Archive | July, 2013

Govt Deputy Director of Transparency elects to be anonymous!

28 Jul

extract from an article in The Guardian on 16 July 2013

….. This was going to be the greenest government ever, but no one takes that seriously now. And it was going to be transparent. That too is looking shaky. Unpopular policies quietly ditched, connections underplayed. No wonder Whitehall is being less than scrupulous in its own affairs. Look to the list of Cabinet Office mandarins whose jobs and salaries and responsibilities are supposed to be laid bare for the public. See how many appear to have opted to remain anonymous. Note that one of those unnamed is the deputy director of transparency. And reflect on our funny old world.

“We all need to be working responsibly together, not engaged in a political point scoring ping pong match” says Council Leader after council spends more than £2 million on Local Plan sent back to drawing board

28 Jul

No, sorry, not Paul Diviani – as if!

South Somerset has spent more than £2 million on a Local Plan that has been sent back to the drawing board.

Interesting take from the Western Gazette   And a really rich comment from a councillor from the Majority Party (in this case the Lib Dems) saying that “we all need to be working responsibly together, not engaged in a political ‘points scoring’ ping pong match.”  Fat chance of grown up politics when majorities get above themselves it seems.

MORE than £2 million of public money has been spent producing a document which will dictate where new homes and businesses will be built across south Somerset over the next 15 years.

South Somerset District Council revealed this week it has spent £2.475 million devising its Local Plan since 2008.  Of this, £1.99 million was spent on council officers while £485,000 was used to pay consultants fees and temporary staff. The local authority has also received Government grants worth £557,000, which were used to offset some of this cost since April 2008.

The five-year process has been led by the council’s Spatial Policy Team – a small group of planners tasked with ensuring the council’s plan complies with statutory guidelines.  The council said it expects to spend £355,000 to carry out the additional work requested by the planning inspector.

The Liberal Democrat-controlled council has come under criticism from its Conservative opposition for the cost of the process – which could take up to another year to complete.  Last week, councillor Marcus Fysh, deputy leader of the opposition, accused the council of wasting taxpayers’ money.

But councillor Ric Pallister, leader of the council, defended the spending and accused his Conservative counterparts of playing political games.  He said: “This was always going to be a major piece of work and it is clear that our work is not yet complete.  “It is easy for an opposition member to attempt to take political advantage from this interim position.

“It is, however, worth bearing in mind that had the alternative lower growth figure proposed by the Conservative group at full council been submitted for examination then, from the inspector’s preliminary findings, it is highly probable that the overall plan would have been found unsound and abandoned at this stage.

“So much has been and is still being said about the proposed urban extension to the south of Yeovil yet this is a plan about the whole district and not just one parish.

“It is worth reflecting on the fact that the growth proposed for the urban extension in the period until 2028 is less than 10 per cent of that required in total across the district. For the good of south Somerset as a whole we all need to be working responsibly together, not engaged in a political ‘points scoring’ ping pong match.”

 

 

Oh how things look so different from the other side …..

28 Jul

This extract from a local paper report has been doctored to remove information that identifies the location.  See if you can guess.

Minority party district councillors were pleased to hear that the government Planning Inspector has agreed with them that this District Council should go back to the drawing board with its Local Plan, with respect not just to the internationally important landscape surrounding our area, made famous a well-known novelist, but also treasured landscapes around our market towns and rural centres.

They expressed deep concern however about the waste of money and disarray the Majority Party led council has caused residents of the area in the local planning system.

District and County councillor John Smith said “The Council’s so-called evidence for what they have done with the Local Plan has been absolutely shredded by the Government Planning Inspector, to the point where he thinks they should rip it up and start again. By last year the Council had disgracefully spent over £2 million pounds of taxpayers’ money on this failed Plan.

“The Majority Party in the council ignored local people’s concerns about bias and incompetence in allocating important landscapes and Grade 1 land with important heritage value for development that would benefit a few big developers, and questions must be asked why. Our MP failed to intervene despite the obvious problems being expressed to him in many hundreds of letters over the last three years.

“Now we have a planning vacuum caused by the Majority Party, and unnecessary uncertainty for communities across this district.

Whether for particular towns, our other market towns or rural centres, the government Planning Inspector has agreed the Council’s plan is unjustified, unsound, and not fit for purpose.

So, is this the Lib Dems and Independents railing against the EDDC Tories?  No, it is South Somerset Tories railing against the Lib Dems!

What is the only thing that these two councils have in common?  They share a Chief Executive!

Oh, how things change when you are on the other side!

 

A new Leader for EDDC? What’s the betting?

