Celebrating Holocaust Memorial Day

Today I was honoured to be able to attend the holocaust memorial event at the District Council offices which celebrated Holocaust Memorial Day. In the presence of Councillors and Officers members of the Jewish community planted a memorial tree and the holocaust memorial flag was raised.

A great event bearing witness to Man’s inhumanity to Man which sadly continues in parts of the World today.

This event was all the more appropriate given today is the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

Sidmouth's Beach Management Plan

I have been meaning to post something about the Sidmouth Beach Management Plan for a little while as I have been concerned about the reaction that some residents have had to it. So, here’s my take on it.

For several years the District Council has been working up a plan to tackle the erosion of the cliffs at East Beach, to better protect Pennington Point and to respond to the forecasted increasing sea levels and changing weather patterns that are expected to lead to rising flooding risk in Sidmouth and significant increased sea over topping along the Esplanade.

A number of us, including myself, who stood in last May’s District Council elections did so with the stated objective of wanting, if elected, to move the then stalled Sidmouth Beach Management Plan forward. I was concerned that under the previous Conservative District Council administration the Beach Management Plan had been left to drift and that this was not helpful or appropriate to Sidmouth or its residents.

As I was standing in, and having been elected, I now represent the Sidmouth Rural Ward on the District Council and so I take a particular interest in the Beach Management Plan because the erosion of the cliffs at East Beach and of Pennington Point have a direct and significant detrimental impact on those residents who live on the sea facing side of Cliff Road. They are losing their gardens and the cliff edge is advancing on their properties.

Since May I have been pleased that as one of the six District Councillors who represents Sidmouth and the Sid Valley that all five of us have, regardless of our political affiliations, been speaking and acting with one voice in regards to the Beach Management Plan. This has helped to drive forward the intention of bring the Plan to fruition as soon as possible.

As local District Councillors we have been working, through a Steering Group, with representatives of the Town Council (of which I am also one), some local community groups, consulting engineers, the District Council’s Environment Portfolio Holder and District Council Officers. I believe that as a result we have made significant progress in moving the Plan forward.

The District Council is restricted in what it can do within the Plan for a number of reasons including – funding for the Plan requires the active support and agreement of a number of government agencies including Natural England and the Environment Agency, the funding for the Plan which will cost just under £10m requires the District Council to deliver the work associated with East Beach, Pennington Point and the Esplanade as one single project, and the funding is required to be raised from a number of separate sources.

All of these have led to the development and, as of last year, the adoption of the Plan which has by necessity had to balance many competing demands and to develop the best proposals within a restricted budget, which as I write remains about £1m short of its target. However, work is ongoing to seek to reduce this funding shortfall and to raise the full funding required. At this point we are optimistic about achieving full funding.

Since last May I have realised that there are so many people who have opinions about what should, and equally what shouldn’t happen within the Plan. This has often been reflected in comments posted on line and it is because of the amount of public interest in the Plan and how it will impact upon Sidmouth that I have decided to write this piece.

As I have said the District Council has had to develop the Beach Management Plan primarily in conjunction with other agencies such as Natural England and the Environment Agency, as well as with the specialist engineers that they have contracted to advise on the Plan and also with having regard for the costs. In addition, the District Council hasn’t been short of opinions, ideas and comments from residents about the Plan.

The bottom line for me is that I want to do what I am advised is the right thing for Sidmouth through the Plan and its proposed works. The whole set of issues of how to respond to cliff erosion, changing climate conditions, rising sea temperatures, increased flooding and beach erosion are complex and the recommendations of how to deal with them are based upon historic conditions, assumptions about future conditions and modelling of these.

From my perspective, I, and probably 99.9% of residents, are not experts in these matters which is why I find myself having to work to understand and grapple with what those who are professionals in these matters recommend. I, and my fellow local District Councillors, have worked through and questioned the professional advice and that is why we are supporting the proposals for Sidmouth’s future defences that are set out in the Plan.

In doing this we are having to balance a range of competing demands – what the professional advisers tell us the likely future issues and conditions will be, what should be done to respond to these, not wanting to spoil the look of our wonderful town, sea front and beaches, keeping within necessary financial constraints and hearing what residents say.

