• Questions and (non) answers at last night’s full council

    11th April 2013 | News | Claire
  • East Devon District Council Meeting on 10 April 2013
    Agenda Item No 10

    Question 1: Procedure Rule 9.2 to the Leader of the Council from Councillor Roger Giles

    The Development Management Committee meeting agenda of the afternoon of 2 April 2013 contained two planning applications for Feniton: planning application 12/2626/MFUL for 32 dwellings at Acland Park, and planning application 12/2649/MOUT for 59 dwellings at Ottery Road.

    At 11.35am on 2 April all Development Management Committee members were emailed a copy of an email from the Chief Executive to me about the Feniton Flood Defence scheme dated 28 March. The Chief Executive`s message said, inter alia, “the funding situation is far from certain” and “while we are far from entirely dependent on developer contributions to fund the flood relief measures in Feniton there is residual uncertainty over the actual costs and funding streams such that the proposed contribution from Acland Park would help to address the current uncertainties while the Ottery road scheme would help to deliver a better and more effective flood relief scheme then has currently been designed.

    Does the Council leader agree that Development Management Committee should make decisions on the merits of the case based on information which is in the public domain? Does the Council leader agree with me that the kind of behind-the-scenes lobbying that occurred on 2 April is wholly inappropriate, and has no place in a transparent and fair planning system?

    Answer:
    As Cllr Giles is aware, under the Council’s Constitution, officers are responsible for giving advice to members to enable them to fulfil their roles. That is their duty. 

    The CEO had replied to concerns raised by Cllr Giles based on information that he had been supplied with by the planning team.  Cllr Giles had not commented or replied to the CEO’s answer. On the day of the Development Management (DM) meeting I queried whether the DM members should see the information provided by the CEO to Councillor Giles – this was the information that the Development Manager would be giving to the Committee at its meeting. The Democratic Services Officer (DSO) asked the CEO whether the whole email exchange should be circulated to DM members. The DSO was advised to check this with the Development Manager who recommended that it would be best to circulate Councillor Giles’ query and the CEO’s response. Therefore the members were updated with the information that Cllr Giles had previously been provided with. This gave the Committee the up-to-date facts about the flooding issues and possible flood relief contributions.  It was not “behind- the-scenes lobbying” and any suggestion it was is incorrect.

    Separately, I take this opportunity to remind Councillors of the Council’s Protocol for Relationships between Members and Officers in Part 5.4 of the Constitution and specifically paragraph 5.4 which provides that members who wish to query any action taken by an officer should in the first instance take up that concern with the officer privately.

    Roger Giles supplementary question
    Cllr Giles asked that if that the leader did not condemn this action, then was he condoning it?

    Leader supplementary answer
    Cllr Diviani replied that Cllr Giles was the only person in receipt of such information and it was right that it should be shared.

    Question 2: Procedure Rule 9.2 to the Leader of the Council from Councillor Ben Ingham

    Does the Leader agree that the EDDC Feniton and Buckerell by-election is a decisive opportunity for the electorate to voice their support or disapproval of the Conservative Group at EDDC?

    Answer:
    As with every by-election, local issues will no doubt be to the fore and the electorate of Feniton and Buckerell Ward will cast their votes accordingly.

    Question 3: Procedure Rule 9.2 to the Leader of the Council from Councillor Ben Ingham

    Does the Leader believe the Prime Minister’s and Chancellor’s NPPF strategy of creating an open season for land owners and developers after 27th March 2013 is environmentally sustainable, a benefit to the parish of Feniton and something the Conservative Party can be truly proud of?

    Answer:
    I think most councils are agreed that the NPPF creates challenges and the tension between growth, limited growth and no growth is something that is being played out across the whole country.

    Cllr Ingham supplementary question:
    Has the leader a coherent short-term strategy for determining planning applications other than saying yes to everything and advising the development management committee to lie back and think of England?

    Leader supplementary answer:

    The leader here seemed to have caught a bit of the “election fever” he had previously decreed that many people in the council chamber were afflicted with yesterday evening.

    He declared that the vast majority of councils in the country had not got up to date local plans which were not compliant with the National Planning Policy Framework.

    He went on to announce that EDDC’s five year land supply problem was very much better than a few months ago and EDDC was almost there in terms of achieving the requirements. 

    Any appeals over the Feniton planning refusals would be fought “VERY VERY vigorously,” he said. 

    Cllr Diviani, to my surprise, then announced that the planning inspectors at Ottery and Feniton had got it wrong. These words were very welcome but were somewhat different from what was said at a full council meeting last October – see here – http://www.claire-wright.org/index.php/post/councillors_refuse_to_object_over_fallout_of_feniton_appeal/ 

    Question 4: Procedure Rule 9.2 to the Leader of the Council from Councillor Roger Giles
    At the EDDC Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting on 28 March the Chief Executive intimated that a number of EDDC leaving staff had been subjected to confidentiality clauses.

