• EDDC to “learn lessons” from conflicted relationship but subject of planning is still off limits

    23rd January 2015 | News | Claire
  • But it still won’t be allowed to examine planning – the issue within the relationship that caused such controversy in 2012 and is still continuing to this day.

    East Devon Business Forum (now disbanded), with its large numbers of developer-landowner members, had a huge influence of the amount of employment land allocated in EDDC’s local plan.  And many of the members personally benefited from the relaxation in planning policy leading up to the local plan being prepared – a move driven by the forum. 

    Members of the forum had further industrial land allocations in the draft local plan itself.

    Two independent reports commissioned at great expense by EDDC recommending vastly lower levels of industrial land were dismissed by EDBF and also by EDDC, which endorsed EDBF’s approach.

    As a direct result of EDBF’s influence a very controversial and opposed five hectares of industrial land has been allocated in EDDC’s draft local plan.

    EDDC’s economic development officer (now left EDDC) was also the honorary secretary of the business forum and enthusiastically backed its members’ planning applications – many of which were contrary to EDDC’s planning policy.

    The influence and relationship between EDDC and EDBF raised concerns of serious conflicts of interest.

    EDBF’s chairman was former councillor and developer/planning consultant, Graham Brown, who was the subject of a Daily Telegraph sting in March 2013.

    Mr Brown was also the subject of a police investigation lasting almost two years, which has now been dropped.

    EDBF disbanded shortly after the police investigation started.

    So …. there is still a high degree of interest – in Sidmouth in particular – of EDBF and EDDC’s relationship and how it came to pass that a group of developer-landowners held such sway over officers and councillors.

    EDDC has repeatedly refused to allow any examination of this relationship, citing the local plan being in draft as the reason – and in 2013 EDDC’s monitoring officer suspended the task and finish forum for those reasons.

    It is for pushing a cold hard look at this relationship – which the council refused to do – that I am deemed to have “hijacked” and “undermined” the scrutiny function.

    I argued at last night’s scrutiny meeting that lessons could not be learned if the task group could not look at what happened. 

    However, no other councillor apart from Roger Giles seemed to share my view.

    The Business task group will now in the main consider the council’s relationship with business in general.
    Not permitted for discussion at the Business task group meetings are: The local plan, individual planning applications, planning policy and individual contracts between the council and contractors or suppliers.