You may not agree with what the Plan proposes for Sidmouth or even agree with the rationale behind the proposals, but from all of the professional advice that has been given to the District Council, doing nothing is not an option. The rest becomes subjective. You either agree with the proposals or you don’t. You either like the proposals or you don’t.

What I do ask of residents is that you accept that your District Councillors, their professional advisers and their Officers are taking the Beach Management Plan forward in the best interests of Sidmouth and its residents.

I ask residents to think about why you believe we are taking the Plan forward and to accept it not because as District Councillors we are doing this in a flight of fancy, we aren’t doing this because we want to make the Esplanade look awful and destroy the tourist trade, we aren’t doing this because we are corrupt and we aren’t doing this because we don’t care about Sidmouth.

We are doing what the Plan proposes because it is what the professional advice recommends against a back drop where the climate is changing for the worst and so as a town Sidmouth needs to prepare as the Plan recommends.

The District Council has set out on line much detail about the Beach Management Plan, including a set of frequently asked questions. Please take the opportunity to look at all of this – https://eastdevon.gov.uk/beaches-harbours-and-coastal-information/coastal-protection/beach-management-plans/sidmouth-and-east-beach-management-plan-and-scheme/

Support for Claire Wright from Britain's best ever Prime Minister!

Claire Wright https://claire-wright.org/general-election/ Independent candidate for East Devon in this election, yesterday received support from Britain’s best ever Prime Minister!

This came on the back of the YouGov opinion poll which a couple of days ago showed that Claire had closed the gap between her and the Conservative candidate leaving all the remaining candidates in her wake.

In the film Love Actually actor Hugh Grant played a brilliant, and in my opinion, the best British Prime Minister 😀https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YxZH0_sOHL4.

On Twitter Hugh Grant urged East Devon voters who were inclined to vote for the Green Party, the Labour Party or the Liberal Democrats not to waste their votes but to give their support to Claire to help her win https://twitter.com/HackedOffHugh/status/1200103442246766593.

It’s time to listen to our best ever Prime Minister! 😏

Claire Wright, getting my vote!

A couple of weeks ago Independent East Devon election candidate Claire Wright https://claire-wright.org/general-election/ had good positive coverage in The Times newspaper. Now the New Statesman magazine has also covered the story of her fight to become our new MP.

The latest article is worth a read at – https://www.newstatesman.com/2019/11/who-win-election-east-devon-tory-brexit-rural-revolt-independent-rebellion.
Last night’s latest YouGov opinion poll showed Claire to be a handful of points behind her Conservative rival.

A proven local County Councillor and she has also been a very effective local District Councillor. Claire is up against a Conservative rival who is new to our area, as well as being up against a Green Party, Labour Party, Liberal Democrat and another Independent candidates.

It was clear from the outset of this election campaign that Claire was the only serious challenger to the Conservatives in East Devon. The YouGov opinion poll has completely reinforced that message.

So, as we knew it is solely a two horse race between Claire, a proven local County and District Councillor, and the Conservative candidate who is not local and was a political adviser to Conservative MP Dominic Rabb.

I know who I will be voting for, and I hope she has persuaded you to support her on 12 December.

Remembering Sidbury’s fallen

I was privileged yesterday to be able to lay a wreath on behalf of Sidmouth Town Council at Sidbury’s War Memorial in front of a pleasingly large crowd. We all then attended a service of Remembrance in St Giles church. We do remember them.

A big thanks to the members of the Fireworks Committee who acted as road marshals to ensure that the ceremony and the subsequent procession to the church were safe.

I’m voting Claire Wright, Independent

As an Independent District Councillor I am supporting Independent Claire Wright in the forthcoming general election.

Claire has been active locally for many years now, particularly as a District and a County Councillor. I first came across Claire when, as our then District Councillor,she gave her support to our campaign to save the Red Lion pub in Sidbury.

I hope that you will vote for Claire in this election where she is up against both a Labour and a Liberal Democrat candidate. In the last election Claire gained 21,000 votes and gave Hugo Swire the fright of his life. At the same time the Liberal Democrats polled so poorly they lost their deposit.

Claire is the only non-Conservative candidate with any chance of winning, and with the Conservatives as yet to announce who they are putting up as their replacement candidate for Hugo, you can be sure that voting for Claire is the Wright thing to do!

