Archive | February, 2013

Wainhomes for BERC of the Week Award?

27 Feb

BERC = Build Everywhere Regardless of Consequencess

Several readers have recommended that Wainhomes be acclaimed BERC (“Build Everywhere Regardless of the Consequences”) of the Week.

It has just been announced that they will soon apply to build 83 more houses in the beleaguered village of Feniton, taking the current total number of homes applied for (and many of which have already been approved) to 300.  The village has a Local Plan allocation of 35 homes to 2026.

In true BERC fashion they have totally ignored the  huge scale of public opposition to more development in the village, the fact that Feniton is seriously flood-prone, has a sewerage system close to collapse and a village school bursting at the seams.

After all, it’s the bottom line that counts. (Unless like Costa Coffee in Totnes you have the gumption to realise that your public reputation might be more important!)

 

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Why some newspapers are reluctant to print local news

27 Feb

Those of you who have followed the libel trial of James v. Thomas reported below may be interested in this post from the blog Carmarthen Planning, which was posted in January 2013.

“Censorship from County Hall [in Carmarthen, Wales] takes yet another turn for the worse as an attempt by the Plaid Cymru group to have the issue of press freedom debated in the chamber has been blocked by the Chief Executive.

The recent revelation over the ‘leaked’ email concerning the withdrawal of advertising from the South Wales Guardian for ‘negative reporting’ seems to have been the tipping point and has galvanised the 28-strong opposition group into action. As regular readers of this and Cneifiwr’s blog will know, this was far from an isolated incident. Plaid are correct that this issue is of public importance, not something to be discussed in secret with a pliant Executive Board Member loyal to the culture of spin and censorship.

In an effort to thwart ‘controversial’ motions you will remember that the constitution was altered to require a unprecedented seven seconders to a Motion [I hesitate to put this in, in case EDDC gets an idea, but this is a post about censorship!]. This was no problem for the group but, despite Plaid making sure that the variety of obstacles to getting the motion on the agenda had been overcome, there was clearly no way on earth that this was going to be discussed in the Chamber.

However, it should be becoming increasingly obvious to all concerned exactly where the biggest obstacle lies.

Plaid press release;

COUNCIL CHIEF ACCUSED OF GAGGING FREE SPEECH

The Plaid Cymru group on Carmarthenshire County Council has accused the authority’s Chief Executive of stifling free speech by blocking a debate in the council chamber on press freedom.

Plaid had drawn up a Notice of Motion asking councillors to express support for a free press following allegations by a local newspaper that the council were operating a ban on advertising in the paper, due to adverse news reports.

But Chief Executive Mark James has refused to place the Motion before the full council, referring it instead to an Executive Board member for consideration in private.

“It is very alarming that a motion asking Carmarthenshire County Council to support press freedom has itself been censored,” said Plaid group leader Cllr Peter Hughes-Griffiths. “How ironic that, in trying to stand up for free speech, we find ourselves being gagged. Elected members have been barred from discussing a matter of public concern by the Chief Executive. It is exactly this kind of obstruction to democratic debate that gives this council such a bad name.”

Plaid Cymru, with 28 members, is the largest political group on the Labour/Independent controlled council. Plaid attempted to raise the issue after the South Wales Guardian published an e-mail, sent in error by the council’s Communications Unit, giving an instruction that the council should not place adverts in the paper due to ‘negative publicity’. The Plaid motion reads: “This council respects the freedom of the press and recognises the essential role of local papers in communicating, educating and sharing information about the council’s activities and services amongst local communities.”

Plaid Cymru maintains that the Notice of Motion is not an Executive Board matter, as it refers to the wider relationship between the council, press and public – a relationship which is currently under considerable strain due to the authority’s attempt to control, not only the news it chooses to release through its Communications Unit, but the content of reports in local newspapers

Jan 2013

Exmouth Splash: a rethink

27 Feb

First, the “good news”: according to THIS press release from EDDC, councillors are to rethink the design of the Exmouth Splash development in response to public consultation.  The changes they are looking at are:

•The Watersports hub would move to the far eastern edge of the site in response to water users’ comments on beach safety and size of site for required storage.

•The public open space area would now be in the centre front of the site (where the watersports hub was originally proposed) giving a more natural and open feeling to the area on arriving from the west.  Rather than have a fenced pay-to-enter area, attractions such as mini-golf would be included within public open-space.  This would be similar to arrangements on regenerated seafronts in other towns such as Teignmouth.

•Car-parking would amount to at least 280 spaces but remain as surface car parking only.  This would be nearly 80 more than the number there now.  Additional spaces specifically for the hotel/holiday accommodation could increase this by approximately another 50.

•There will be a further investigation of market demand for a hotel or other type of holiday accommodation at the north western part of the site.

And the bad news?  Well, surely if such basic mistakes were made in the original design, how come the public had to spot them and not the councillors and officers who worked on the original plans?

