The campaign group ‘Say No to Sidford Business Park’ gave some feedback after the public hearing on the appeal over the refusal of planning permission for the business park:
The campaign group has issued its latest update – which carries a controversial claim:
Campaign Update 32
Firstly, many thanks to those of you who sent kind words about the actions of the Steering Group in representing your interests at the recent Planning Inquiry.
Hopefully you read the extensive reporting that was contained both last and this week’s Sidmouth Herald about what we and others who oppose the Business Park said at the Inquiry. Indeed, there is further coverage of the Inquiry In this week’s Herald.
Also, in this week’s Herald, is a letter from a member of the Steering Group, Keith Hudson. Keith expresses his concerns about the fact that in 2016, following the decision of the District Council to refuse their 2016 application to build a Business Park in Sidford, the District Council’s Chief Executive met with a representative of the applicants. Mike and Tim Ford.
In this meeting we know from unchallenged evidence presented at the Planning Inquiry, that the Chief Executive advised their representative that they should appeal the decision taken by his own Council.
As the QC for the Fords stated at the Inquiry “That is an extraordinary state of affairs”. Quite so!
Both at the Inquiry and since the publication of Keith’s letter (reproduced below) many residents have expressed their amazement and annoyance at the Chief Executive’s actions.
This matter is a concerning one and one which has led the District Councillor for Sidmouth Rural, John Loudoun, within whose Ward the site is located to write to the Leader of the Council asking that an independent investigation be undertaken into the Chief Executive’s actions.
John Loudoun has expressed his concern that these actions potentially bring the role of the Council and that of the Chief Executive into disrepute as he appears to have undermined a legitimate decision taken by Members on the advice of planning officers.
Keith Hudson’s letter as published in Sidmouth Herald, 25 July –
Sidford Business Park Planning Inquiry raises new issues of concern
Last week I attended the whole of the three-day Planning Inquiry in front of a Planning Inspector into the planning application to build a Business Park in Sidford that was refused by East Devon District Council at the end of last year As I was in attendance for the whole of the Inquiry, I was able to hear every word of the evidence presented.
The planning applications to build the Business Park have received a great deal of local attention and significant opposition, and I was pleased to be able to give evidence at the Inquiry in opposition to the proposed development. I believe that it is the wrong thing in the wrong place.
Your readers will recall that there have been two planning applications submitted by Tim and Mike Ford, in the name of OG Holdings Retirement Benefits Scheme, to build this Business Park. The first of these applications was submitted in 2016 and rejected by East Devon District Council. The second was then submitted in 2018 and was again rejected by the District Council.
In listening to the evidence at the Inquiry I was taken aback to learn a claim arising from the evidence given by a key witness for the Fords, Joseph Marchant, and which was repeated by their QC and which wasn’t challenged by the Council. In so doing this led to an acceptance by the Council of the claim that was made.The claim that was made by Mr Marchant was set out at paragraph 6.0.1 in his written evidence “Subsequent to the refusal of the 2016 application, an approach was made to Members (Councillors) including Councillor Hughes and the CEO (Chief Executive) of EDDC, Mark Williams”.
This is continued in paragraph 6.0.2 of Mr Marchant’s written evidence “We were advised by Mark Williams….that in his opinion, the applicant (the Fords) may make more advance in progress towards delivery through appealing (the Council’s decision to refuse the 2016 planning application) rather than resubmission”.
This claim was also clearly set out in paragraphs 13 and 14 of the Fords’ QC’s final closing arguments at the Inquiry “After the 2016 application was refused, there was a meeting with Councillor Hughes and the CEO of the Council”. “The CEO advised that the way to progress was to appeal. That is an extraordinary state of affairs”.
I am sure that I am not the only resident who is astounded that the Chief Executive of the District Council directly advised a developer to appeal a decision of the Council. As the QC for the Fords at the Inquiry put it “That is an extraordinary state of affairs”. I cannot disagree with this statement.
All of this raises serious questions, not for the first time, about the links between the District Council and developers. It suggests that the Chief Executive’s actions and advice undermined the authority and responsibilities of not only the Council’s planning officers, but also that of the elected Members, particularly those with responsibility for oversight and decision making on planning applications.
It also raises a number of questions that surely deserve public scrutiny –
- What authority did the Chief Executive of EDDC have for advising a developer to appeal a decision to refuse a planning application taken legitimately by his Council, as the planning authority, and which had been taken on the advice of his staff in the planning department, for whom he is their ultimate boss?
- Did the Chief Executive report this meeting to the then Leader of the Council or other elected Members? If he did, what was their view of his actions and advice?
- Is there a written record of this meeting involving the Chief Executive and the developer? If there is, was this ever presented to a Council Committee and if so, when? If not, why was no record made and is this in line with Council policy?
- Why has it taken until this Inquiry for the Chief Executive’s advice to the developer to become public knowledge?
- Which other developers has the Chief Executive advised during his tenure of office in a way that directly advises them of how to respond to decisions of his Council with which they are unhappy?
The evidence given at the Inquiry regarding the direct intervention of the District Council’s Chief Executive in a local planning matter, and in opposition to a decision his own Council has made, surely requires independent investigation? Given the potential ramifications of the Chief Executive’s actions I ask myself the question, will he be suspended to allow an independent investigation to be undertaken?