The East Devon District Council press release on the failure of the Local Plan, dissected

6 Apr

Enough time for reflection, it is now time to dissect EDDC’s travesty of an explanation for the humungous cock-up that was the submission of its Local Plan for inspection.

Here is the press release (c0mments in BOLD):

East Devon is not an island so its future is linked to neighbours

This has absolutely NOTHING to do with the cock-up which was entirely because EDDC did not submit the right evidence or up-to-date evidence. It relied on old policies that had been replaced in the National Planning Policy Framework. EDDC’s housing evidence was so out-of-date and such poor quality that the Inspector refused to deal with any other aspect of the Local Plan until this basic major mistake is corrected.

How on earth the Development Management officers and the councillors who passed on the draft Local Plan to the Inspector ever expected this not to be noticed is beyond belief. Nor from the bits we saw of the Inspector’s public meetings did they make any effort whatsoever to either excuse themselves or defend themselves for the mistake.

EDDC is to be given more time to provide additional evidence as to the volume of housing that is right for the district looking ahead over the next two decades. That’s the key message from a preliminary letter to the council from a planning inspector examining East Devon’s draft Local Plan.

EDDC is NOT being given time to provide additional evidence. It is being ordered to provide NEW and CONVINCING evidence rather than the “suck it and see” figures it submitted this time around.

The council’s efforts to protect East Devon’s unique environment will continue – but against a background of acknowledging the national and regional pressures for new homes.

Translation: well, guess we will have to go back to the drawing board but no sweat – the developers can just tell us what they want and we will give it to them for as long as it takes. And we all know how long things take at EDDC – laid-back council that it is.

Members of the Planning Policy Team will now produce an action plan showing the extra work it intends to do and the timing of each stage that will take these tasks through to completion.

Members of the Planning Policy team that remain in post after this total cock-up should be burning midnight oil 24 hours a day 7 days a week to provide the Inspector with what he has instructed them to provide not “producing a new action plan showing the work they intend to do”. Do the work: don’t talk about doing the work. Though, of course, once again, it will probably be handed out to consultants.

Aware that the council has for some months been working on a joint exercise to look at housing need into the future, Planning Inspector Anthony Thickett says he wants to see the results of that exercise to help him decide if EDDC has forecast the right level of housing.

Er, anyone here aware of anything that EDDC has been working on about housing needs in the future? Anyone seen a press release or a working party or a committee doing this. No, thought not. This again is an excuse for inertia.

Until that data is available, and until several other important matters are resolved, he cannot sign off the plan or – to use the technical term – find it sound.

And until several other important matters are resolved…”. What other important matters?

In August 2013, around the time that East Devon’s draft Local Plan was first submitted to the Inspector, the council agreed to work with Devon County Council, Exeter City Council, Mid Devon District Council and Teignbridge District Council on a Strategic Housing Marketing Assessment (SHMA).

Here is what Mid-Devon has to say about this:#

In August 2013, DCA was commissioned to carry out a joint strategic housing market assessment for the partner authorities of Mid Devon District Council, East Devon District Council, Teignbridge District Council, Exeter City Council and Dartmoor National Park.

This assessment, once completed, will be posted on this webpage, hopefully at the beginning of 2014. [April 2014:  no sign of it]


And here is how Exeter has already done its updating of its Local Plan’s SHLA in May 2013 in case EDDC spends too much time reinventing this particular wheel:

And no mention of what was also in the Inspector’s letter: a woeful inability to work with West Dorset! What are the plans for working with them?


It is the outcome of this exercise – expected in the next few months – that the inspector feels will provide more accurate data on which to set a longer term housing target for East Devon.

Months! Months? You have already wasted 5 years! This should be days or weeks, not months! Although, of course, months or years will keep the developers very happy!

In a letter to the council’s planning policy team, to be released at 5pm on Thursday 3 April, Inspector Anthony Thickett explains that the information he collected in a three-week enquiry at the beginning of the year did not fully cover all the bases.

And exactly why was it released exactly four days after EDDC received it? EDDC gave the impression that it was because Mr Thickett insisted on it but there is no mention of this in his letter. Was it because it took that long to find a spin on the blunder? I bet someone burned the midnight oil on that!

He cannot therefore find the current version of the Local Plan to be ‘sound’. In addition to the SHMA work, he also wants EDDC to make more progress than it has done so far in assessing the need for gypsy and traveller sites – and, if there is a demonstrable need, to identify locations where such sites could be created.

He can’t find it sound because you sent in such a lousy document it fell at the first hurdle! Even after he picked up 53 mistakes in it last year.

So far as housing volume is concerned, there needs to be a clear picture as to how many homes are to be built on land in East Devon for the benefit of the district and how many may be needed to satisfy demand in Exeter – which has a dire shortage of housing land. Within East Devon, the inspector also wants more work to be done allocating volumes of housing around the district to get the distribution right.

But that is the whole point of a Local Plan! Anyone would think that EDDC had only just been told of this requirement. It is the fact that they DID IT ALL WRONG that is the problem! And let us not forget: if this plan had been passed BEFORE the NPPF (as it could have done if it had not been hijacked by members of the East Devon Business Forum) it would now have been passed into law without having to take anything at all into account and without a developer building frenzy!

