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.)
‘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.
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 Wright’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.
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.
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.
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 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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Seaton’s Voice held an impressively large but stage-managed rally last night at which they showed slides of their new proposals for the Town Hall. However no printed information was available and there is none on their website. This makes it difficult even for people who were there to evaluate in detail. They seemed to want to overwhelm people with emotion, not to have rational discussion. I have therefore put together this summary of their proposals and the issues they raise, in Q and A form. I trust I got it down right but please make corrections in the comments, or email me. – Martin Shaw (in a personal capacity)
WHAT ARE THE KEY POINTS?
SV are setting up The Gateway Community Trust and they want this body, not the Town Council to which EDDC has agreed to transfer the Town Hall, to own the building.
WHO WILL RUN THE TRUST?
SV’s three directors, Carol Manley, Elga Mackie and Annette Bentley, have invited the following to form a Board of Trustees: Alan Nicholas (Chair), Barbara Dearden Potter, Mary Bowles, Paul Hotchkiss, Rachel Webber, Kris Brock and Steve Alaric Lee.
WHAT ABOUT S.V.?
SV will become The Gateway Theatre Company, the trading arm of the Trust, with the three existing directors continuing to run it.
WHO WILL THE GATEWAY THEATRE CO. BE ACCOUNTABLE TO?
The Gateway Theatre Company, i.e. Carol, Elga and Annette, will be accountable to the Board which they have chosen.
WHAT WILL BE THE ROLES OF GATEWAY SUPPORTERS AND THE WIDER SEATON COMMUNITY?
Gateway supporters can volunteer, donate and leave legacies, but they will have no formal say in the running of the Trust. The rest of the Seaton community will have no role or say in how the Trust and the Gateway company run the building.
WHERE’S THE DEMOCRACY?
Carol said that the proposal represents ‘democracy in action’, but there is NO democracy whatsoever in the proposed Gateway Community Trust. Control remains tightly in the hands of Carol, Elga and Annette, with potential oversight only by people who owe their positions to these three.
HOW WILL THIS ALL BE FINANCED?
Mainly by 3 ‘angel investors’, Dave Brock, Steve Alaric Lee and Matthew Wright, who have pledged to provide cash reserves and bonds. Smaller donations (£13,000 has been pledged), legacy funding and gift-aided donations will help as well.
HOW DO THEY HOPE TO GET THE BUILDING?
They have explained their plans to EDDC’s Chief Executive, Mark Williams, who appears to have said that EDDC will not precipitately sell the Town Hall, but will talk to them about their proposal. Carol was ambiguous about this, but I think it means only that this would happen in the event that Seaton voters reject the current transfer to the Town Council. Williams would not have had authority to reverse the offer to the Town Council. This must be why he apparently said it could come back to EDDC’s Cabinet in February. That would give time for the referendum to take place and its implications to be absorbed.
WHAT ABOUT THE TOWN COUNCIL’S OFFICES?
Carol said that the Council would be welcome to stay under their ownership, but a supporter suggested that the Council should move to Marshlands. I think this is the real agenda.
… AND THE MUSEUM?
Carol said in passing that it would be welcome to stay and ‘heritage’ would be one of the goals of the Trust. Whether the Museum has been consulted, she didn’t say.
WILL THERE STILL BE A TOWN HALL?
Not really, if the Council is forced out. Carol said that she doesn’t like the name ‘Town Hall’. We must assume it will become simply The Gateway.
WILL THEY STILL REFURBISH THE BUILDING?
No. This is not part of the new plans, although it might be possible down the line. So this has been lost, compared to the Council’s Option 3 which SV supported until last month.
IS IT NECESSARY FOR S.V.’s TRUST TO OWN THE BUILDING, IN ORDER TO HAVE A ‘HOME FOR THE COMMUNITY’?
No. The building is a home for the community at the moment and will continue to be if the Council’s Option 2 or Option 3 is approved. A major point of both is to continue housing and indeed improve things for The Gateway. The difference the SV proposal makes is only to who OWNS the building. THIS is what the proposal is designed to achieve, i.e. SV’s Trust will have gained ‘the asset’.
WHAT ARE THE GOOD POINTS IN THIS PROPOSAL?
Clearly it’s a bit better for Carol, Elga and Annette to be accountable to someone, even handpicked supporters, than no one as at present. And it’s much better that The Gateway is actively fundraising both from ‘investors’ and ordinary supporters, especially since it can no longer rely on so much subsidy from EDDC or Seaton Town Council.
WHAT ARE THE DOWNSIDES?
- Seaton, the whole community, will not have its Town Hall.
- The Town Hall refurbishment will have been sacrificed.
- A building which belongs morally to ALL the people of Seaton – EDDC only own it because they took it over from the old Seaton Urban District Council – will have been handed over for free to an unelected, unaccountable trust, and in reality to the three people who run SV, who at best speak for a section of the community which places its trust in them.
- However honourable the members of the trust, they do not and cannot represent the people of Seaton as a whole. However good SV is at running community events, they should not own the Town Hall and turn in into something else.
CAN THE TRANSFER TO THE COUNCIL STILL HAPPEN?
Yes. EDDC has made an offer of transfer to the Town Council, which is balloting the voters on this. If the majority of voters support Options 2 and 3 then the Council will have a mandate to proceed with the transfer, and EDDC can hardly go back on its offer.
COULD A TRANSFER TO S.V.’s NEW TRUST HAPPEN?
If the majority supports Option 1, then we are in uncharted waters. Based on what Carol said, it appears that EDDC would talk to SV, and the earliest the matter might be formally considered would at Cabinet in February.
However it can hardly be assumed that they would hand over the building to the new, unproven trust. SV’s accounts, never independently audited, would need to be examined. The viability of the offers from the ‘angel investors’ and the extent of SV’s fundraising would have to be looked at. The governance arrangements, in the inadequate form they have been announced, would almost certainly be rejected.
If after careful scrutiny EDDC was not satisfied with SV, they could certainly sell the building (as SV previously said they would). However the Town Council would certainly continue to be consulted as to the way forward.
WHAT SHOULD VOTERS DO?
You have a choice. Do you want the Town Council to own the Town Hall on the behalf of the whole community, for ever, and continue to provide a home for The Gateway (Option 2), with the additional possibility of extensive refurbishment (Option3)? Or do you want SV’s new trust to own the Town Hall, which will become simply The Gateway (if you want this, follow their advice and vote Option 1 to reject the transfer to the Council).
The full text of my letter is on the View From Seaton site. The print version was edited, omitting one or two points.
Please note that the views expressed in my letter, and on this site, are my own, not those of the Town Council.