Month: December 2015

If you want school crossing patrols, pay up

Posted on

Devon County Council is consulting on a proposal that ‘school communities’ that want to keep their crossing patrols should fund them themselves. DCC would only make sure that provision met legal standards. You can comment here, but you’ve only got until 8th January.

The Council’s own impact assessment shows that a child is injured each week in a road accident in Devon around home-to-school travel times, and there are occasional fatalities. Moreover crossing patrols are essential for parents to feel comfortable about their children walking to school – cue a big increase in car use if they were abolished.

So doubtless schools like Seaton’s will feel it’s essential to raise the money – a form of blackmail by the County Council. Although legally Devon have got to make cuts, school crossings are a well-functioning and essential service. Leave well alone!

These cuts show the madness of George Osborne’s ruthless drive to starve  local government services of necessary funds. He might better start with the tax avoidance that saw Facebook pay £4,300 tax last year on a £3 billion turnover in the UK, roughly the same as paid by a worker on £30,000 a year.

Town Hall deal revealed

Posted on Updated on

A deal to ensure the transfer of the Town Hall to Seaton Town Council has been revealed this morning, and is given in full below. The Council will not now apply for a loan to refurbish the building, and therefore there will be no need for a referendum. Nevertheless I welcome this agreement, the first step to resolve the conflict that had developed. I will save further comment for the special meeting of Seaton Town Council on 11 January. – Martin Shaw

PRESS RELEASE – Seaton Town Hall

A joint statement by EDDC, Seaton Town Council, Seaton’s Voice and Seaton Museum…. Friday 18th December 2015

It’s beginning to look a bit like… the future of Seaton Town Hall will be secured!

East Devon District Council, Seaton Town Council, Seaton’s Voice and Seaton Museum are pleased to confirm that agreement in principle has been achieved which will secure a long term future for Seaton Town Hall as a public building, beneficial to the local community.

Our agreement is based on the transfer of the Freehold interest of Seaton Town Hall from East Devon District Council to Seaton Town Council, without charge.

Seaton Town Council will concurrently agree a long lease on the Town Hall to Seaton’s Voice, excluding the current area occupied by the Museum. This will secure the future of the Gateway Entertainment Venue and the use of the hall by community groups.

Seaton Town Council will then relocate from Seaton Town Hall to Marshlands.

Mayor, Cllr Tony Woodman spoke for Seaton Town Council;

“I am pleased that all parties have been able to work together toward an excellent outcome for the future ownership and protection of the Town Hall for the people of Seaton. The Town Council will be ratifying the details at an Extraordinary Meeting of the Council on 11 January. We are confident residents will agree that the proposed agreement will deliver the economic and community benefits that everyone has been seeking to achieve.

I hope we can now all move forward and ensure the Town Hall continues to offer a fantastic service to both locals and visitors alike. The town council will work hard to further ensure that our proposed new Marshlands base adds a complementary community asset and civic centre we can all be proud of.”

A representative of Seaton’s Voice added;

“We are happy with the progress and results of recent meetings between ourselves, East Devon District Council and Seaton Town Council. The outcome will provide a secure future for The Town Hall/The Gateway and will ensure we can continue to build upon the past 5 years of work.

We share the objective to secure the building for the community and provide ‘something for everyone’. We already have a wide range of events/activities on offer with much more in the pipeline.

In 2016/2017 we will also work hard to raise funds for the necessary refurbishments through patronage and grant funding opportunities.

We will hold a further full open meeting as soon as we have any further news.”

A further lease will be agreed between Seaton Town Council and Seaton Museum. This will ensure that the museum can continued to offer access to its valued resources, from the upper floor of the Town Hall.

Ted Gosling, Curator of Seaton Museum, added his support;

“I am delighted that agreement is being reached in principle to securing Seaton Town Hall for the town.

It was over 30 years ago that it was first proposed that a museum for Seaton should be established at Seaton Town Hall, and that museum now houses a wonderful record of the town’s history.

By all parties working together, the town can be assured that the museum is safe for the future and my collection will remain in the town.”

Cllr Ian Thomas, Portfolio Holder for Finance at EDDC concluded;

“I would like to add my personal thanks to all from Seaton Town Council, Seaton’s Voice, Seaton Museum and my East Devon District Council Member and Officer colleagues, for all the work and effort they have made to secure this agreement”.

