District Council determined to improve probity in planning

“The failure of this council to go ahead with the Task and Finish Forum commissioned to look into the Brown issue and into the role and influence of the former East Devon Business Forum, was a serious error of judgement.”

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Last week’s full council at East Devon made a dramatic decision:

BREAKING: East Devon rejects Greater Exeter Strategic Plan – Vision Group for Sidmouth

East Devon rejects Greater Exeter Strategic Plan: the response – Vision Group for Sidmouth

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And at that same meeting, the Chair and Leader both announced that they would be making efforts to ensure the council were transparent with planning decisions:

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Announcements from the Chairman and Leader

The Chair explained how she came to be involved in local politics which was around concerns over probity in planning. She explained that the Council needed to take positive steps and have in place robust processes going forward and for members to have behaviour beyond reproach.

The Leader referred to perception around previous actions of the Council in relation to investigations and site allocations in planning and announced that with the recent Government consultations on changes to the planning regime, the Council’s imminent decision on GESP and progression of a Local plan that there was a need to progress with absolute clarity and commitments to the highest standards of member and officer probity. He confirmed that he
attended a meeting which the Chair had called along with the Chair of the Planning Committee, Deputy Leader, Chief Executive and Monitoring Officer to discuss these matters and that there would be a further meeting following which he would formally write to the Chair and Chief Executive advising that Cabinet would receive a report to discuss how to structure work on this topic.

Printed minutes 20th-Aug-2020 18.00 Council.pdf

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In their announcement, both Chair and Leader referred to the 2013 Graham Brown scandal – and the East Devon Business Forum which he chaired and which had a deep but opaque influence on the current Local Plan:

Futures Forum: Ex-Cllr Graham Brown, the East Devon Business Forum and the District Council’s CEO’s pre-emptive strike against the Business TAFF

Futures Forum: A history of the East Devon Business Forum, part seven ….. “The local mafia”: Conflicts of interest in East Devon

Futures Forum: The East Devon Business Forum TAFF >>> “The original scope was no longer relevant and there was a need to move on.” >>> Or: “Bringing the council into disrepute”

Futures Forum: Sidford business park > “The Local Plan is a deeply flawed document.”

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Daniel Clarke reports on Devon Live, where he gives the verbatim announcement from the Chair and Leader:

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Review will ensure planning processes ‘totally robust and beyond reproach’

It follows the failure to go ahead with the Task and Finish Forum commissioned to look into the Graham Brown affair.

East Devon District Council is set to review its process around planning to make sure its processes are ‘totally robust and beyond reproach’.

An agenda item is set to be discussed at the next cabinet meeting as to how the council structures the work to ensure that within Local Plan making process there is absolute clarity and commitment to the highest standards of member and officer probity.

It followed what Cllr Paul Arnott, leader of the council, said were ‘serious and unanswered questions about a number of sites which came in under the bar at the eleventh hour in the current plan in 2015’, and the failure to go ahead with the Task and Finish Forum commissioned to look into the Graham Brown affair. The disgraced former councillor was secretly filmed in 2013 by the Daily Telegraph claiming he had access to all the right people for the right clients and said ‘”If I can’t get planning, nobody will.” He was recorded as saying: “I don’t come cheap. If I’m turning a green field into a housing estate and I’m earning the developer two or three millions, then I’m not doing it for peanuts – especially if I’m the difference between winning and losing it.”

Raising it as an urgent item at Thursday night’s full council meeting, Cllr Cathy Gardner, chairman of the council, said: ““Some of you will know that I became involved in local politics because I was concerned about probity in planning. That was in 2013, at the time of the Graham Brown affair. I quickly got to know neighbours and others in East Devon who shared my concerns, and more. Now that I am chairman of the council it is a vital part of my role to safeguard the reputation of this Council and rid ourselves of that legacy. In order to do that I believe we must take positive steps to improve public perception of how we operate, especially when it comes to aspects of planning. We must ensure that our processes are totally robust and our behaviour is beyond reproach.”

Cllr Arnott added: “This morning, the chairman called a meeting with the CEO and the Monitoring Officer, and invited the Chair of Planning, the Deputy Leader and me. We had a positive and wide-ranging discussion on how we can make sure that even as busy members and officers we adhere to the commitment to the Nolan Principles at all times. There is a difference between lip service and implementation, and all councils with duties in Planning must make sure that implementation is its watchword.

“This discussion had been triggered now for urgent action by a number of factors. From the recent past, it is clear that the failure of this council to go ahead with the Task and Finish Forum commissioned to look into the Brown issue -mentioned by the Chair – and into the role and influence of the former East Devon Business Forum, was a serious error of judgement. It gave the impression – whatever the case – that members and the public had no legitimate right to understand these unhappy matters. There had been a chance to clean the stable – instead the broom was snapped and the stable door locked. It was business as usual.

“However, the timing now has been mainly triggered by the need to look to the immediate future, and the time for action is here as the council, like the nation, enters some of the most challenging times for Planning in our history. We cannot fulfil our duty to the Nolan principles when the public is still unsure about the role of undue influence in our Planning Choices, our site identification. Or where their community’s S106 money has got to.

“Imminently, we will re-engage with our Local Plan process. There were serious and unanswered questions about a number of sites which came in under the bar at the eleventh hour in the current plan in 2015, and members have repeated the concerns about the sporadic undeclared interests of some members in this council and their alliance with large-scale landowners in relation to the draft consultation for the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan.

“We cannot make a clean start on our new plan-making process without absolute clarity and commitment to the highest standards of member and officer probity. Soon, in addition, we will have to respond to the government’s consultation on Planning changes. This council will have an obligation to include in that the risks – nationally acknowledged – of local and national undue influence, corruption some might say, in that too.

“As we know, the Secretary of State whose name is on the draft consultation helped in the cause of the international pornographer, Richmond Desmond, who hoped avoid millions of pound in CIL. He is but one of a legion of developer donors to the Tory party. That, I am afraid to say, Conservative members and friends, is your party. Well, we are not having that here.

“Therefore, the Chairman will host another meeting next Thursday on this topic with those gathered today, and arising from that I will write as Leader to the Chair and the CEO advising that we will have an agenda item to discuss how we structure our immediate work on this topic at the next available Cabinet.”

Review will ensure planning processes ‘totally robust and beyond reproach’ – Devon Live

   
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