EDDC fails to protect our community hospitals, offering specious justifications for failing to list Seaton Hospital as a ‘Community Asset’
On Wednesday, Cllr Jack Rowland (right), Chair of Seaton Area Health Matters, questioned EDDC’s refusal to list Seaton Hospital as a Community Asset – which would have given Seaton Town Council, which made the request, additional grounds and time to object to any proposal for closure.
He was given the answer below. I think the reasons are specious. The guide to the Localism Act which is quoted does not claim to list all the types of buildings that can be covered, but merely gives examples. As the fact that two other Devon councils have listed hospitals shows, this is a question of interpretation. EDDC have chosen to interpret Community Assets narrowly, and then explain away the other councils’ decisions by the fact the hospitals concerned may be in relatively deprived areas, the reason North Devon gives for listing Ilfracombe – although this reason is not mentioned in the guide to the Localism Act, either!
Clearly community hospitals do, as the guide says, ‘play a vital role in local life. … Local life would not be the same without them, and if they are closed or sold into private use, it can be a real loss to the community.” This is true regardless of how deprived the area is. Jack Rowland’s challenge has shown that once again, EDDC has defaulted to failing to protect our community hospitals.
EDDC’s ‘recorded reason’:
The main use of the property is the ‘care element’ which may be considered as furthering the social wellbeing or social interest of the community, however, this does not come within the scope of the Localism Act.
A plain English guide to the Localism Act, states:
“Every town, village or neighbourhood is home to buildings or amenities that play a vital role in local life. They might include community centres, libraries, swimming pools, village shops, markets or pubs. Local life would not be the same without them, and if they are closed or sold into private use, it can be a real loss to the community.”
In this case the nominated asset does not fall into the category of a Community Asset under s88 of the Localism Act and therefore should not be listed.
The Council believes that this interpretation of the law is correct as there is no evidence to suggest that community hospitals were in the mind of the legislator when the law was enacted. This is reinforced by the definition of ‘social interests’ in Section 88(6) of the Localism Act 2011 which states that it is, in particular, cultural, recreational or sporting interests. In addition there certainly appears to be no reference to community hospitals for example on any relevant websites. Had it been the intent of the legislator to include health care then one would have expected it to be listed in the relevant definition. It has also been confirmed that religious observance in a building does not fall within ‘social well-being’ and our view is that this is analogous to circumstances surrounding health care provision.
In the Case of North Devon Council they have helpfully published their reasoning for deciding that Ilfracombe hospital was an appropriate site to be registered under the community right to bid: https://www.northdevon.gov.uk/media/378607/decision-notice-tyrrel-hospital.pdf
In particular, considerable emphasis is put on the fact that Ilfracombe is an area of high deprivation and low car ownership in a rural locality. This justification has been used to justify a departure from the original legislative intention.
Teignbridge Council have not published any of their decisions but looking at the location of the relevant properties it would appear that the assets are similarly located in areas which experience the worst levels of deprivation in Devon: http://www.devonhealthandwellbeing.org.uk/jsna/overview/archive/socio-economic-deprivation/indices-of-deprivation-2015/
The same cannot be said to be the case in either Axminster, Honiton, Ottery St Mary or Seaton. In the circumstances therefore there is no justification for departing from the correct legal interpretation and any consequential risks’.
Why has EDDC refused to list Seaton and other community hospitals as ‘assets of community value’, when other Devon districts have done so? Jack Rowland will ask at the EDDC on Wednesday
EDDC response to new Government planning targets could threaten Green Wedge between Seaton and Colyford
A new EDDC strategy document, Principles For Accommodating The Future Growth Needs Of East Devon, does not propose the Seaton area as an area of large-scale growth, but still raises the spectre of developing the Green Wedge between Seaton and Colyford and bringing the reserve site near the Wetlands (removed from the Local Plan) back into play for housing:
8.11 Seaton – The town is constrained by topography particularly to the east and west but there is some limited scope for growth to the north of the town. The capacity to the north of the town would depend on the extent to which developing in the existing green wedge separating the town from Colyford would be accepted. The local plan had included a reserve site which still has potential while the allocated site for employment and community purposes has not come forward and may need looking at again. Clearly there are sensitivities to the north of the town in terms of the landscape given that it is rising land but also with the green wedge designation between Seaton and Colyford.
Background The Government is setting targets for each district which in East Devon will mean around 844 extra homes per year. The document also says that to ‘also achieve Members aspiration to deliver one job per home we will also need to deliver enough employment space to accommodate at least 844 jobs per year.’