Go to https://claire-wright.org/ to find out more about Claire Wright and to contact her if you are willing to help in her election campaign and/or to put a poster up at your property.

This is a real opportunity to push the Independent wave that has spread across East Devon District all the way to Westminster!

A farce, a Dutch auction & East Devon’s car parking fees debate

Last evening the District Council’s Cabinet met to consider a much-trailed report on changes to car parking arrangements and fees across East Devon. Those of us who are not Cabinet members, about 48 of us, are able to attend and make comments on any of the issues under consideration.

In total 24 non-Cabinet District Councillors spoke on this issue. Because there were so many of us wanting to speak, we were restricted to only two minutes to say what we wanted to.

Before any of us spoke we heard from two members of the public, one of who was James McClean who owns Sidmouth Pets in Temple street who made an impassioned set of arguments as to why the temple Street car park should not be changed from a free car park to a pay and display one. James is collecting signatures, so please pop in and sign his petition.

I spoke out against the proposal to increase the price of parking in Sidmouth’s Ham East, Ham West, Roxburgh and Mill Street car parks. The proposal is to encourage drivers to use the Manor Road car park instead as it will remain at the current fee.

Not only might an increase, of, as proposed 50% mean that less people use our car parks, but this could lead to less people shopping in Sidmouth. Sidmouth and its traders don’t need this as the shops across Sidmouth and other local high streets are struggling.

It could also mean that drivers might decide to use the private car park opposite the Bedford Hotel as its closer to the town centre than the Manor Road car park is.

I also spoke against the proposal to turn Sidbury’s small free car park to one where only permit holders or residents who have paid for a reserved space can park there. This is a ridiculous proposal! The car park is well used every day and also during many evenings.

It is used to visit our two shops, our Church our Village Hall, our Parish Rooms and Sidbury Primary School. Without our free car park visitors to all of these venues would be forced to clog up Ridgeway, park on the A375 making access through the village even more difficult, or park in other parts of the village where residents will be hugely inconvenienced.

Sidbury’s car park is also used by many who live in the centre of the village and who either don’t have either off road parking spaces or have space outside or nearer to their homes.

After all of the 24 non-Cabinet members had spoken the Cabinet then debated the proposals. Oh dear! This turned into a complete farce as different Cabinet members proposed various amendments to the proposals and the Leader, Ben Ingham, who was chairing the meeting, totally failed to keep control of the discussions and in so doing added to what was already a confusing Cabinet debate.

After what seemed to be forever, the Cabinet, although not by a unanimous vote supported a set of slightly amended proposals keeping the intent to increase parking fees, although by not quite as much, in all the various car parks identified. The Cabinet settled on a 20% increase in these car parks after the Leader had in effect carried out a Dutch auction with numbers appearing to be plucked out of the air.

This was no way to make decisions which include increasing parking fees. Instead of pulling the report and reviewing it in light of the total opposition of the 24Councillors who spoke against the proposals we ended up with a set of Cabinet decisions taken through a bidding process.

This matter will not end here. The Cabinet Minutes which will record last evening’s decisions on car parking will be presented to Full Council on 23 October. Councillor’s will have the opportunity to challenge the Minute and even vote against it, thus rescinding the decisions made by Cabinet.

Members of the public too can attend the Full Council and put across their points of view on this and any other matter.

Alternatively, a Motion could come from a Councillor which calls for the car parking proposals to be scrapped. This is set to run for a while longer!

If you are interested in reading the full proposals that were discussed last evening at Cabinet follow this link –

https://democracy.eastdevon.gov.uk/documents/s6966/Car%20Parking%20Tariff%20Review%20-%20Careful%20Choices.pdf

The Sidford Business Park, Chief Executive, Council Leader & Private Eye

The planning applications to build the Business Park in Sidford have received a great deal of local attention and significant opposition, and I was pleased to be able to recently give evidence at the Inquiry in opposition to the proposed development. I believe that it is the wrong thing in the wrong place. Unfortunately, the Planning Inspector who adjudicated at the Inquiry disagreed and has now given the go ahead for the Business Park.

