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Chief Exec: EDDC planning cttee must determine its own application to redevelop Knowle

Friday, 23 January 2015 6 Comments by Claire

There is no legal provision for the planning application to redevelop the Knowle to be determined by another planning authority, EDDC’s chief executive informed councillors on the overview and scrutiny committee last night.

I made a proposal that the planning application to redevelop EDDC’s offices at Sidmouth after reading a number of paragraphs in last night’s report, which stated that the office relocation project finances were “at significant risk” until the potential bidder had secured planning consent for its plans.

This would be because the council would have already spent a large sum of money on its new accommodation.

This considerable and very worrying risk, was emphasised three times in the report in strong terms.

It seemed to me that an impossible burden was being placed on the planning committee and said so. I said that the pressure to approve such an application was surely intolerable.

The chief executive told me I was doing a “disservice” to the planning committee and reminded everyone that the planning committee had rejected an application to redevelop the Knowle in 2013.

I argued that it was different and more pressured than before as the funding of the project depended on planning consent, as was indicated in the report.

I formally proposed that in the interests of good practice and transparency a neighbouring authority’s planning committee should determine the application instead.

But the chief executive told the committee that there was no legal provision for this, so EDDC must determine its own application.

At this point Cllr Mike Allen, announced that Roger Giles and I should stop “attempting to bring the council into disrepute.”  He told the committee that I had implied the committee was making “constant complaints about planning” and was using “political advantage.”

He claimed that I had implied that the planning committee was “bent.”

Cllr Allen demanded that I apologise to planning committee members.

I was astonished and angry at this totally unprovoked outburst and the shocking twist of what I had said and meant.

In response, I insisted that Cllr Allen that HE should apologise to ME for his unacceptable outburst. I said I had said none of the words he had used and had not implied them either. 

No apology ensued - and Chair, Cllr Tim Wood suggested it was a political spat, which should be left there.

Cllr Allen has had to apologise several times to the council - and to me and Roger Giles for his continued unpleasant outbursts. 

The last time was at full council in December where he described Roger Giles as an “abject failure” as scrutiny chairman, which was as untrue as it was nasty.  I demanded an apology to Roger for that remark – which came immediately on that occasion.

Also commenting on the office relocation project, former EDDC Tory chairman, Cllr Peter Halse said that the council had “fallen flat on its face” and made a series of remarks about the finances and the energy prices being of concern.

Energy price predictions were also a big topic of discussion, with Sidmouth businessman, Richard Eley, addressing the committee at the beginning of the meeting and informing the committee about the Dept for Energy and Climate Change’s energy price predictions, which are considerably lower, than EDDC’s.

Cllr Roger Giles pursued this line with some enthusiasm…. officers said that they had considered a range of figures and not just the DECC’s predictions.

Comments

1. At 09:37 pm on 23th Jan Roger Giles wrote:

It seems as though the only way for a Knowle relocation project planning application not to be determined by EDDC (I have always been uncomfortable about councils determining their own planning applications) is for it to be decided by the DCLG. I therefore asked the Chief Exec if the DCLG (Department for Communities and Local Government) had been asked about this. They had not.
My question obviously annoyed Mike Allen so much that I was included in his unfounded criticism of Claire.

2. At 10:17 pm on 23th Jan Sandra Semple wrote:

I thought that such planning applications were automatically called in.  If this is not the case, what is the process - does our MP (who may be different after May 2015) have any clout?  If not, who in EDDC can call for it?

3. At 08:25 am on 24th Jan Mike Howe wrote:

There is a long way to go first we need a planning application, that could well be this summer or later, then the DMC will need to make a decision, and then if someone is not happy with the decision, they can ask for it to be called in, or if the applicant, who will not be the Council, (in my understanding)  is not happy they can go to appeal. I for one if I am still here (councillor)  and on DMC at the time would look forward looking at all the planning facts on the issue, and just to be clear financial considerations or aspirations for EDDC are not a planning issue in my experience, just the many strands of current planning policy are. These are just my thoughts.

4. At 04:51 pm on 24th Jan Tony Green wrote:

I hope Mike Howe (for whom I have a lot of respect) is right that a planning application will be made after the election. I detected a few hints at Thursday’s meeting that one might be rushed through before.
Surely any member of the DMC who has voted for relocation will find it difficult to take an objective view of an application, the success of which is vital for the realisation of the project.

5. At 06:12 pm on 24th Jan Frances wrote:

Sandra, please can we think in more positive terms about the outcome of the General Election. We have to get Claire elected, without her as our MP or as an Independent on the EDDC we really are in trouble.  Roger Giles is great but we can’t lose the Claire/Roger double act without having Claire representing us at Westminster.

6. At 12:32 pm on 04th Feb Damien Mills wrote:

Once again it would appear that EDDC’s chief executive doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Either that or he’s deliberately setting out to mislead councillors and the public.

Dare I suggest he refer to the following page of the Department for Communities & Local government website:

http://planningguidance.planningportal.gov.uk/blog/guidance/determining-a-planning-application/who-in-a-local-planning-authority-makes-a-planning-decision/

As you will see, the first para says: “Section 101 of the Local Government Act 1972 allows the local planning authority [ie East Devon District Council] to arrange for the discharge of any of its functions by a committee, sub-committee, or an officer or BY ANY OTHER LOCAL AUTHORITY.”

Furthermore, it highlights the importance of ensuring transparency when delegating such decisions.

“The exercise of the power to delegate planning functions is generally a matter for individual local planning authorities, having regard to practical considerations including the need for efficient decision taking and local transparency.”

Now, unlike Mark Williams, I don’t claim to have any legal expertise but a quick look at Section 101 of the aforementioned act suggests that, contrary to what he told the overview & scrutiny committee, there is indeed provision for a local authority to ask another local authority to consider a planning application.

As I recall this is not the first time EDDC’s chief executive has proffered what one might reasonably have assumed was definitive guidance only for it to turn out to be anything but. Plainly, this is wholly unacceptable and should be addressed as an issue of the utmost urgency. Over to you Claire!

It seems clear to me that unless someone in Mr Williams’ position can be 100 per cent certain that what they are saying is correct they should be obliged to make clear they are only proffering an opinion and provide a definitive answer at the earliest opportunity.

So, the $64,000,000 question now is what can be done to redress the misinformation given to the overview & scrutiny committee and which meant that Claire’s wholly reasonable proposal was not given due consideration?

And, looking further ahead, what mechanisms can be put in place to ensure overview & scrutiny, or any other EDDC committee, doesn’t take hugely important decisions on the basis of such misinformation.

And finally… a recent article in the Express & Echo highlighted the fact that EDDC’s chief executive was significantly better paid than those doing the same job in any of the neighbouring authorities.

http://www.exeterexpressandecho.co.uk/Devon-council-bosses-worth-100k-wages/story-25936426-detail/story.html

Frankly, regardless of what EDDC’s chief executive was being paid I’d expect them to get stuff like this right but when they’re paid significantly more than their contemporaries it’s even more galling that they should get it so wrong.

Aren’t councillors and, more to the point, residents of East Devon entitled to expect a whole lot better than this?!

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