• East Devon Business Forum’s influence over the Local Plan

    6th July 2012 | News | Claire
  • Report for Monitoring Officer and Deputy Chief Executive, Denise Lyon

    1. Introduction
    As a member of the former Local Plan Panel, I have taken the decision to write this analysis motivated by a deep concern that East Devon District Council’s excessive proposals for industrial estates or ‘employment land’ in the district, could result in an ‘unsound’ verdict at inspection.

    I have spent considerable time researching the evidence connected to proposed development within East Devon over the life of the Local Plan period until 2026. 

    This is an issue that I have raised at Local Plan Panel meetings and in my response to the Local Plan consultation in January this year. 

    What I have found disturbs me greatly.  The written evidence, publicly available in minutes of meetings during 2007 and 2008, shows that there has been significant influence from one group of landowners and developers.  This is the East Devon Business Forum (EDBF) chaired by Cllr Graham Brown.

    The EDBF recommendations were adopted by Corporate Overview Committee in November 2007. 

    EDBF’s proposals are vastly out of line with the views expressed by two independent consultants commissioned by EDDC. 

    The two independent reports (Atkins 2007 and Roger Tym 2011) both advised that significantly less employment land is required in the district, have been disregarded in favour of proposals from the EDBF group, who clearly cannot be described as independent.

    Many members of EDBF, including those who were selected to be a member of the employment land task group (see EDBF mins 25 January below), are major landowners and developers in the district.

    It is possible that the countryside has already been unnecessarily damaged by allowing inappropriate proposals to become council policy immediately, as well as by incorporating the recommendations in long-term strategic policy – initially the Local Development Framework and subsequently the Local Plan.

    I also believe that there is a real prospect that a planning inspector, once made aware of these documents, could decide that EDDC’s Local Plan is unsound, based on lack of evidence to support the large amount of employment land.

    Clearly any ‘unsound’ verdict would place the council in a permissive position for some time with regard to determining planning applications, with further risk to our countryside, on which so many businesses, particularly tourism businesses, are dependent. 

    An unsound finding would also cost the taxpayer tens of thousands of pounds in wasted inspectorate fees and also in resubmission fees.

    My concern has been further heightened by the publication of the National Planning Policy Framework, which, at paragraph 22, clearly encourages the change of use of land allocated for employment if it has not been developed. 

    Significant overprovision of employment land surely would play into the hands of developers, who would far rather have lucrative housing on sites, instead of industrial units.

    In addition and to exacerbate this problem the Economy Think Tank has prepared proposals, now incorporated in the Local Plan, to provide employment land in villages. 

    I have had concerns about this for some time, not least the way in which the proposals came about (no minutes were taken of the Economy Think Tank) and proposals appeared in the Local Plan Panel papers and were subsequently approved by the majority of the Local Plan Panel and Development Management Committee. 

    Paragraph 22 of the NPPF outlines the danger our villages are in, if these proposals continue to be supported.

    EDBF chairman, Cllr Graham Brown, also chaired the Local Development Framework Panel during 2008 and part of 2009.  In addition, Cllr Brown led the EDBF TAFF’s study into employment land.

    This could be considered to be a conflict of interests.

    Below set out in date order, are the minutes of EDBF meetings, as well as the relevant Corporate Overview Committee minutes, to support my concerns.

    Where I wish to draw attention to a piece of text I have underlined it.  Where a particularly significant piece of text is included, I have also highlighted in yellow.

    2. EDDC consultants view
    East Devon District Council has commissioned two consultant studies into the future provision of employment land in the district.

    Atkins, the first consultants, were commissioned at a cost of £30,000 in 2007.  Following a lengthy investigation and a report that ran to hundreds of pages, the conclusion was there was only a slight undersupply of employment land available until 2016. 

    In 2011 Roger Tym consultants were commissioned to advise on housing and employment provision in the Local Development Framework.

    Roger Tym, on page 54, table 5.6 states that the required floorspace for B-use use is 32.3 hectares or 80 acres, which broadly accords with Atkins recommendations.