EDDC welcomes this growth as a way of offsetting the effects of austerity; ‘The continued growth of the district and the future incentives form a vital element in the mitigation of the future financial pressures anticipated from 2020/21 as detailed in the financial plan.’ It even claims that ‘Continued growth is required to finance the councils Habitat Mitigation Strategy as well as other local infrastructure investment.’ (Growth is required to mitigate the effects of growth!)
Problems Neither this paper nor the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan consultation document included in the same papers (which EDDC was unhappy with and is now being revisited) faces up to the fact that – except close to Exeter where they believe new estates should be concentrated – demand for housing is mainly from incoming retirees. This is why the projected need for employment land could be exaggerated.
In recent years, East Devon has had the highest rate of net domestic migration, well over 1 per cent p.a., of any district in England. Demand also includes a sizeable proportion of second homes: this may help explain why the report says, ‘East Devon is one of the few places in the south west where housing delivery has exceeded population growth by more than 0.5%’.
Certainly little of the housing is for local young people, not surprising as ‘the ratio between average earnings and average house prices is in the region of 11.42’.
Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty The report says: ‘As custodians of these areas it is considered inappropriate to put significant growth in these areas although some authorities are doing this due to a lack of alternatives. That is not to say that there should be a moratorium on growth in the AONB’s. Any growth in AONB’sunder our own policies and government policies must conserve or enhance the landscape character of the area and major development should only be accommodated where it cannot be accommodated elsewhere.’ However we know from the recent Woodbury decision that this still means significant intrusion.
Poor infrastructure One of the reasons our area isn’t proposed for growth is probably that, as the report recognises, ‘Smaller towns and villages are losing services and facilities due to austerity measures and economic change and residents are becoming increasingly dependent on travelling to larger service centres and are often doing this by car due to poor access to public transport, convenience etc.’
I don’t want to comment at length on last week’s confidence vote at EDDC (which I missed while away for a week). I was pleased to hear that there were excellent public speeches, including from Seaton Mayor, Jack Rowland, and that two of Seaton’s councillors, Jim Knight and Peter Burrows, voted ‘no confidence’ in Paul Diviani, whose vote prevented Health Scrutiny from referring the beds decision to the Secretary of State.
I was disappointed to see that our third councillor, Marcus Hartnell, justified support for Diviani, seeing the attacks on him as purely politically motivated (apparently all other local councillors, for Coly Valley, Beer, Trinity and Axminster, also supported Diviani).
I would just like to put on record my belief that no council leader should be able to abandon the communities he represents without paying a high political price. I hope that the no-confidence motion will warn councillors aware that there will be an even greater public reaction, should they fail to block attempts to close any of our community hospitals in the forthcoming CCG Estates Strategy.
EDDC Leader, Cllr Paul Diviani, will face a vote of ‘no confidence’ next Wednesday, 13 September at a special meeting of the Council, over his vote to block the referral of the CCG’s hospital beds closures to the Secretary of State – which effectively condemned the beds in Seaton, Honiton, Okehampton and Whipton:
- ‘On Tuesday 25th July 2017, Cllr Diviani chose not to represent the opinions of this Council or the people we represent at the DCC Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee meeting when he was clearly expected to do so. This Council no longer has confidence in Cllr Diviani’s commitment to represent our collective interests nor lead our East Devon communities as the figurehead for local government. We call for his resignation.’
Proposed by Councillor Ben Ingham, seconded by Councillor Val Ranger and supported by Councillors Cathy Gardner, Matt Coppell, Marianne Rixson, Rob Longhurst, Dawn Manley, Geoff Jung, Peter Faithfull, Susie Bond, Roger Giles, Matt Booth, Peter Burrows, Steve Gazzard, Megan Armstrong and Douglas Hull.
Members of the public can speak for up to 3 minutes each at the beginning of the meeting.
A slightly abridged version of my reply to Cllr Diviani is published in today’s Midweek Herald (below).
Sorry for short notice! These are the summaries of the consultants’ reports:
- BMP_Non_Tech_Summary_Environmental Baseline_v1_DTSeaton
- BMP_Non_Tech_Summary_Coastal Processes BaselineSeaton
- BMP_Non_Tech_Summary_Defence Baseline_v2Seaton
- BMP_Non_Tech_Summary_Economics Baseline_v3Seaton
A first reading suggests protection for the western end of Seaton is ‘poor’ but government funding will be limited.
I shall be attending a stakeholder group meeting at 1 pm. Anyone who can get to the drop-in at 3 pm may find it worthwhile, as you’ll be able to talk to the consultants and EDDC officers.