27 Jul
Cracks are appearing in the Tory camp, as evidenced at the most recent Full Council meeting (24 July).
Is the scene set for a change of leadership?   If the Local Plan is thrown back at EDDC, (as in Mark Williams’ other domain of  South Somerset see SIN Double Trouble for the Chief Exec) , or the relocation project endures another setback/embarrassing disclosure, or Graham Brown is prosecuted and an inquiry ensues, then it could be a trigger for a coup.
SIN considers here, the odds for the possible candidates  in the event of Councillor Paul Diviani getting the push.
Odds will be changed, to reflect the jockeying for position….
Those who could be in the running:
Andrew Moulding –      4/1
Peter Halse –                  4/1
Tim Wood –                    9/2
Ian Thomas –                 7/1
Jill Elson –                         8/1
Stuart Hughes –           10/1
Graham Godbeer –      10/1
Ray Bloxham –              14/1
Peter Bowden –            14/1
David Cox –                    14/1
Mark Williamson –        14/1
John Humphreys –       25/1
Phil Twiss –                      33/1
Iain Chubb –                    33/1
Graham Troman –         33/1
Mike Allen –                     50/1
We cannot accept bets, but will be pleased to receive suggested alterations to the list of favourites.
 

Now this IS spooky

27 Jul

South Somerset (shared Chief Executive: Mark Williams) has spookily similar problems with its Local Plan to East Devon – including issues with employment land.  They are ahead of us in that their plan has had a preliminary inspection (see post below) and the Inspector has found such serious flaws that South Somerset District Council has suspended its formal submission for at least six months whilst the problems are tackled.  Below is a summary of the Inspector’s worries.

Examination of the South Somerset Local Plan –  Inspector’s Preliminary Findings

 Following the close of the hearing sessions into the South Somerset Local Plan (LP) and having considered all the evidence, there are three significant issues of concern, relating to soundness, which I must raise.  They relate

 firstly to the Sustainability Appraisal with regard to the Yeovil Urban Extension;

 secondly to the proposed direction of growth at Ilminster; and

 thirdly to policy SS3: Delivering New Employment Land.

[The 13 page document goes on to discuss each issue about which the Inspector is not satisfied and the conclusions for each issue are shown below:.  All comments are taken verbatim from the document.]

 Conclusion on First Issue (Sustainability Appraisal)

51. In summary I have four concerns regarding the SA:

The lack of weight attached to the need to seek to use areas of poorer quality agricultural land in preference to that of higher quality (bearing in mind that once lost such high quality land cannot be retrieved);

The lack of substantive evidence to demonstrate that there are significant differences in terms of landscape impact between several of the options that have been considered.   Opportunities for mitigation, primarily through layout and design do not appear to have been sufficiently addressed;

Lack of consistency regarding the consideration of protecting and enhancing the historic environment; and

Lack of clarity regarding the scoring for objective 14 – conserving and enhancing biodiversity and geodiversity

Conclusion on Second Issue – Direction of Growth at Ilminster

54. The Council has acknowledged that there is an error in the Sustainablity Appraisal for the town and it now concludes that Canal Way scores better than Shudrick Valley in sustainability terms. I agree that Canal Way is the most sustainable option. The issue, however, is whether or not the current direction of growth (Shudrick Valley) is unsound and I conclude that it is, because the direction of growth is not justified when considered against the reasonable alternative of Canal Way.

55. On the second issue I am of the view that the proposed direction of growth at Ilminster appears to be not sound (policy PMT3).

Conclusion on Third Issue – Employment Policy

56. Following concerns raised at the hearing sessions the Council has reviewed its position regarding employment provision.   The Council has accepted that the employment land provision of:

5ha for Wincanton;

3ha each for Somerton, Ansford/Castle Cary and Langport/Huish Episcopi; and

2ha for each of the six rural centres,

‘is not properly evidenced’.

57. Consequently the Council proposes to delete those requirements from policy SS3 and insert the following comment: ‘additional employment land requirement to be identified in Allocations DPD’. However, this approach is not consistent with the advice in paragraph 154 of the NPPF which states that local plans should set out ‘what will or will not be permitted

and where’. The policy still retains the number of jobs ‘to be encouraged’ in each of these settlements but in the case of the six rural centres there is no indication of how the 1,013 jobs should be distributed. This means that in those settlements decisions on planning applications (for employment uses) could not be made with a high degree of predictability

and efficiency (NPPF paragraph 17, first bullet point).

58. My current view is that policy SS3, as proposed to be amended, is not sound.

59. Even if I were persuaded that the Council’s changes to policy SS3 are sound, I consider that they would be a Main Modification because they introduce amended jobs and floorspace targets, without which this element of the local plan would not be based on a strategy which seeks to meet objectively assessed development requirements

 

 

 

 

Double trouble for Chief Exec

27 Jul

In his dual-role as Chief Executive for East Devon and for South Somerset,  this week hasn’t been a good one for Mark Williams.

At EDDC Full Council meeting (24 July), he was accused of failing to fully grasp planning laws by a Councillor Mike Allen, who also works for him at South Somerset  (see  SIN, 24 July Tory Councillor attacks Chief Exec) .

Meanwhile, there’s been another setback, as this report yesterday explains:

http://www.thisisdorset.co.uk/drawing-board-South-Somerset-Local-Plan/story-19575150-detail/story.html#axzz2aFQytZGq

Oh, and another problem there too:

http://www.thisisdorset.co.uk/Planning-blunder-causes-shock-Somerset/story-11783858-detail/story.html#axzz2aFQytZGq

and, in the second story, take note of the need for legal advice needed from solicitors from outside the authority (see Councillor Twiss’s remarks earlier this week below).

