• Interview with East Devon planning report author

    18th April 2013 | News | Claire
  • A LEADING national journalist and researcher has included East Devon District Council in a report she has written on the local democratic process.

    In her 28-page report entitled, Scaring the Living Daylights out of People: The Local Lobby and the Failure of Democracy, Anna Minton, describes the council as being “the subject of ongoing controversy over contentious planning decisions and allegations of conflicts of interest which date back more than 20 years”.

    The London-based author refers to concerns surrounding the East Devon Business Forum which is “perceived to have significant influence over how much land is developed in the area”.

    She also refers to concerns raised recently regarding the forum’s former chairman Graham Brown who was also a councillor and ran his own planning consultancy business.

    Reference is made to the history between the forum’s vice chairman Roy Stuart, a prominent landowner, and Mr Brown.

    In 1990 Mr Stuart, then vice chairman of the council’s development management committee, was forced to resign as a councillor after planning permission was given for development on his own land. Mr Brown resigned in sympathy.

    Ms Minton includes comments by West Clyst resident Paul Newman, who expressed his concern to the writer that proposals to build a 450-home development on Grade One agricultural land owned by Mr Stuart was “pre-determined”.

    Despite a vast number of objections, Mr Newman said the council asked that the planning application be brought forward ahead of the formulation of its Local Development Framework.
    The LDF, now called the Local Plan, is being drawn up and sets out where thousands of homes could be built over the coming years.

    The 42-year-old journalist said the project had long been an ambition of hers, which being awarded a Fellowship in the Built Environment by the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 has enabled her to fulfil.

    However, a spokesperson for the council said Ms Minton did not contact the local authority for a comment so does not believe the report is balanced.

    “The report is very much about the flaws in democracy on all sorts of levels,” she explained.

    “What I’ve tried to do is present a snapshot of local democracy across the country, picking out examples.

    “I have included a spectrum of different types of local authorities, including two London Metropolitan, and wanted a rural authority.

    “I looked at East Devon because I became aware of issues regarding the local opposition to the Tesco development in Seaton when writing a piece for the Guardian a couple of years ago. It seemed local people at the time were overwhelmingly against it and yet it went through.

    “In the course of my research I heard all sorts of things about the council.

    “It seems quite clear that for the last 20 years there have been a large number of concerns about the operation of the council subverting the democracy process.

    “In terms of conflict of interest, as with the issues surrounding former councillor Graham Brown, this is a concern in other local authorities around the country.

    “But I spoke to a lot of people in East Devon who are concerned that there seems to be a certain culture in East Devon’s whole operation and democratic process, and they are concerned that this culture won’t change.”

    A council spokesperson, added: “The council is not making any public comment about issues related to the Graham Brown case until such time as the police investigation has been completed.
    “We are surprised that a journalist would publish a piece like this without following the established protocol of approaching the council first to ensure the reader gets a balanced view.”