South West Exeter SANGS

Teignbridge have for some time been developing a “Sangs” park behind the Devon Hotel. This “Suitable Alternative Natural Green Space” is mitigation for proposed development at the South West of Exeter and eases pressure on the Exe Estuary and Dawlish Warren protected European wildlife sites.

It covers a large area, and offers excellent views of the estuary, Exeter and over the valleys towards the Haldon Hills.

We hope this park will have a soft opening very soon, but it is not yet open to the public.

Victorian Orchard Ide

I am delighted that Ide Parish council have successfully purchased the Victorian Orchard for the community. It is now fully open to the public and I had my first walk round last week.

I hadn’t appreciated the great views over the village and the valley of the Alphin brook towards Pocombe hill, it is lovely. A chunk of green space near the centre of the village, fully open to the public to wander, and protected from development in perpetuity. A great result, huge congratulations to all who are helping in this project.

Kidical Mass

I spent a very pleasant day helping with “Kidical mass” an inclusive cycling event combining safe family friendly on road cycling, with raising awareness of the need to reclaim the streets for all users, and reduce our dependance on cars.

The was a great turnout with 150 to 200 riders of every age, and all types of bikes, ending with a picnic in Belmont Park.

Teignbridge Full Council meeting 28/4/22

Full council meetings are not always the most gripping of events, but voting is important.

I don’t think I have ever cast a vote in the council without considering carefully and listening to the points made. The debate is often very thoughtful and informed, and can add as much to my view on an issue as reading the reports and recommendations.

The outcome is sometimes not what some people want so I try to explain why I have voted as I did, especially on contentious issues.

One of the first items on the agenda in any council is to approve the minutes of the previous meeting. It is usually a formality or occasionally minor corrections are made. It is normal in such cases to notify the officer as soon as you spot a problem, so it can be ironed out before the next meeting.

The minutes are not a transcript of every comment that is made in the meeting, they at least include all decisions and votes, but beyond that that they are normally only a brief and neutral summary of debate.

Councillor patch was concerned that a point of order he had raised in the previous meeting, which was dismissed, was not reported in the minutes. He asked that a lengthy explanation of his point of order be included in the minutes, in effect restating his case which had already been rejected as not relevant at the previous meeting.

He proposed an amendment to the motion to accept the minutes, which was seconded, so we had to vote on it. I voted against this amendment.

Jetty Marsh link road

This is a proposed road improvement that forms a ‘strategic’ part of the A382 corridor between Newton Abbot and the A38. It also serves new housing at Berry Knowles. The land owner for the housing is releasing the land for the link road and will provide inert fill material directly from the homes site to form the road’s embankment. A great example of the re-use on site that we are pushing for in response to the numerous landfill sites being demanded by the county council.

There was strong opposition but it is really quite difficult to say exactly what is supposed to be wrong with the plan.

There were nebulous comments about climate emergency, and road building. I agree it is vital to reduce society’s dependence on the car, but this small section of link road includes segregated cycle lanes and crossings to provide good quality pedestrian and cycle access.

The NSN councillors’ one defining issue is opposing virtually all development, to the point that the abstain on just about everything else, even no-brainer rubber stamping items of clear benefit to society. They abstain. I suspect their objection here is more pathological than informed.

Councillor Mullone of NSN gave a very angry speech repeatedly claiming there is “no mitigation whatsoever” As usual Cllr Mullones contribution is more theatrical than evidence based. The proposal includes areas of tree planting, green space, a pond and a bat and wildlife corridor. Councillors Mullone’s speech, though passionate and exceedingly loud, was not, in fact true.

I was happy to support he proposal.

Selling Land in Teignmouth for a health centre

One significant item is the proposal to sell land in Teignmouth town centre to the NHS for them to build a new health centre. This will lose a car park in Teignmouth, but back to back, a derelict site will be cleared to provide a replacement car part with a small net gain in parking provision. This is the land that was to be used for a hotel but the purchasers pulled out.

Some members made a strong case against, saying that we should instead pressure the NHS to save, or failing that, re-use Teignmouth Hospital. There are also points made about the pedestrian traffic across the current car park, and claims it would be better to keep the existing car park and derelict site.

There has been a long and valiant campaign to save Teignmouth hospital, but it has sadly failed, and the NHS has decided the hospital will close. In my view the health centre will allow some services to be retained in Teignmouth.

The proposal seems to offer an improvement to the area, including resolving issues with the derelict site which includes underground concrete tanks. It will improve services for Teignbridge (compared to not doing it).

There is a net parking gain, and considerable capital raised for Teignbridge to re-use by selling the land.

One councillor wanted to retain the car park by building higher on the other part of the site. To have done this would have required 9 storeys!

I was happy to support the proposal, and also voted against an amendment to defer the decision while a very ill defined question about other options was asked of the NHS. I think this would have jeopardised the project anyway, but I am also concerned the amendment was so unclearly worded as to be virtually impossible to put into action had if the vote had succeeded.