Reacting to the news, Paul Diviani, Leader of EDDC, said: “This is pretty much what we expected. It is quite common for an inspector to ask for more information before finding a local plan to be sound. Neighbouring councils in Teignbridge, West Dorset and West Somerset have all had similar delays for similar reasons.

This really takes the biscuit! Well, it really doesn’t matter because everyone in this area is cocking up so why worry … How come Exeter has had a plan in place for a couple of years then? The Inspector asked for more information last year. This year he has told EDDC: you totally bungled this. Rather different. And if you expected it – why did you expect it. Did you know it was a mess? If so, why submit it?

“This is such a complex subject that it is difficult to get all the boxes ticked in one go. After spending so long refining our plans and consulting on them, at some point you have to jump in and say: ‘OK – let’s see how close we are to what the Government wants to see’.

It is NOT such a complex subject! It MIGHT have been if you had been the first local authority to submit a Local Plan but scores of authorities have had their plans submitted AND passed as sound. You don’t “get close to what the government wants”: you give the government what it wants!

Moving target

“This is especially so when there is a moving target. Our original plan was based on the Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS), which the Coalition has since scrapped. Now the plan has to conform to the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and, just within the past few weeks, that framework’s set of guidelines (NPPG).

See above: every local authority seems to have understood that the RSS would not work and that the NPPF was king. And as for the guidelines: they have no effect at all on putting in Local Plans and what strategy you use – that is totally clear in the NPPF!

“In the circumstances I am relaxed about the extra work we have to do. We will now put together an action plan showing what we will be doing and when. We hope to go back to the inspector in the autumn with the extra information he needs.

Relaxed! Relaxed! Action Plan! Oh, God, do these people NEVER learn! “We hope” to go back in autumn. And which autumn would that be. Or perhaps you are waiting for Nu-EDBF to be reborn so that it can tell you what it wants first!

“In the meantime, our planning procedures will carry on as they have done up to now, with proposals looked at on merit and tested for sustainability, as well as taking into account the issue of land supply.

Pull the other one: Feniton, Gittisham, Newton Poppleford, Old Park Farm … the list is endless – all because you have no idea what “sustainability” is because the NPPF doesn’t define it well enough for anyone to make a judgment call. So, developers, scenting the wounded beast, pounce in and trash the idea.

“One of the important things to remember is that in planning terms East Devon is not an island – and the communities within it cannot be taken in isolation either. We are all a part of the Exeter sub-region and as such the future shape of our district is closely coupled with the needs of our neighbours”.

So, there you are. We are no longer “East Devon” we are the “Exeter Sub-Region”. Well, we knew that really. Otherwise, why move to Skypark!

Farewell EDDC, hail ESR!

Heads? Roll? Never! If anything more heads will be recruited … oh, aren’t we lucky …..


7 Responses to “The East Devon District Council press release on the failure of the Local Plan, dissected”

  1. Mike Temple April 6, 2014 at 5:12 pm #

    “Local authorities are having to agree fanciful housing numbers and allocate huge areas of greenfield land to meet them. Where they lack an up to date plan, the countryside is up for grabs and many villages feel under siege from developers. But tragically the result is not more housing, and certainly not more affordable housing – just more aggro and less green space.” (from recent CPRE report)

  2. philip wragg April 6, 2014 at 5:56 pm #


    Divani cant say West Somerset have had the same knock back – looking at this spreadsheet from the Planning Inspectorate West Somerset have not even submitted a Local Plan for approval!

    Hope this helps,

    Philip Wragg Tel 01395 577 434

    • sidmouthsid April 6, 2014 at 9:36 pm #

      Quite right, Philip, Councillor Diviani is mistaken. But West Somerset has a good excuse for being late with their Local Plan – they are effectively bankrupt having spent far too much on their new headquarters…!
      Could Councillor Diviani be confusing West Somerset with South Somerset District Council, whose Plan was also found to be ‘unsound’ and with whom we share a Chief Executive? Was it a subconscious desire to protect his CEO?

  3. Not A Developer April 6, 2014 at 7:31 pm #

    I’m confused. Outsiders are responsible for forcing EDDC to settle on a number too low? How did they manage to pull this off? If they did and EDDC knew the numbers were too low why did they not say so at the time and refuse to put this number in? Did they then put it in KNOWING it was too low and that it would be refused and developers would continue to build all over the district? Why would they do that?

  4. Sandra Semple April 6, 2014 at 8:49 pm #

    Sarah is obviously new to East Devon politics otherwise she would know that for the first 3 years the Local Development Framework Panel met in secret and did not publish agendas or minutes. It was only when a new Independent councillor arrived on the scene and made a fuss that they were put in the public domain. It was then realised that no progress whatsoever had been made and the whole process had to start again. The same Independent councillor moved that the new meetings should be in public, otherwise they would have been in secret again.

    I even have in my possession a document produced by Councillor Skinner for an overview and scrutiny committee meeting of 1July 2009 that predicted that because there was at that time no 5 year land supply the council would be in danger of having a developer free-for-all if they did not get a move on, get a 5 year land supply and move more quickly.

    I doubt that local groups (which were not even in existence then) can be blamed for influencing secret meetings!

    • Dougal April 7, 2014 at 1:46 pm #

      Sara B should realise that EDDC hasn’t been influenced by anyone – except the East Devon Business Forum and its developer friends.
      If EDDC planning had been a school inspected by OFSTED then it would have been placed in ‘special measures’ and its management taken over by independent professionals.

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