    From studying the list of the land submitted on page 79 of the Roger Tym report and elsewhere in EDDC’s Local Plan West End chapter, it appears that EDDC is proposing at least 263 hectares or 657 acres, although page 29 of the Local Plan only admits to 168.4ha, including existing commitments. 

    Some proposals, such as the Sainsbury’s distribution centre and three hotels at growth point – are not included in the overall employment figures.

    Both sets of consultants advise that existing industrial estates and business parks should be considered for re-development.  The consultants also advise that empty units should be better used and that there is existing space available through ‘churn’ or companies vacating premises.

    3. Key pieces of information that relate to my paper are listed with their relevant links below:

    3.1 Atkins Report – 2007 (it is a large and technical document)
    Excerpt below:
    “Qualitative Improvements to Existing Stock
    6.25 There is a need for EDDC to take a strongly proactive approach to facilitating the qualitative improvement in the supply of employment land and premises in the District. Improving the qualitative supply can be achieved through a combination of the following measures:
    • Encouraging intensification of uses within some existing employment locations ;
    • Introducing complementary ancillary employment uses that fall outside the B use class;
    • Redevelopment of some existing sites for continued employment use;
    • Redevelopment of some existing employment sites for employment-led mixed use development;”

    3.2 East Devon Business Forum minutes – 25 January 2007 (see page 2)
    Excerpt below:
    “Graham Brown reported that he had attended a meeting with the Corporate Director – Environment to discuss the preliminary findings of the Atkins Report. The findings included the conclusion that East Devon did not need as much employment land as East Devon Business Forum had recommended.

    Forum members discussed how the findings of the Atkins Report would be amended as they were not in step with East Devon’s needs.

    The issue of the employment land availability and the Atkins Report would be considered at the meeting of the Business Forum on 19 April 2007.

    A Sub Committee of the Business Forum would need to investigate employment land availability, where there was potential for growth and where the business community would like to see development take place.

    There was also debate around whether the employment land identified in the Atkins Report was ‘fit for purpose’. The first redrafted report would shortly be available for members to see.

    RESOLVED:  that a Sub Committee consisting Graham Brown, Donovan Galling, Nigel Harrison, Tim Ford, Roy Stuart and Claire James (Clinton Devon Estates) or Louise Mayor (Skinner Construction) be established to discuss the issue of availability of employment land in East Devon.”

    3.3 East Devon Business Forum minutes – 19 April 2007 (page 6) http://www.eastdevon.gov.uk/190407edbf.pdf
    Excerpt below:
    “The Chairman thanked the Sub-Committee for the good work they had carried out.  He also appreciated John Maidment’s (EDDC) frank contribution and Nigel’s valued input.

    The first meeting of the Sub-Committee had determined the approach that would be adopted in looking at the link between residential development and the provision of employment land to achieve sustainable communities.

    The Chairman advised that he had read the Atkins report. The report, commissioned by EDDC, determined the employment land requirements until 2026 as 140 hectares.  This figure had been calculated using historical data, going back 20 years. 

    However, the Chairman felt that due to significant changing economic trends in recent years, it would have been more helpful to have used data from the last three years only.

    He said that Atkins had inaccurately included land within the report which it identified as being available for economic development or as land with potential economic opportunity. It had also included scraps on land which were too small to be viably developed. Members of the Forum were concerned that Atkins did not appear to have canvassed local business opinion and had certainly not approached the Forum for input or feedback.

    Nigel (Harrison) advised that Atkins had been tasked to provide an assessment of land need until 2026 and had included the Science Park, Sky Park and Inter-modal freight facility within the calculation.

    Atkins believed that there was an adequate supply of land available for development within East Devon and supported this by identifying land within the district’s existing stock of employment sites where they felt there was scope for more intensive use.

    Nigel acknowledged inaccuracies within the report and that East Devon businesses needed more B class land than Atkins had identified.

