After a very long and protracted debate, EDDC’s overview and scrutiny committee agreed by a narrow margin, that its sub-committee should be allowed to look into EDBF’s influence on planning.

An amendment by Cllr Tony Howard to suspend the committee until the police investigation was over, was voted down.

It follows months of wrangling and rows over whether or not it was appropriate for the EDBF scrutiny committee to look at the influence of EDBF on the planning function at EDDC.

The chief executive, Mark Williams, had previously maintained that it may be unlawful for the committee to look at the planning influence for a variety of reasons.

But at tonight’s meeting, most councillors were of the view that it was not only appropriate for the scrutiny committee to look at planning, but it was essential, given the public concern about the issue.

Prior to the vote, which was based on a proposal by Cllr Derek Button and seconded by me, there were some sharply opposing views and heated debate.

Some councillors were concerned about sub judice, although this only applies after someone is charged with an offence.  Other concerns related to “going behind” the Local Plan and delaying proceedings, but no one on the scrutiny committee was proposing to delay the Local Plan.

There were some thought-provoking contributions from members of the public, including:

– Damien Mills asking whether the chief executive had sought independent legal advice over the scrutiny sub-committee not being allowed to debate planning issue. Answer: No.
– Robert Crick asking about the appropriateness of the chief executive’s legal advice.
– Richard Thurlow, raising the issue of Anna Minton’s report on planning and lobbying and its implications.  It would be inappropriate to exclude planning from the scrutiny sub-committee, he said, after this report.
– Alan Durrant suggesting that excluding planning from the scrutiny sub-committee would be untenable , especially as the East Devon Business Forum’s influence had effectively doubled the amount of employment land in the Local Plan.
-Mr Sangster asked whether any “gagging clauses” had been applied to former councillors or officers.  Answer:  It is practice for some staff who have left, to have signed “compromise agreements.”

At the start of the debate Cllr Graham Troman said that he was disappointed that he had not felt supported by the leading officer and disappointed that he hadn’t been able to interview Graham Brown and Nigel Harrison – economic development manager – as neither had turned up to meetings. (Nigel Harrison was at the first one).

After well over an hour, the committee, which had a recorded vote proposed by Roger Giles, voted by 10 votes to 9 that the East Devon Business Forum scrutiny committee should look at planning matters.