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Was DMC’s Pendeen decision illegal?

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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?

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‘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?

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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

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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.

SW devolution – when do we have our say?

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Our county and district councils are steaming ahead with proposals for devolution in the daftly named ‘Heart of the South West’ (that’s Devon and Somerset to you and me) to be agreed on 18 December and then submitted to Government. They hope it will all be done and dusted by March. Apart from an odd piece in the local press, what do most people know about this? I’d always thought that ‘devolution’ was about more democracy, not less.

On Wednesday 2nd December, at 3pm, EDDC has scheduled a special extra meeting of Joint Overview and Scrutiny Committee, the sole opportunity for the press and public to be present at a devolution discussion. This will prepare the ground for the Cabinet Committee at 5.30pm when EDDC Leader’s delegated powers for ‘Heart of the South West’ are expected to be pushed through.

E Devon 8th least affordable area in England

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Page 99 of current cabinet papers:

In East Devon:

Unemployment = 546 people as at September 2015. This is 0.7% of total population and represents a reduction of 136 since May 2014.

Working age population = 63.6%

Median full-time salary = £22,700

Earnings are 7% lower compared to the English average.

Average house prices to salary ratio are 11:1, which is the highest in Devon.

East Devon is the 8th least affordable district in England

(The Joseph Rowntree Foundation)”

Reblogged from eastdevonwatch.org

SV finally publishes a little info

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SV have finally published some information on their Town Hall proposals, but only on their Facebook page:

Just to explain as there is an individual who seems to have missed everything we said at our meeting. We intend to become a ‘Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO)’ this is fully regulated by the ‘Charities Commission’ and we will have a Board of Trustees. Just like the Hospital League of Friends or say Red Cross we will have a trading arm which will be The Gateway (Community Interest Company). All profits, donations, patronage, legacies etc will be ‘gift aided’ over to the (CIO) and everything is fully Asset Locked….so we cannot runaway and sell it all. The Gateway Community Trust is merely the ‘name’ we have selected for the Charitable Incorporated Organisation. xxx Please share xx

This is clearly in response to my post (read by over 200 people in two days), but it gives much less information. Although they suggest I ‘seem to have missed everything’, they still haven’t found a mistake in my account.

Their post clarifies that the proposed trust would be a Charitable Incorporated Organisation. As described at their meeting, it would appear to be what the Charity Commission calls a ‘foundation’ CIO, ‘whose only voting members will be the charity trustees‘ – in this case the 7 people appointed by Seaton’s Voice.

This is where concerns arise. Unelected trustees would own and control Seaton’s (former) Town Hall. The Charity Commission explains: ‘In practice a CIO using the ‘foundation’ model will be like an incorporated charitable trust, run by a small group of people (the charity trustees) who make all key decisions. Charity trustees may be appointed for an unlimited time and they will probably appoint new charity trustees.’

In other words a self-perpetuating group, unaccountable to the people of Seaton.

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