    The Sub Committee, at its second meeting had examined the Atkins report in depth and looked particularly at the site plans included which identified employment sites, opportunity land, vacant floor space and vacant land.

    The Forum discussed the maps site by site and supported their concerns with examples of land identified for economic development which were unavailable, had already had applications refused and where access arrangements meant that large scale development would be impossible. This evidence based on local knowledge would be reported back to East Devon District Council.”

    3.4 Corporate Overview Committee – 26 July 2007 (see page 6)
    Excerpt below:
    “Councillor Graham Brown, Chairman of the East Devon Business Forum also addressed the committee regarding the Atkins study. It was noted that the Business Forum were concerned at some aspects of the report including the total amount of land available for employment land. Much of the land included in the study as employment land was not immediately available. The Forum’s concerns were noted and Members highlighted areas of work for Officers to address regarding the Atkins study. They also made a number of other points and raised issues relating to the study …”

    3.5 East Devon Business Forum minutes – 9 August 2007 (see page 11)
    Excerpt below:
    “The Chairman advised that he had made a presentation to the Corporate Overview Committee on 26 July 2007 on the issue of the Atkins Report and employment land supply within the District. Members of the Corporate Overview Committee had fully supported the view that the findings of the Atkins report were fundamentally flawed and that there was a lack of employment land within the District. 

    As a result of the discussions, the Corporate Overview Committee had set up a Task and Finish Forum including, the Portfolio Holder for Economy and Strategic Planning and Regeneration, the Business and Regeneration Champions,  the Chairman of the East Devon Business Forum and a Liberal Democrat and Independent Member.

    The terms of reference of the TaFF was to identify inconsistencies and anomalies in the way the study methodology was put into practice in the Atkins Report and other inaccuracies or anomalies identified. After proposed changes were made it was proposed that the report be considered by Council for approval and then ‘signed off’ as complete and endorsed as a document to inform future policy development.

    The Task and Finish Forum set up by the Corporate Overview Committee would accept evidence from the business community about the need for more employment land and test this need.

    This would include probing to see if there was an immediate shortfall of land that could not wait for the Local Development Framework process, which could take several years. The Executive Board and Council could then take a decision based on this evidence.”

    3.6 Work of the Employment Land Task and Finish Forum
    – 22 November 2007
    That the Council use this report and more detailed evidence to:
    • help inform production of the Issues and Options report for the East Devon
    Core Strategy and also
    • that the Development Control Committee take full account of employment
    land availability issues in consideration of planning applications.”

    3.7 Corporate Overview Committee – 22 November 2007 (pages 17-18)
    “Councillor Graham Brown introduced the report of the Principal Local Planning Officer on the work so far undertaken by the Employment Land Issues Task and Finish Forum.

    The report highlighted key issues and themes that had been addressed and examined to date by the TaFF.

    Members noted that the TaFF would help set an agenda to inform future employment land provision in respect to future planning policy and development decisions (particularly in respect to meeting land supply shortfalls).

    Members were reminded that the Task and Finish Forum had been established to;
    1. Review the Atkins Employment Land Study (particularly in respect to site evaluation work) and propose changes appropriate to ensure the Atkins report could be signed off as complete;
    2.    Undertake an objective review of currently available employment sites.

    Councillor Brown, members of the Employment Land Issues TaFF, East Devon Business Forum and the relevant Officers were thanked for the work they had done in preparing this report.

    that the report prepared by the Employment Land Issues Task
    and Finish Forum be endorsed;

    that the report and more detailed evidence be used to: 

    a) help inform production of the issues and options report for
    the East Devon Core Strategy and also;

    b) that the Development Control Committee take full account of employment land availability issues when considering
    planning applications.”

    3.7. East Devon Business Forum minutes – 31 January 2008
    (pages 2 and 5)
    “Members noted that the work the Business Forum had done on the Atkins Report had made an enormous difference to the final report prepared by the Employment Land Issues Task and Finish Forum.

    This had been accepted by the Executive Board. The report was now being used by the Development Control Committee as a base when considering planning applications for employment land.