Councillor’s questions

An important part of the meeting is councillor’s questions. This is an opportunity for councillors to formally and publicly ask questions of the senior councillors and officers. It can be an important tool in scrutinising the work of the council and ensuring that we can all be held responsible.

For example in a recent meeting colleagues and I asked three crucial questions about allegations made by Councillor Mullone. He claimed he had proof that the council had breached its own rules and was “guilty of conspiracy to defraud the residents of Teignbridge”. Extraordinary words for a councillor to utter in public. Our three questions revealed that: The council’s rules are not as Cllr Mullone claimed, Cllr Mullone, after being asked to produce his evidence of wrong doing over a year ago, has not done so and finally that the council did not breach its rules. In fact the council followed the rules, but as far as possible within those rules, did all it could to help the people that Cllr Mullone claimed were being defrauded.

Today there were 29 questions from councillor MacGregor in what appears to be a deliberate attempt to spam the councillors questions mechanism, rendering it unusable. Perhaps this is because it has been so powerful in exposing his colleagues’ lies, false allegations and attempts to undermine the democratic principles of Teignbridge.

Highlights of councillor MacGregor’s questions include: Q28 Can the Leader update the council on attendance at the Health and Well-being Board meetings? Response from the Leader: Details of attendance at the Health & Wellbeing Board can be found via this link:

After asking 27 questions already, he still though this one was worth adding!

Teignbridge HATOC

At Teignbridge Highways and Traffic Orders Committee this week, The Teignbridge Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Policy (LCWIP, pronounced “El – see – whip”) was presented..

Evidence of cycling rates comes from the census. This is 10 years out of date since last year’s results are not available yet. So more up to date sources have been sought including strava. Interesting to realise that using this app might mean your journey is more readily evidenced.

A conservative member (Silvia Russell) asked if the traffic orders committee would lobby the government to introduce mandatory registration and insurance for cycles. This seemed odd partly because it wasn’t on the agenda, but more importantly because it is a ridiculous idea.

I was happy to inform the meeting that around 1500-2000 people are killed each year in the UK by motor vehicles which require registration and insurance, compared to something like one person in 10 years killed by bicycles.

I realise there can be issues in specific areas, she was talking about “trick” cycling on Teignmouth seafront. I asked for confirmation that footpaths, shared paths and cycle paths would all be labeled clearly under the LCWIP plans, so that all users could be aware of other groups they need to share the space with. I also commented on the need for better quality segregated paths, rather than white lines on the edge of the road and shared paths in busy areas. This minimises frustration between groups as well as fatalities from motor vehicles. The LCWIP seems to be moderately good on that front.

Surprisingly she spoke again making the exact same request, saying cars require registration and insurance, “what’s the difference”. So I responded again, explaining that the difference over a 10 year period is one person killed by cycles, and fourteen thousand nine hundred and ninety nine more than that killed by motor vehicles.

If this arises again, I will suggest compulsory registration and insurance for lawn mowers (700 times more deadly than bicycles) cows (50 times more deadly than bicycles) and the sweet spot for illustrating this issue, Ladders, which kill more than 100 times more people than bicycles, and more than 100 times less than motor vehicles.

Compulsory Cycle Insurance is a “Daily mail” policy with no grounding in reality. It has no place in an informed debate about transport infrastructure.

The Future High Streets Fund

There is a lot in the news from the campaign to “Save the Alex theatre”. Unfortunately there seems to be some confusion about what is happening. TDC have secured £9 million in funding from the future high streets fund to regenerate Newton Abbot town centre with an outline plan to include, improvements for walking and cycling in the town centre and building a new 4 screen cinema freeing up the current Alex cinema building to be combined with the market as a versatile space for market, performance and food.

It seems that some supporters of the theatre have taken a very rigid view, insisting that the current space must remain completely walled off from the market as a permanent traditional theatre.

It must be said that a decade of austerity has seen savage cuts to local government funding. TDC has essential services to deliver. Aspirational projects such as this must be funded, and every asset must be used to its maximum value. Funding has been obtained on the basis of a combined space which improves the market area as well as providing performance space.

There is an alternative business plan for a self contained theatre but there is a £500k funding gap and ongoing liabilities. It isn’t clear the theatre space would be used enough.

There is concern about the credibility of Quarterbridge the consultants. They were successful in the procurement process for the consultancy. If a management company was sought for the market there would be another procurement process. There is no VIP lane here.

I am concerned that the interior details are still not defined, and yet we were asked to agree the budget and give authority for the remainder of the project. I would not be supporting that, but our group brought an amendment to create a steering group to ensure continuing engagement and scrutiny.

Cllr Patch proposed a 6 month delay in the decision. I cannot support this since the £9 million grant must be drawn down and spent within 2 years. This amendment would have jeopardised the entire regeneration project.

It was proposed to exclude the Alex from the proposal but again, this would jeopardise the entire project.