    Would the Council Leader state how many departing staff over the last three years were the subject of confidentiality clauses? Would he indicate who made the decision to implement a confidentiality clause, and with whom consultations about this took place? Would he indicate whether the Council Leader was involved in, or informed, of these arrangements at the time?

    Answer:
    Compromise agreements have been used by EDDC to terminate the employment relationship on a limited basis in cases where there is a strong imperative to do so (such as an adverse impact on other staff or customers) caused capability, conduct or in some cases redundancy.  The compromise agreement is normally used to avoid protracted and expensive capability or conduct procedures and to protect the Council from having to defend its position through lengthy and expensive legal claims.  There were four used in 2010, one in 2011 and one in 2012 and since February 2012 there have not been any. 

    The confidentiality clause incorporated in these agreements is standard practice to provide protection for the individual and the Council.  As part of the compromise agreement process, individuals have to seek legal advice by law to ensure that they are fully informed of their legal position before signing the agreement.

    (notes are sketchy here, perhaps Roger Giles can confirm the supplementary responses via a comment below?)

    Question 5: Procedure Rule 9.2 to the Leader of the Council from Councillor Claire Wright
    According to the minutes of the East Devon Business Forum meeting of 8 May 2008, the then Council Leader, Sara Randall Johnson, asked the then Cllr Graham Brown to step down from the East Devon Business Forum over allegations of impropriety.

    Subsequently the then Cllr Graham Brown became Chairman of the EDDC Local Development Framework Panel. What criteria was used to consider then Cllr Graham Brown`s suitability to be the Chairman of the EDDC Local Development Framework Panel?

    Answer:
    Former Councillor Graham Brown was formally appointed Deputy Leader of the Council at its Annual Meeting on 20 May 2009 and because of that position was appointed to the LDF (Local Plan) Panel and elected its chairman at the Panel’s first meeting following the Annual Council on 28 May 2009. The previous Deputy Leader had been responsible for chairing the Panel.  Former Councillor Brown was the Panel Chairman until the meeting of the Panel on 11 March – the change in chairmanship from former Councillor Brown to Councillor David Key was formally confirmed at the Council meeting on 14 April 2010. 

    My supplementary question
    Chairman, I didn’t get an answer to the question. I asked what criteria was used to consider Cllr Brown’s suitability as chairman of the LDF Panel.

    Leader supplementary answer
    It was because he was deputy leader and as soon as we could change it we did.

    Question 6: Procedure Rule 9.2 to the Leader of the Council from Councillor Ben Ingham
    The former Cllr Graham Brown was known to run a building business and a planning consultancy. Does the Council leader accept that there is a fundamental and unacceptable conflict of interests when a councillor running a building business and a planning consultancy should chair the EDDC Local Development Framework Panel, which recommends how much development there should be in East Devon, and where it goes?

    Answer:
    I think that it is helpful in the first instance to remember what the Panel was set up for and its advisory status.

    The LDF Panel existed in an advisory capacity to provide a steer and opinion on matters that could feature in future planning policy documents, including matters that could be raised in public consultation documents.

    A key purpose of the Panel was to allow members of the District Council to understand themes, issues and challenges facing the Council in respect of future spatial planning matters and therefore to allow them to reflect on potential policy outcomes and choices. The recommendations of the Panel were reported to the Development Management Committee.

    The LDF Panel was part of a wider process of consultation and consideration.  The Council considered and took into account a large number of responses during the consultation on the draft Plan.  In addition special meetings of the Development Management Committee and Council were held to fully debate the Local Plan and to make decisions.

    Question 7: Procedure Rule 9.2 to the Chairman of the Council from Councillor Douglas Hull

    Will you please tell me the names of the Developers who had a special relationship with the LDF Committee.

    I believe that it amounted to 10 Developers.

    Will you please also tell me how they were selected and appointed?

    Did they have any connection with the Business Forum at Honiton?

    Answer:
    I am aware that the same question has been asked of the Monitoring Officer and I will rely upon her reply to Cllr Hull.

    Douglas Hull supplementary question
    Cllr Hull expressed his anger that he had not been able to get an answer to this question, which he said he had asked many times previously.

    Question 8: Procedure Rule 9.2 to the Leader of the Council from Councillor Ben Ingham
    In light of the general public’s disquiet regarding EDBF activities over the last two years and their concerns regarding land allocations for industrial development, can the Leader give me his categorical reassurance that there will be no cowardly repercussions directed at the Chairman of the EDBF TAFF or Overview and Scrutiny Committee who have displayed transparency and an honourable commitment to openness in serving the public’s best interests in recent months?

    Answer:
    As Councillor Ingham is aware, all appointments to main committees are decided on an annual basis at the annual meeting in May.  Chairmanship of Task and Finish Forum is a local matter for the Overview and Scrutiny Committee to decide.

    Photograph:  The field next to Louvigny Close at Feniton, were 50 houses were allowed on appeal last year.  Wainhomes has now lodged a further application for 83 houses.