We are where we are because there have been two planning applications submitted by Tim and Mike Ford, in the name of OG Holdings Retirement Benefits Scheme, to build this Business Park. The first of these applications was submitted in 2016 and rejected by East Devon District Council. The second was then submitted in 2018 and was again rejected by the District Council.

In listening to the evidence at the Inquiry I, and many others, were taken aback to learn a claim arising from the evidence given by a key witness for the Fords, their agent Joseph Marchant, which was repeated by their QC and which wasn’t challenged by the Council.

The claim was set out at paragraph 6.0.1 in Mr Marchant’s written evidence “Subsequent to the refusal of the 2016 application, an approach was made to Members (Councillors) including Councillor Hughes and the CEO (Chief Executive) of EDDC, Mark Williams”.

This is continued in paragraph 6.0.2 of Mr Marchant’s written evidence “We were advised by Mark Williams…. that in his opinion, the applicant (the Fords) may make more advance in progress towards delivery through appealing (the Council’s decision to refuse the 2016 planning application) rather than resubmission”.

This claim was also clearly set out in paragraphs 13 and 14 of the Fords’ QC’s final closing arguments at the Inquiry “After the 2016 application was refused, there was a meeting with Councillor Hughes and the CEO of the Council”. “The CEO advised that the way to progress was to appeal. That is an extraordinary state of affairs”.

In my opinion all of this raised serious questions, not for the first time, about the links between the District Council and developers. It could be construed that the Chief Executive’s actions and advice undermined the authority and responsibilities of not only the Council’s planning officers, but also that of the elected Members, particularly those with responsibility for oversight and decision making on planning applications. 

I therefore took this matter up with the Leader of the Council and in doing so I asked him a number of questions about how this meeting, involving the District Council’s Chief Executive and the developers, came about, what was discussed at it and who was present. After a bit of toing and froing I received answers to some of my questions, and as a result I believe that this is what happened –

After the 2016 planning application to build the Business Park was turned down by the District Council Tim Ford contacted the Chief Executive’s PA on Thursday 3 November 2016 seeking a meeting with the Chief Executive. This request appears to have been acted up very quickly as the meeting took place on Tuesday 8 November at 8.30 am in the Chief Executive’s office.

Present at the meeting were the Chief Executive, Mark Williams, Paul Diviani, the then Conservative Leader of the District Council, Councillor Stuart Hughes plus the developers Tim and Mike Ford and their agent Joseph Marchant, the one and the same person who’s witness statement led to this meeting being made public. The reason for the meeting is recorded as “To discuss the Sidford Business Park”.

The District Council is unable to confirm how long this meeting took. In addition, the District Council appears to have no formal, or informal, record of what was discussed or any decisions that were reached.

I find this situation concerning. It is amazing that within 4 working days of requesting a meeting that a developer can hold a meeting involving the Chief Executive and Leader of the Council, the two most senior people within the Council, to discuss a planning application that their Council had refused. I wonder how many members of the public can get that sort of high-level access so quickly?

I am concerned that at this meeting there was no planning officer, legal adviser nor the Council’s Monitoring Officer present. Surely, any discussion about a matter relating to a planning application should have the input of a planning officer. Wouldn’t the Council be best protected by having a legal adviser present? Surely, the Monitoring Officer, who is responsible for the probity of the Council, ought to be in attendance?

There was no record of the meeting’s discussions made on behalf of the Council. I cannot understand why this was so. Surely, it’s important that a record of such a meeting is made and then shared with the planning officers? Surely, a record of the meeting should have been placed with all the other related documents in the planning application file? It’s almost as if no one wanted the meeting to have been known about by anyone else, or otherwise why not keep a record of its discussions?

My role as a campaigner against the Business Park and as a District Councillor pursing this matter has been challenged by the District Council. The Business Park is within my Ward. Local residents within my Ward and within a neighbouring Ward at Sidford have expressed concern at the proposed Business Park and the involvement of the Chief Executive in this matter. It is therefore only right and proper that I have pursued this on their behalf.

Afterall, the Local Government Association’s Guidance for new Councillors 2019/20, which the District Council provided to me upon taking office in May, states at page 7, in the section headed “The Councillor’s role” that –

“A councillor’s primary role is to represent their ward or division and the people who live in it. Councillors provide a bridge between the community and the council. As well as being an advocate for your local residents and signposting them to the right people at the council, you will need to keep them informed about the issues that affect them”.