Shows just how essential public consultation is, even if we are always being told that “EDDC knows best”.

Do councillors really understand what they are doing?

27 Feb

My eye was drawn to a comment by Mike Howe (presumably EDDC Councillor Mike Howe) and a reply to it on the blog of Independent EDDC Councillor Claire Wright where she writes about the disgrace that was the Development Management Committee meeting earlier this month, where ruling party members said almost nothing in the debate on the mess that is our 5 year land supply (or rather not our 5 year land supply) and where councillors not on the committee and members of the public (numbering around 150 – or 3 if you are counting EDDC-style!) were banned from speaking.

The comment is:

3. At 10:11 pm on 26th Feb Mike Howe wrote:

I do need to point out that no decision was made on that day only to note the more liberal planning polices that the planning inspectorate and so we as councillors need to be aware of when making our decisions. Otherwise the council and then the council tax payers of East Devon will be footing the Bill.

followed by another comment:

4. At 10:53 am on 27th Feb Sandra Semple wrote:

Sorry, Mike, when you “endorse” something as you did, you have made a decision.  Had you gone with “note” as Claire suggested you would not have made a decision.  And now it’t too late to change your minds, the damage is well and truly done.

Just to be sure, I looked up the definition of the word “endorse”:

1. To write one’s signature on the back of (a check, for example) as evidence of the legal transfer of its ownership, especially in return for the cash or credit indicated on its face.
2. To place (one’s signature), as on a contract, to indicate approval of its contents or terms.
3. To acknowledge (receipt of payment) by signing a bill, draft, or other instrument.
4. To give approval of or support to, especially by public statement; sanction: endorse a political candidate.
Seems clear enough to me:  the committee made a decision.

 

Job of the week: assisting the EDDC Economic Development Manager, Nigel Harrison

27 Feb

Facilities Support Officer, East Devon Business Centre, Honiton.  But hurry, you have only until 8 March 2013 to apply.  Details of the job HERE.  It pays well:  £16,054 – 17,161 pro-rata for 3 days a week.

And what sort of person will Mr Harrison be needing?:

Calm and friendly in your approach, you will ensure that the East Devon Business Centre runs smoothly, assisting the Economic Development Manager in progressing the delivery of the Economy Service Plan. You will assist the Facilities Manager in the daily operations of the Centre, welcoming visitors and processing bookings for the Centre’s facilities, to name just a few of your admin duties. With customer service as your first priority, you will confidently handle enquiries, whether over the phone or in person.
and, although, of course no decision has been made, the advertisement ends with:
It is proposed that the main Council Offices may relocate from Sidmouth to Honiton in early 2015.

Making local councils more transparent and accountable to local people

26 Feb

Below is information on the Department of Communities and Local Government website about transparency and accountability of councils to local people.  Each of the bullet points has a link to the appropriate documentation.

Public accountability of local government is covered in several Acts:

 

Reporting of council meetings and issues of confidentiality

26 Feb

For those of you who love this sort of thing, Evershed’s solicitors have provided a handy Briefing Note to explain The Local Authorities (Executive Arrangements) (Meetings and Access to Information) (England) Regulations 2012 which came into force on 10 September 2012.

Briefly, it deals with what information can and cannot be kept confidential from the public and the red tape that has to accompany any decision made in that respect.

It has some interesting section and, it has to be said, some not so interesting sections! e.g.

 .…. Eric Pickles, the Communities and Local Government Secretary, has said that every decision a council takes has a major impact on the lives of local people, so it is crucial that whenever it takes a significant decision about local budgets that affect local communities, whether it is in a full council meeting or in an unheard of sub-committee, it has got to be taken in the full glare of all the press and any of the public. …..

.….Local authorities may also find it appropriate to consider whether they should review the approach they take to the use of social media in the context of their meetings and decisions.  In the past, the attitude taken towards activities such as tweeting and blogging has varied between local authorities.  Local authorities are already required, by section 100A(6) of the Local Government Act 1972 to afford reasonable facilities to “duly accredited representatives of newspapers” to enable them to report on meetings that are open to the public.  The new regulations go further in respect of executive meetings that are open to the public, requiring that “any person attending the meeting for the purpose of reporting the proceedings is, so far as is practicable, to be afforded reasonable facilities for taking their report”.  The Department for Communities and Local Government indicated in the notes to editors contained in its press notice about the regulations that it expects this to make it easier for new social media reporting of council executive meetings thereby opening proceedings up to internet bloggers, tweeting and hyperlocal news forums.  Eric Pickles commented that every kind of modern journalist can go through the doors of town hall transparency, be it from the daily reporter, the hyper-local news website or the armchair activist and concerned citizen blogger.  There is therefore a clear indication that the Government does not expect local authorities to prevent or restrict the use of social media to report their public meetings.