I think the best way forward is to accept the funding, and work within the framework laid down for the project, which does include creating a combined versatile space, but is still very open about the exact form that will take. I would like to see as many theatre features as possible retained, but it will be a compromise. I hope the supporters of the theatre engage with the steering group to make the project the best that we can.

Petition on Markhams Farm and manor Farm

Today Alison Foden presented the petition ‘Keep Devon County’s farms farming – save Markhams Farm and Manor Farm’ to Cllr John Hart, the Leader at Devon County Council.  
Andy and Alison were there at the Cabinet meeting at County Hall in Exeter.

At over 2080 signatures, I hope that our campaign to stop the Grade 1 agricultural farmland at Markhams Farm being sold for housing development is successful.

Watch the video:

Trial Closure Of Balls Farm Road

The trial closure of Doctors Walk came to the Exeter Highways and Traffic Orders Committee today with a recommendation to make the changes permanent.

I’ve been campaigning on this issue since 2013. It was one of the things that brought me to politics,

Ide is connected to Exeter by two main roads, both highly unsuitable for walking and cycling, and also by the lanes which are the subject of this proposal.

The ward boundary cuts between the proposal and Ide. I am very grateful to Councillor Atkinson for working together in recent years especially for the help engaging police enforcement in response to the steadily increasing volumes of traffic ignoring the traffic restictions and using the lanes to avoid congestion on the main roads.

This steady increase has been shown by traffic surveys carried out with Ide Parish Council and a local community group for almost 10 years, in response to concern about safety, amenity and aggression from drivers.

The officers report was clear about the scheme’s success in stopping the illegal traffic, and the large increase in walking and cycling that has resulted. It also covers the strong community support the trial has attracted from residents living in the scheme, as well as those served by it.

Perhaps most importantly it has stopped the aggressive incidents. Where we used to have stress, speeding and conflict, we now have safe, peaceful and beautiful green lanes.

The riding stables on Balls farm Road can once again safely operate on the lane with groups of children with disabilities. A new cohort of year seven students is meeting at the twisted oak and cycling to school along Balls Farm Road. The Amenity value is huge.

We have now extended Exeter’s active travel network towards the Haldon hills and prevented Ide from becoming a traffic island, close to Exeter, but cut off from it, accessible only by motor vehicles.

It was Acknowledged by officers that this scheme is unusual in that it was brought forward by the community through Ide Parish Council rather than coming from DCC.

It was noted by the chair of the meeting that this has been a long term problem. She commented on the historic reluctance of officers to take measures that have an impact on car users. Since lockdown this attitude has changed and as a result we see a scheme coming forward that is cheap, effective, and is supported in 83% of consultation responses.

The vote was unanimous in favour of making the closure permanent. I would like to thank everyone who has been involved over the years. On balance, this is a really good outcome for the community and I am immensely proud of my part in this achievement.

Defending Human Rights

Question from Councillor Andy Swain, to full council on 13 January.

At the full council meeting in November, it was twice suggested that a councillors’ human rights were being abused when the chair interrupted the speaker. The Human rights act is very important and not to be made light of. In the legal opinion of the council’s monitoring officer, Is it an abuse of human rights for a speaker to be interrupted by the chair? if so, we should all know, and we can all behave accordingly.

Response from Executive Member for Corporate Services

Article 10 Human Rights Act 1998 states:

1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This Article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.

2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.

Consequently, while freedom of expression is protected in the UK, it must be borne in mind that this freedom is a qualified right, meaning that there are certain circumstances in which it may be overridden. As a result, the UK allows for the regulation of free speech and the ultimate blocking of speech, eg to protect people from suffering abuse on account of who they are.

Council meetings are occasions when the business of the Council is conducted, political debate takes place and decisions made. Those meetings take place within a statutory framework and pursuant to the provisions and obligations provided for by the Local Government Act 1972 amongst others.

Arising from that legislation are the rules of debate as set out in the Council’s constitution. The Chair conducts such meetings in accordance with those rules, so as to ensure that the business of the Council is conducted in a fair and equitable manner. The alternative being anarchy and chaos.

It is trite law that such rules and procedures are necessary in a democratic society. Therefore, any curtailing by the Chair of an attempt by a member to step outside of those rules for the purpose of making a speech or other reason would be a lawful infringement of the member’s right to say what they want when they want. It should be remembered that such lawful infringement operates within a regime that makes provision for the making of speeches and expressing opinion.

Supplementary Question

Thank you chair I have a supplementary question,

Thank you for the clarification about the Human Rights act 1998 which incorporated the European convention on human rights into British law and for explaining that the rules of debate in this chamber do not violate those rights.

Would the portfolio holder agree with me, that these rights including the right to protest without fear or prosecution or retribution, are important and we must maintain them especially since they are no longer protected by EU membership.

Would he also join me in condemning legislation that undermines them such as the Nationality and Borders Bill, which criminalised saving lives at sea, and The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill which creates new offences for protest that is “too loud” or has “an impact”?

Thank you