THE acting chairman of an East Devon business group that is in the process of re-launching has responded to fresh criticism.
At the first meeting of the East Devon Business Group – formerly the East Devon Business Forum, prospective members were involved in a debate about its new constitution.
Concerns have been expressed that the decision to approve the revised constitution was “steam-rollered” through.
The forum was initially set up to “improve communication” between businesses and East Devon District Council.
But the forum’s relationship with the council was criticised by residents and councillors due to the perception it has “significant influence over how much land is developed in the area”.
Steven Kendall-Torry, chairman of the Sidmouth Chamber of Commerce, said: “I came away from the meeting feeling that there wasn’t really any change to the existing group.
“Discussion of the constitution was given courteous but not in-depth discussion, which seemed to last as long as some people’s patience – then a rushed vote was taken.”
Geoff Morris, chairman of the Exmouth Residents and Traders Association, described the meeting as operating like a council meeting.
“The point of a representative group like this is not to out-vote other members,” he added.
“I raised the point that one vote shouldn’t be carried through as the view of the group but if there are different views, this should form the view of the group.
“My concern is that if decisions continue being steam-rolled through, with disregard for people’s views, we’ll end up with the same problems that the forum had with domination by more powerful members of the group.”
But acting chairman, Roy Stuart, said “free rein” was given to everyone at the meeting to have their say.
“Eventually after a long discussion most people felt it had gone on long enough and there would never be a resolution so a vote was taken and there was approximately a 90 per cent majority in favour of the amended constitution,” he said.
Mr Stuart was also keen to “put the record straight” about formerly expressed concerns about the original forum.
The forum was criticised last year when members made recommendations as part of the Atkins Report and the Roger Tym Report which were commissioned by the council to assess housing and employment land need to assist with the formulation of its Local Plan.
Mr Stuart said members’ findings – that there was significantly less immediately available employment land than was portrayed in the Atkins Report – was based on site visits and endorsed by councillors.
He also stressed that the forum was “totally unaware” of the Roger Tym Report.
And Mr Stuart denied any knowledge of proposals for a five hectare employment land site near Sidmouth.
He added: “We want to be inclusive, and deal with the wider issues of proving employment opportunities and prosperity across East Devon.
“We want the group to represent all members in a proper, equal and democratic way.”
Nominations for a new chairman are being sought and it is anticipated the new chairman will be appointed at an extraordinary general meeting of the group at the Deer Park Country Hotel on Thursday, July 18, at 5.30 for 6pm.