Reflections on the meaning of “transparency”

4 Jan

Mr Page-Turner (see postings below) has said that East Devon Business Forum is “transparent”.  A dictionary definition of the word “transparent” is: capable of transmitting light so that objects or images can be seen as if there were no intervening material“.

Councillors (local, district and county) have to show their “transparency” at council meetings by declaring interests in anything that is being discussed.  This can be personal (an interest that is specific but does not confer any special benefit on the councillor compared to other people in a similar situation) or prejudicial (where the councillor or someone closely associated to the councillor could receive financial or other benefit from the interest being declared).

In practice this is a very “hit and miss” attempt at transparency.  Sometimes councillors get silly (for example, declaring that someone has a camper van when discussing parking), it can be sensible (for example, declaring that one has an interest in a company that will benefit from council contracts) or can be totally ignored (for example, some councillors now declare that they are members of East Devon Business Forum, some do not declare it).  However, by and large, we know what the rules are about interests and we can watch our councillors carefully for infringements of these rules and have them (occasionally) brought to account when they flout them.

No such luck with the East Devon Business Forum.  Mr Page-Turner is on record as speaking to the EDDC Overview and Scrutiny Committee here, where it says: “Greg Page-Turner of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), gave the Committee statistics relating to the 1,000 FSB members in the East Devon area. His representation on the Forum of the FSB helped to raise a number of issues that his members faced, including issues such as rural broadband. He felt that the Forum was an excellent vehicle for communicating with business”.

However, what Mr Page-Turner fails to disclose is that, whilst representing the Federation of Small Businesses, he  is also a developer in his own right, see here, here, and here (see EDDC Planning Application reference 11/2837/COU where he applied for permission to add an office and art gallery to business units which were approved in 2008) and that prominent members of EDBF were helpful when he wished to secure planning permission in 2011.  When you consult the EDDC planning portal it gives the information  that the planning application consists of land on which there are already 11 commercial units, highways objected to the application because roads were unsuitable, but nevertheless ward member David Key supported it strongly.  This is the same David Key who in  in 2007 chaired the Corporate Overview Committee which agreed EDBF’s recommendations on employment land in place of an independent consultant’s report.  This debate was of course, led by planning consultant and builder, Cllr Graham Brown, chair of EDBF. Neighbouring ward member Bob Buxton also appears to have supported the application.  Mr Buxton attends EDBF meetings as the representative of Honiton Development Trust which has no employees and no business interest; similar groups such sthe Sidmouth Vision Group, Exmouth Vision Group or Seaton Development Trust have never been invited to attend EDBF meetings.  There was also support from  Val Baker of the Blackdown Hills business group, another EDBF member.   The EDDC conservation officer objected to Mr Page-Turner’s application as it was not in keeping with existing buildings.  EDDC planning officers recommended refusal but the recommendation was ignored and it was approved by the planning committee last April (2012) with Nigel Harrison (honorary secretary to EDBF and full-time EDDC council officer) also giving his support to the application – see the Design and Access statement of the planning application.

Now, in the interests of the total transparency that Mr Page-Turner insists is part of EDBF, should he not declare some or all of the above information when he speaks of how helpful EDBF is to local businesses and how transparent it is?

The planning application also said that 5 jobs would be created – one full-time and four part-time.   It would be interesting to see how many of these jobs have been filled, as many of Mr Page-Turner’s business units, which were given approval following the change in EDDC’s planning rules on employment land, pushed through by EDBF, seem to be unsold/un-rented as of today – see here.

We should add that Mr Page-Turner is not the only one with transparency issues when sticking up for the East Devon Business Forum.  Recently the principal of Bicton College also  gave a spirited defence here to the same meeting of the EDDC Overview and Scrutiny Committee in September 2012 here. He said that he found EDBF to be “a useful opportunity to listen to the views of businesses, especially in establishing skills gaps and industry needs. He quoted a number of useful presentations he had heard at the EDBF and how the Forum helped stimulate discussion between many organisations”. However, he neglected to add that Bicton College wishes to be a major developer in the small village of Woodbury Salterton – see hereThe College wants to have at least 225 extra houses in the village, of which it suggests that at least half should be built on agricultural land owned by the College.

Transparency: transmitting light so that objects or images can be seen as if there were no intervening material …..

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4 Responses to “Reflections on the meaning of “transparency””

  1. stoneleighblogger January 4, 2013 at 5:09 pm #

    Well done SIN for exposing this.

  2. Mr Spleen January 6, 2013 at 11:25 am #

    Excellent piece, SidmouthSid.
    Will this demonstration of how the EDBF operates be submitted to the TAFF looking into… how the EDBF operates?

  3. sidmouthsid January 6, 2013 at 2:41 pm #

    Indeed it has!

  4. Greg Page-Turner March 14, 2013 at 8:40 pm #

    Just to put the record straight, My family have been farming in East Devon since 1960, we have been encouraged by Defra to diversify our farm. The development that this blog refers to, is converting redundant farm buildings which would otherwise be left to become derelict. We have done this so that the small farm can survive as a working entity. We have not built any new buildings but only converted existing buildings. We have 90% of the office units filled, supporting small businesses from the local community some of which are start up businesses providing competitive rents that help small start up businesses. Some of the comments on your blog insinuate that our recent planning approval was gained as a result of my presence on the business forum. This is wild speculation and assumption, if you have any firm evidence to suggest that my families planning approval was achieved as a result of unorthodox methods then i suggest you provide the evidence on this blog and to the police. Meanwhile i will be consulting my solicitor to see if what has been written here on this blog and other blogs may be a case of defamation. You and your colleagues spread malicious rumors, innuendo, etc in order drive forward your anti development campaign. You have decided to make this personal and that is where you have made a big mistake. You also write under a pseudonym, so, those that you attack and smear, cannot answer to you directly, i would say that if you have any courage you would be prepared to meet me to discuss this face to face, i can then look you in the eye.

    So i look forward to a date and time and a place and i will be there to talk to you face to face. regards Greg Page-Turner

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