draft Villages DPD with GD and HB included will exacerbate the undersupply of employment premises we are already experiencing through non-delivery of our employment allocations in the adopted Local Plan.

The Council’s strategic drive is to prioritise the development of employment land in the west of the district. Any applicants are advised to examine the potential suitability of our Enterprise Zone sites (Inc. the Exeter Airport Business Park Expansion site; Cranbrook Town Centre; Skypark & Science Park), all of which benefit from infrastructure investment in excess of £25 million and include enhanced transport corridor infrastructure, rail stations and employment site infrastructure as well as being immediately adjacent to Exeter Airport and A30 and M5 junctions.

However, we are aware of some businesses feeding back a view that sites, such those examined above are aimed predominantly at the medium to large scale employers with scientific and professional or transport accommodation requirements in excess of 5,000 sq. ft. This can fail to meet the needs of many new and growing local medium sized manufacturing / B2 class businesses many of which would not be welcome in proximity to residential areas or on Science Parks.

In 2012 East Devon District Council Commissioned Professor Nigel Jump of Strategic Economics Ltd to carry out an independent assessment of the economic impact of the two strategic employment sites in East Devon. His conclusions were clear in that investment in these locations has unlocked valuable employment and economic growth in the district.

Moreover, these sites have the potential to make further economic net benefits (job creation, added GVA and inward investment) throughout challenging economic periods
to come. The report concludes that when social and environmental factors are considered, there remains a net positive impact of extended capacity at these sites which are yet to run their full course.

In light of this EDDC commissioned evidence, inclusion of Greendale and Hill Barton within the Villages DPD is unwarranted, contrary to the specialist advice we have commissioned and would cause demonstrable harm to the district.

These findings are echoed in 3 subsequent studies of demand for industrial and commercial space in East Devon which formed the overall economic element of the EDDC Local Plan which placed great weight on the sustainable balance of social, economic and environmental issues as the “Golden thread” which ran through the Local Plan and the NPPF

The proposals for the development of medium sized businesses of B2/B8 category fit well with a large number of B use premises enquires received by Economic Development in the last 2 years,

The filling out and redevelopment of Greendale and Hill Barton will complement the demand for larger B use provision and remain a welcome addition to the diverse mix of commercial accommodation required to facilitate indigenous business growth as well as the district’s ability to meet the needs of potential inward investors seeking to become established or grow their operations in East Devon.

Having recently reviewed B use premises demand across the district, the following updates can be cited: –

In Exmouth, B use accommodation at Liverton Business Park is in high demand. We have seen speculative build in this location with all but their final unit now let. They are unable to accommodate further demand

Across Clinton Devon Estate’s whole East Devon portfolio of commercial property; they have no other vacant B use premises available, representing a significant shortage of supply.

The Exeter and Heart of Devon Commercial Premises Register has received 43 separate enquiries for B1 Office accommodation in the District in the last 3 months

Greendale have received more than 80 B use premises enquiries in the last 12 months totalling more than 850,000 sq. ft.

Also, west of the Enterprise Zone, land is being brought forward for speculative development of small, flexible B use units.

Recently, as part of their Business Plan for the use of the Owen Building, Rolle Exmouth Ltd provided details of 59 separate businesses, social enterprises, individuals, groups/classes, education & training providers who have declared an interest in finding small SME commercial premises in Exmouth
Lastly, to curtail the provision of good jobs at Hill Barton and Greendale would be to consciously, selectively and actively undermine our stated (and adopted) Local Plan ambition of delivering one job per new dwelling. This target has not yet been realised, resulting in an unsustainable imbalance between the provision of new homes and new, quality jobs in East Devon.

We cannot continue to overlook this imbalance as our young teens and twenties leave to pursue careers elsewhere and the economically inactive grow as a proportion of our aging population.

We continue to receive inward investment enquires of differing scales and different employment use classes, including from the Dept. for International Trade (DIT, formerly UKTI).

These request a diverse mix of investment formats and much needed employment opportunities from outside the district. However, it is often difficult to identify suitable available employment premises.

Maintaining a diverse mix of development land and premises is key to securing these investments and associated local economic benefit.

The increased density of employment possible on Greendale and Hill Barton sites for B1/B2/B8 use is a clear benefit to our established local supply chains and producers/providers served by these developments.

Finally – I am concerned about an issue of prejudice: I believe that it would be prejudicial to the economic development of East Devon to consider the imposition of Strategy 7 (Greenfield) on Hill Barton on Greendale since the sites are clearly well used industrial sites which are in the right location for the type of businesses they serve.

The two sites have been afforded a specific exception in Policy E7 – ‘Extensions to
Existing Employment Sites’ of our adopted Local Plan (See Pg. 196 “This policy will not apply at Hill Barton and Greendale business Parks”). While for landscape and other reasons we might wish to limit the further expansion of the sites, I believe it would be prejudicial to single out these two sites rather than the 50 other smaller industrial sites for special treatment.

The criteria already laid down within the Local Plan are fully sufficient to control and promote the appropriate development on these sites.


I recommend that the Greendale (GBP) and Hill Barton (HB) employment sites be removed from this Villages Development Plan. I recommend that any application of strategy 7 within the perimeters already agreed should not occur but that other Planning Policies on Industrial Land development should be applied on the basis of equity and equality with other industrial sites in East Devon.

Approval of this draft Villages DPD with GD and HB included and subject to strategy 7 will exacerbate the undersupply of employment premises we are already experiencing through non-delivery of our employment allocations in the adopted Local Plan.”

Clinton Devon Estates blots its eco copybook at Blackhill Quarry

Will Woodbury ever be free of industrial onslaught?

A controversial Outline Planning Application has been submitted by Clinton Devon Estates for an Extension to an engineering works at Blackhill Quarry instead of returning the area to heathland as originally agreed.

The plan shows the outline application seeking approval for construction of up to 3251 sqm (35,000 sq. ft.) of B2 (general industrial) floor space with access, parking and associated infrastructure (details of appearance, landscaping, scale and layout reserved for future consideration) at Blackhill Quarry Woodbury Exeter EX5 1HD.

EDDC Planning Website 17/3022/MOUT