Can a leopard change its spots?

27 Jul

Interesting to see what former Head of Planning Kate Little is getting up to in her new area of Torridge and North Devon:

http://www.thisisdevon.co.uk/Controversial-planning-changes-criticised-North/story-17067308-detail/story.html#axzz2aBvjMrFw

and

http://www.thisisnorthdevon.co.uk/Peters-Marland-Parish-Councillor-Mike-Lamprey/story-19566993-detail/story.html#axzz2aBwZge1g

We now have current and ex-EDDC planning and regeneration supremos cutting a swathe across Devon: Ed Freeman in East Devon, Karime Hassan as Chief Executive in Exeter and Kate Little in charge of planning across Torridge and North Devon.

Quite a coup for little old East Devon – though others may not be quite so sure!

From our correspondent “Fly Me”

26 Jul

A personal view of an attendee at the “facilitated discussion” on EDDC’s move from Knowle, held earlier this week:

To the unlikely surrounds of the FlyBe Training centre where EDDC had summoned about 25 assorted parish councillors, business group reps, and members of the East Devon Alliance, Save Our Sidmouth and the Knowle Residents.

We were there for a “facilitated” discussion on the move out of EDDC’s Knowle HQ to … we’re not sure where. Could it be Honiton, maybe Cranbrook? Skypark? Or even, in a wild card move from Exeter City Council’s Karime Hassan, a shared facility with Exeter City Council and Teignbridge. Richard Cohen, main advocate for the sale of the Knowle, dismissed this one “Karime just wants us to help pay for his bus depot”.

On the basis that the dozen EDDC employees were there to remind us that the move is a done deal, the other 25 of us threw in as many helpful ideas as possible. Parking, public transport accessibility, making sure they  build something which still had value if district councils were abolished. Ideas for council chambers, questions on air conditioning, the carbon footprint, what would happen to Streetscene. It was all quite sensible.

The two main attractions were Richard Cohen and Paul Diviani. Cohen put in a sturdy performance with his “moving forwards” and his “future-proofing”, our old friend “outcomes” of course, and a PowerPoint of “What, Why and How” etc. Nobody could really answer the question, who is this move mainly for (i.e., who are the most important  “stakeholders”). Is it the , the council tax payers, the employees, or the good of the economy? Perhaps this is unkind, but the arguments for the council tax payer were somewhere between iffy and unproven, for the general economy, nil, but for the employees, who all seemed shiny, happy people about leaving the Knowle, it’s a winner.

Paul Diviani, kitted out for Sandy Lane, Barbados in a room full of sober dressers, put in a more uneven performance, but it had some chutzpah. He cited as his great past success the setting up of the East Devon Business Forum (we assumed he was trying to get a rise with this one), and then proclaimed the triumph in our neighbour West Dorset, whose new HQ he told us had come in £1 million under budget!

He was less confident when asked where the democratic mandate for this move came from, the biggest decision in the district council’s history. Why was it not in the Conservative manifesto at the 2011 elections?

He had one crack at this, saying that when he’d joined the council in 1999 the move was in the ether and had been deferred for all sorts of reasons. When he became leader he was determined to drive it on. He obviously wasn’t happy with that answer, so he came back an hour later with another one – that politicians were elected and delegated to make decisions etc. He wasn’t elected as a Conservative to be seen wasting tax payers money, and the Knowle was doing that.

Not really an answer to why his party’s A3, full colour, double-sided manifesto did not include in its 6 point “Promise to East Devon” that it would up-sticks, cause huge upset in Sidmouth by at first threatening to build on its entire parkland, rush a vote through at the same time as slipping some more industrial land into the Local Plan, and belatedly announce that £4.8 million would be needed to be borrowed for what was previously said to be self-financing.

Good news? This was jaw-jaw, not war-war. Bad news? Not sure how Paul Diviani or Richard Cohen would score in one of the amazing FlyBe Flight Simulation Modules we saw, but as things stand we’re on a flight to who knows where – and the controls are in the hands of the cabin crew.

Website of the week

26 Jul

This one is especially for Councillor Twiss who (see below) says that everything the EDDC CEO says must be so because “he is a solicitor”

http://www.bentlawyersandcops.com/featured_lawyers.htm

Hello, hello, hello.

 

Labour still owes £7m in “loans for lordships” affair. Honours system brought into disrepute.

26 Jul

According to tonight’s Evening Standard, the Labour Party is struggling to repay sums borrowed from wealthy businessmen later nominated for seats in the House of Lords.  ….. It began when three benefactors (a stockbroker, nursing homes owner and, wouldn’t you know it, a property developer) were nominated for peerages but blocked by watchdogs.  It then emerged that each had lent Labour £1 million or more and Mr Blair was accused of bringing the honours system into disrepute.

Depressing to see that bringing the system into disrepute happens at every level of politics not just local government!