It goes on to explain that –

“As a local councillor, your residents will expect you to: … know your patch and be aware of any problems … represent their views at council meetings … lead local campaigns on their behalf”.

This guidance was reinforced to Councillors through the training that it provided in May 2019.

I don’t feel comfortable with some aspects of how the District Council has handled this planning application. I don’t feel comfortable about –

  • how quickly a developer was able to gain swift access to the most senior people in the Council. 
  • that other key Officers weren’t present at the meeting.
  • that no record of the meeting was made by the Council.

I know for sure that many local residents remain uncomfortable too. As does Private Eye which has picked up on this story on 20 September –

Vote YES on 19 September

The Sid Valley Neighbourhood Plan Referendum is happening on 19 September at a polling station near you!

This is your chance to vote for a planning framework that will influence future development across Sidmouth and the Sid Valley. If you are currently unhappy at the way in which developments and developers seem to get what they want at our expense, then you need the added support that the Sid Valley Neighbourhood Plan would give residents.

Residents have a chance to influence the future planning framework but not bothering to vote won’t benefit you. Go along to your usual polling station to vote in support of the Neighbourhood Plan on Thursday 19 September. Alternatively, if you receive a postal vote, use it to support the Plan.

Apathy on 19 September will only benefit developers, not residents. We have an opportunity to shape our futures, let’s grasp it!

We need the Neighbourhood Plan to stop speculative developers

I know that so very many local residents are utterly disappointed at the recent decision by the Planning Inspector to allow the outline planning application for a Business Park at Sidford submitted by Mike and Tim Ford, in the name of OG Holdings Retirement Fund.

I fully share that disappointment which is primarily for those who live in Sidford and Sidbury, and particularly those who live on Two Bridges Road, School Street and Sid Vale Close as they all literally will be living on the doorstep of this development.

That said, we must remember what a great job the 1,400 local residents who signed the Say NO Campaign’s petition against the application did, as well as the time and energy taken by the 255 residents who took the time to write to the District Council objecting, how in the run up to the Planning Inquiry so many residents again took the time to write expressing their concerns about the application’s proposals and the many hundreds of residents who attended the Campaign’s various public meetings.

So many residents put their heart and soul into expressing their genuine concerns that the planning proposal was the wrong thing in the wrong place. And let us not forget that, despite attempts by the applicants to paint those against the Business Park as against having local jobs, that this was never the case. It was solely that the site, as the County Council Highways professionals said would make the A375 through Sidford and Sidbury more congested and potentially dangerous.

Sadly, in spite of the objections by the residents, their Town Council and their District Council, the Inspector supported the application. In my opinion this was because once the site had been included in the District Council’s Local Plan, those opposing the application were fighting from a position of significant weakness.

It is important therefore that the new District Council administration scrutinises how the site became included in the Local Plan. Those who allowed it to go into the Plan did residents a huge disservice and deserve to have their actions put under the microscope. I hope that the District Council’s Scrutiny Committee will now do this and call to account those who failed local residents by letting this site ever get into the Local Plan.

If the Sid Valley Neighbourhood Plan, which is being voted on through a local referendum on 19 September, had been in place at the time the site was being shoehorned into the Local Plan, then I believe it would not have been included in it.

I therefore believe that it is important that residents vote to accept the Neighbourhood Plan. A vote in its favour will give residents a greater ability to resist similar future unwanted planning applications and would undermine any applicants’ ability to successfully appeal legitimate planning objections.

I fully appreciate the cynicism that I have read on social media and heard from residents about not seeing the point in bothering to vote in favour of the Sid Valley Neighbourhood Plan. However, that cynicism is misplaced. Without the neighbourhood Plan we will be even more powerless than we are today in resisting unwanted speculative developments such as the Sidford Business Park.

So, a plea goes out to everyone across Sidmouth and the Sid Valley; in order to stop future similar speculative developments, get out and vote in favour of the Neighbourhood Plan.

Apathy on 19 September will only benefit developers, not residents. We have an opportunity to shape our futures, let’s grasp it!