• Cllr Brown:  There is no conflict of interest

    11th March 2013 | News | Claire
  • An East Devon councillor has defended the comments he made during a conversation to national newspaper reporters working undercover during which he said “If I can’t get planning, nobody will”.

    East Devon District Council, Tory member Graham Brown, is also the chairman of the East Devon Business Forum, and runs a planning consultancy business, Grey Green Planning.

    As seen in the video, when speaking to Daily Telegraph reporters, posing as representatives from an overseas investment company, he said: “I’m the best. If I can’t get planning permission, no one will.

    “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.”

    He added: “East Devon was traditionally one of the three hardest places in the country to get planning permission. That will change. I don’t see the floodgates opening, I see a stamped.”

    Speaking to the Echo, Cllr Brown, who is the ward member for Feniton and Buckerell, said he did not believe there was a conflict of interest between his work as a planning consultant and his role as a councillor.

    An district council spokesperson also confirmed that the council is not aware of Cllr Brown having any “improper influence” on the planning process and confirmed he has declared his interest as a professional planning consultant.

    “I talked to them about my planning business which I run completely separately from being a councillor,” Cllr Brown said. “I was speaking to them as a consultant not as a councillor.

    “I make sure planning applications are put together as well as they possibly can be so they have the best possible chance of being passed.
    “My work on a planning application stops as soon as it is submitted.”

    Mr Brown also said he does not believe his role as a councillor assists his work as a planning consultant. He said he did not advise on planning applications that were for land in his constituency and had previously turned down work if they were for land within his constituency boundaries.

    “This way I am free to speak on applications in my constituency because I’ve not taken any professional part in it,” he added.

    Cllr Brown also said he did not see his work conflicting with his role as the chairman of the East Devon Business Forum, which he is on as a representative for the National Farmers Union.
    He said he was elected by the Union to be its representative on the Forum and had been elected by fellow Forum members to be the chairman.

    However, critics of the East Devon Business Forum claim it has influenced council policy in order to secure planning permission to build in protected countryside.

    As a result the East Devon District Council’s Business Task and Finish Forum (Taff) was set up to scrutinise the workings of the forum.

    Their next meeting is tomorrow, Tuesday, March 12, at 6pm at the council headquarters at Knowle, Sidmouth. The public are welcome.

    Cllr Brown, added: “I find it almost beyond belief that reporters felt they needed to go undercover – if they’d come to me openly I’d have answered all their questions the same way.”

    An East Devon District Council spokesman, added: “We take the honesty and integrity of our planning system very seriously and there is a clear separation between the roles of planning officers, committee members and other councillors. 

    We are not aware of Cllr Brown having any improper influence on the planning process and he has declared his interest as a professional planning consultant.

    “Cllr Brown does not sit on the committee which decides planning applications and there are no local or national rules which prevent him being a councillor because of his profession.  Similarly he is free to practise his profession whilst also being a councillor.

    “We have a firm system in place to handle complaints about councillors, with the rules set out in our Code of Conduct and applied by our Monitoring Officer and Standards Committee. 

    We will be looking at the allegations made about Cllr Brown and whether they fall within the rules of what we can investigate.”