We now have a solution which I am confident can work well for all concerned. Most importantly it can secure a sustainable long term future for Seaton Town Hall in the community.

My colleagues and I will continue to offer our support to the Town Council, Seaton’s Voice, Seaton Museum and their advisors as we work together to deliver the plan.

I am not expecting any further public comment until after Seaton Town Council moves to ratify the agreement at its Extraordinary Meeting on 11th January 2016.

We would all like to wish everyone associated with Seaton Town Hall our best wishes. Now is the time to relax, enjoy Christmas with friends and family and look forward with renewed confidence to a happy and prosperous future for Seaton Town Hall in 2016 and beyond…..”


Seaton will not promote the Living Wage

Posted on

Living Wage Foundation logoSeaton Town Council has rejected my proposal that the town should follow the example of Bridport in West Dorset and Frome in Somerset and become East Devon’s first ‘Living Wage Town’.
Seaton Council already pays its own employees the Living Wage of £8.25 per hour set by the independent Resolution Foundation. The proposal would have meant that major Council contractors and collaborating organisations would be expected to pay the Living Wage. The Council would also have explored the promotion of the Living Wage among employers in the town, through discussions with the Chamber of Commerce, trade unions and others.
These ideas were voted down by 6 votes to 2. Opponents mainly emphasised the difficulties the Living Wage would cause for businesses like shops and care homes. I think this is short-sighted: businesses that pay the Living Wage report better value and commitment from their workers.
Councils large and small are promoting the Living Wage. London Mayor Boris Johnson says, ‘Paying the London Living Wage is not only morally right, but makes good business sense too.’ (The London Living Wage is £9.40.)
East Devon is the 8th least affordable district in the country, with average houses prices 11 times average incomes (compared to the average of 8 times). Renters need to pay rent of on average 44% of their incomes (compared to 33%).
As benefits are cut, George Osborne’s ‘low-benefit, high-wage economy’ needs pay rises if the lower-paid are not to lose out. Seaton Town Council has missed an opportunity to do something for its less well-paid residents – and to put itself ahead of the rest of East Devon.
If we can promote bringing business to the town, why can’t we promote better pay for the people who help make it all happen?
NOTE. The Living Wage (currently £8.25) is set annually by the Resolution Foundation on the basis of independent research into living costs. It applies to all workers over 18 except apprentices. In contrast the Minimum Wage is £6.70. Although it is set to rise to £7.20 in April, when Mr Osborne will confusingly rebrand it the ‘national living wage’, it will still be less than what is needed to live, and applies only to people over 21.

Was DMC’s Pendeen decision illegal?

Posted on Updated on

Readers will recall the much-criticised decision of East Devon’s Development Management Committee (DMC) on 8 September, to approve the replacement of Pendeen, a bungalow on Castle Hill, with a block of flats. This reversed a majority decision in April to refuse a very similar proposal for the same site. Addressing the DMC as an objector, I urged it to ‘be consistent’ with its earlier decision.

The committee ignored this plea. Officers, whose advice to approve the application had been overruled in April, advised approval again, and some Councillors who had supported the application in April supported it again. This was not primarily because of the minor changes to the application;  both appeared to disregard the actual decision. Indeed Councillor Alan Dent even responded directly to my ‘consistency’ appeal, saying that he was being consistent – but with his own earlier opinion, not the previous decision of the Council.

The apparent disregard of both officials and councillors of the previous decision of the Council raises serious concerns in the light of minute 30 of EDDC’s Audit and Governance Committee (19 November 2015), ‘Risk management review: half-year review’, which states:

“In the full risk register there was one risk currently scored as high:

“Failure of correct procedures and practices causing challenges to decisions – Impact: Serious, Likelihood: Very likely, Good scope for improvement.

“An aggrieved party had recently been given leave by the High Court to pursue a judicial review against a decision of the Council to grant permission for a dwelling on land adjoining their property. The case revolved around whether Members of Development Management Committee in making the decision were consistent in their approach with prior decisions on the same site for a similar form of development. Members of DMC had been briefed on this case and these issues would be picked up through future Members training sessions.”

