• Ottery Town Council insists on privately meeting developers

    4th February 2014 | News | Claire
  • The proposal was from Cllr Roger Giles and was put forward as an amendment to a paper by Cllr Martin Thurgood on how the town council demonstrates greater transparency when it meets privately with developers.

    Arguing in favour of his proposal, Cllr Giles said that private meetings ran counter to the spirit of localism and that there should be a policy of full openness and transparency about planning proposals.

    He reminded the town council about “Browngate” and how EDDC had changed its standing orders as a result, to calls of “point of order!” by Cllrs Ian Holmes and Paul Carter, who claimed that this issue was not relevant.

    Cllr Giles said there was an issue of public perception and that the Ottery area was the “epicentre” of developer’s proposals. He said that in 23 years of being an Ottery town councillor, he had never known an issue where the public were more united and clear in their view that they did not wish the town council to have private meetings with developers. 

    He urged the council to listen to those views.

    Cllr Ian Holmes said he objected to former councillor Graham Brown being brought into the issue as he was nothing to do with it.  Cllr Carter agreed.

    Cllr Jessica Bailey, who seconded the proposal, said that when the issue had been brought up before a justification was that the town council had persuaded the developer to have a public meeting. Cllr Bailey reminded the council that developers had to do this anyway as part of the engagement process required by EDDC.

    Mayor, Cllr Glyn Dobson, said that the town council had been advised that it should meet with developers privately. Clerk, Judith Reynolds, then read out an email from EDDC’s monitoring officer, which said that such meetings can be helpful, that the planning process was “lengthy and expensive” and having these meetings open to the public may be “confusing for the public” as things may change. Plans may be commercially sensitive, it was added.

    There was then a vote and just two councillors voted in favour of Cllr Giles proposal – Cllr Giles himself and West Hill councillor, Jessica Bailey.

    Minutes of December meeting where Cllr Roger Giles was accused of “knowingly” breaching confidentiality
    The council ignored Cllr Giles protests about the accuracy of the minutes and voted them through anyway. Cllr Glyn Dobson said they would await the report of EDDC’s monitoring officer. Cllr Giles is unhappy because the minutes of the December meeting state that the council found him guilty of “knowingly” breaching confidentiality but do not include any of Cllr Giles comments in his own defence.

    Public questions
    During public questions a member of the public – Norman Cooke asked how many complaints had been received following the full council meeting in December, where Cllr Giles was accused of disclosing confidential information.  He said this had been asked at the January meeting but the information was not available.  Both the mayor and the clerk said that they still did not have this information.

    Tipton St John resident, David Boyle wanted to know what concrete examples there were of advantages to the public following private meetings with developers.

    The mayor gave an example of a meeting with Redrow Homes and them offering to move the allotments in return for building on the existing ones, as a benefit of a private meeting with a developer. He added that these meetings always take place with more than one councillor and sometimes the clerk present.

    Cllr Dobson suggested that if a meeting was in the public domain then it was possible that a resident might put in a bid for the land and push the price up.

    Mr Boyle pointed out that by having a private meeting, the town council was giving more weight to developers views than members of the public, who only had three minutes to express their view.

    Cllr Andy Watmore replied that it was wrong to suggest that the town council gave more weight to developers views.

    Then the mayor said Mr Boyle’s three minutes were up and moved the meeting on.

    West Hill resident, Rowan Bradford, asked how the town council were going to overcome the public’s perception about such meetings.  What happened in the past left left a “sour taste.”

    Cllr Paul Lewis said members of the public could speak directly to their district councillors about planning issues.

    Cllr Paul Carter added that district councillors should give “a more balanced view.” People only get to hear “one side of the story,” he said.

    Another Tipton resident, Margaret Hutchesson, asked how it could be that the very fact that the council was meeting a developer could be private, but there appeared to be confusion about the question and councillors shook their heads and seemed to misunderstand Mrs Hutchesson’s point.

    Of course, Mrs Hutchesson was referring to the now infamous December meeting when Roger Giles was accused of “knowingly” breaching confidentiality by informing me that Ottery Town Council was to meet privately with Persimmon, which later formed part of one of my blog-posts.