    The report had highlighted key issues and themes that had been addressed and examined.

    It was noted that the report would help set an agenda to inform future employment land provision in respect to future planning policy and development decisions (particularly in relation to land supply shortfalls).

    Councillor Sara Randall Johnson expressed concern that East Devon was not supplying sufficient employment land for business. There was the need for the provision to allow businesses to expand. The provision of land was needed for all forms of business, including those who would not necessarily be considered a “good neighbour”.

    The Leader had confirmed earlier in the meeting that East Devon District Council took notice of the views and opinions on the East Devon Business Forum in its decision and policy making. 

    Planning continued to be an important issue for East Devon Business Forum.”

    3.8 East Devon Business Forum minutes –
    8 May 2008 (page 11)

    3.9 East Devon Business Forum – 16 April 2009
    “Angela Wright, Vice Chairman, proposed that the Business Forum be split into smaller groups to help deliver activities such as discussing Housing Land Supply. The five groups proposed were as follows:

    1. Availability of employment land, planning and development including the LDF, led by Roy Stuart;
    2. Training & skills led by Councillor Malcolm Florey;
    3. Housing including affordable housing and availability of housing land led by Councillor Philip Skinner;
    4. Environmental, climate change & transition towns, led by Tim Ford;
    5. Tourism, led by Mark Shepherd.

    These groups should involve all members of the forum who would be nominated to appropriate sub groups. These sub groups would then report to the main Business Forum.

    Following subsequent debate at the meeting, it was proposed that Sub Groups 1. and 3. could be merged and also that a sub group 6 be formed entitled “Stimulating Economic and Business Growth in East Devon” led by Councillor Graham Brown.”

    3.10 East Devon Business Forum – 8 July 2009 (page 11)
    “Members received the notes of a meeting held on 23 June 2009 to consider the formation of sub groups within the Forum. This issue had been originally raised at the meeting of the Business Forum on 16 Aril 2009 (minute no 11 refers).

    The sub group had expressed the desire to move away from the highly structured approach suggested at the April meeting and instead to identify 4 – 5 people who would be responsible for areas of activity and then report on these to Business Forum meetings.

    The five individuals proposed and their areas of expertise were as follows:
    1. Availability of employment land, planning and development including the LDF, Housing including affordable housing and availability of housing land – Roy Stuart;
    2. Training & skills – Councillor Malcolm Florey;
    3. Environmental, climate change & transition towns – Tim Ford;
    4. Tourism -Mark Shepherd.
    5. Stimulating Economic and Business Growth in East Devon – Terry Kingdom.”

    3.12 East Devon Housing and Employment Study
    (Roger Tym report) autumn 2011
    Employment Land Requirements (page 84)
    “8.19 In planning for space to support delivery of B-space jobs, some 32 hectares of employment land should be set aside for B-space uses. This includes 22 ha for offices and 10.5 ha for industrial/warehousing uses. 

    Under the low migration assumption the difference (-2 ha) is not significant to have any value.  Also, we would rather be more cautious in planning for
    employment space. 

    We therefore recommend that 32 ha should be the minimum amount of new allocations within East Devon. 

    8.20 While this may be seen as significantly less than previous allocations, it should be recognised that these are net figures, and there will still be (gross) new space coming through natural churn within existing employment sites, which are not included in this net figure. 

    Also, as we have seen in the property market profile, the recession has undermined developer confidence and the vacant space depressed values. 

    Not least, only 6,500 sq m of new employment land developments have come forward in the past two years of annual monitoring (i.e. 2008/09 and 2009/10).  Adding further supply by allocating too much new land may only depress values further and undermine market confidence.”

    4.  I very much hope that all the evidence relating to the strategic provision of employment land will be looked at very carefully and the independent reports examined afresh, with a view to significantly reducing the amount of employment land and achieving a sound Local Plan.

    Claire Wright
    Independent East Devon District Councillor
    Ottery St Mary Rural Ward and