The 6-week period in which Pendeen objectors could have applied for judicial review has unfortunately expired. However 3 questions remain:

  • Were officers acting correctly in effectively recommending the reversal of the April decision?
  • What was the date of the High Court hearing referred to in the minute? If it occurred before 8 September, officers should have brought it to the attention of the DMC when it made its new decision.
  • Whether or not this was the case, surely on grounds of natural justice the Council itself should now re-examine the Pendeen approval in the light of this minute and the case referred to in it?

Consistency with prior decisions is also a big issue in the current application (15/2395/FUL) to build 3 houses in the garden of Pembroke House on Beer Road, as the objection lodged by Charlie Hopkins on behalf of myself and 9 other neighbours (on the planning portal) explains in detail. This will be a good test of whether the DMC can achieve the ‘improvement’ which the Audit and Governance Committee sees as necessary in planning decisions.

(Thanks to East Devon Watch for drawing attention to the minutes.)


‘Devolution’ without democracy?

Posted on Updated on

‘To most people “devolution” implies greater local involvement, local democratic power’, says the East Devon Alliance in a new Press Release (full text here), ‘but the process being followed for the “Heart of the South West” devolution bid has no democratic element at all:

  • Input has been sought from the business community but neither the public nor elected Councillors have been consulted about either the process or on the content of the bid
  • The information submitted so far has the logos of the Councils and implies endorsement by council members that has neither been explicitly sought or given
  • The seven Nolan Principles have not been followed.’

EDA calls for the Heart of the South West devolution planning process to be more open and democratic, that both the public and elected representatives are regularly consulted, and that decisions involving the use of public funds (e.g. business rate revenue) to be made in public by accountable, elected representatives.

Can ‘Independents’ get into Parliament?

Posted on Updated on

West Hill or Westminster? An Independent’s Quest by Philip Algar, £9.99 from the author at Devon House, West Hill, Ottery St. Mary EX11 1UY. 

Independent candidates work in local elections: 15 Independents were elected to EDDC in 2015, becoming the main opposition to the Conservatives. But can they ever work for Parliament?

This was the question posed by Claire West Hill or WestminsterWright’s 2015 campaign in Devon East, described in this fascinating new book by one of her campaign team. Claire, then an Independent district and county councillor for Ottery, succeeded in coming a respectable second, with 13,100 votes (24% of the poll compared to 46% for Tory minister Hugo Swire – once our MP too, before boundaries were changed).

Claire beat UKIP, Labour and the Lib Dems, and saw Swire’s share of the vote decline slightly, while most Tories (including our Neil Parish) got increased shares. She was the most successful Independent candidate in the UK not just in 2015, but since 2005 when Richard Taylor was reelected in Wyre Valley. But she did not win, or come close.

Successful Independents in the last quarter century have had both had single issues (Taylor’s hospital and Martin Bell’s anti-sleaze campaigns) and benefitted from major parties (in both cases the Lib Dems, and in Bell’s Labour too) standing down in their favour. Only the Greens did not stand against Wright. Bell also received massive national publicity, while the national media studiously ignored Wright. So the answer, Algar concludes, is not very favourable, although Wright and her hundreds of active supporters put up a magnificent fight.

Nevertheless Wright’s question will not go away. Across the South West in the General Election, the Tories won every single rural and semi-rural seat. In the region as a whole, they got over 90% of the seats for 45% of the vote, with Labour winning in only Bristol and Exeter.

How are the half of all voters who don’t support the Tories ever to get representation? The Lib Dems, who used to be the answer in some parts of Devon, Cornwall and Somerset, were efficiently wiped out by the Tories in 2015, and are a shadow of their former selves. Labour and the Greens don’t have credible chances of winning. Proportional representation is not on offer. Claire Wright’s valiant effort begins to look the beginning of an answer, after all. If you’re interested in this question, read Algar’s book.

Neil Parish: FOR bombing Syria

Posted on

Our MP’s very short contribution to yesterday’s debate: ‘I agree with my hon. Friend wholeheartedly that we need to take action, however difficult. ISIL wants to destroy everything we believe in through its murderous acts. We need to act and to act now.’

It’s pretty certain that bombing Syria will increase ISIL’s support among radicalised young Muslims and lead to more ‘murderous acts’ in the UK. If bombing would defeat ISIL in Syria, this might be a risk that has to be taken. But it is difficult to believe that bombing, without effective local ground forces to take back territory, will remove ISIL. It is likely to kill some civilians, help the murderous Assad regime,  and drive even more refugees to Europe.