The vote took place following a series of questions and objections from West Hill residents about the town council’s private meeting with Persimmon, which is interested in a field adjacent to Higher Broad Oak Road.
Dick Beardsall of West Hill Residents Association told councillors that he supported the idea of the council meeting with developers, but it should be done in the public domain. He added that the field in question at the end of Higher Broad Oak Road, was deemed “not developable” in EDDC’s strategic housing land availability assessment and was not supported by residents in Ottery Town Council’s own consultation about where development should take place in West Hill. He said that he thought it was “extraordinary” that councillors were going to have a private meeting, given these facts.
Resident, Carol Royal, expressed her unhappiness about the private meeting and asked who was going to be present and why was it agreed to. She said she thought the council should be transparent.
Mayor, Cllr Glyn Dobson, said that councillors didn’t take such meetings lightly, that they had had about six meetings with developers in recent times and advice from EDDC was that they should have these meetings. Cllr Dobson said he hoped to persuade the developer to hold a public exhibition.
Mrs Royal asked whether the landowner would be in attendance. Cllr Dobson replied that he was not sure, but thought that a planning consultant would be present.
Cllr Paul Lewis said that no decisions would be made at the meeting and the advice the council had received was that no comment should be made nor question should be asked, to avoid any possibility of pre-determination.
Cllr Roger Giles said that the issue was not that the council is going to meet with developers but that it is doing so privately and the meeting should be open to the press and public.
Cllr Jessica Bailey said she agreed with Cllr Giles and couldn’t see why the meeting should be behind closed doors.
Resident, Jennie Elliott, said that Persimmon spokesperson, Daniel Heathcote had already given a commitment to holding a public exhibition in the local press. She said there was a questions of ethics and Ottery Town councillors were public representatives, so why were they meeting only one side? “How does that bring balance?”, she asked.
Cllr Paul Carter, thought that things were “getting a little bit out of hand.” and downplayed the significance of the meeting. He added that the town council was “trying to help” and the meeting should be “looked at as a positive.”
I suggested from my spot on the sidelines, that the minutes from the meeting should be made available to the public to allay some of the residents fears.
Cllr Glyn Dobson said he thought that the meeting would just be an informal discussion with no requirement for minutes.
Cllr Roger Giles made a formal proposal that minutes be taken and made available to the public. This was seconded by Cllr Jessica Bailey.
Unfortunately, just five of the 14 councillors – Andy Watmore, Jo Talbot, Jess Bailey, Elli Pang and Roger Giles, voted in favour of this no-brainer.
Inexplicably and disappointingly, there were considerably more hands raised to oppose the proposal.