New Landfill application

There is a new proposal for an extremely large landfill at Kennford.

https://planning.devon.gov.uk/PlanDisp.aspx?AppNo=DCC/4268/2021

There are already significant questions in my view over the handling of the Landfill application for 350,000m3 at Lower Hare Farm, Whitestone, where Devon County Development Committee members were told in December 2020, there was an urgent need for landfill capacity. This was agreed to, despite the valiant efforts of our county councillor Alan Connett. Only a few months later 250,000 m3 of extra capacity was “found” by Devon County Council at the existing Trood lane site, with very little impact, and in fact a positive effect on Teignbridge’s future redevelopment of the site as public green space, which will now have shallower gradients making it more accessible. The development committee were not told about this additional capacity at Trood lane at the time of approving Lower Hare, yet the discovery was made public only a few months later.

The proposal at Kenn is for a whopping 1,200,000 m3. It is interesting to note that pre-application advice for the Kenn landfill site is dated May 2020. 7 months before the decision was made on Lower Hare farm. The development committee were not told in Dec 2020 about any possible site at Kennford either, but clearly the county council would have had knowledge that an alternative site more than three times bigger was a possibility.

I can also confirm that Alan Connett has twice asked for an extension on the consultation on the Kennford proposal which is only until 5/2/22 and this has been refused by the conservative administration at county hall.

I urge all concerned residents and parish councils to make their own comments through the website link above. Your comments carry more weight if they are based on planning policy.

We will do all we can as councillors, but we need the support of good quality comments from the community.

Markhams Farm and Manor Farm

Over 1500 people have now signed the petition calling on Devon County Council to withdraw the Grade 1 agricultural farmland at Markhams Farm, and at Manor Farm, as sites for housing development.

https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/keep-devon-county-s-farms-farming

Since our last correspondence I have received a reply from Dan Meek, the director at NPS (SW) Ltd in response to my questions to Devon County Council, which were:

I asked these questions of Devon County Council recently:

  • How can Devon County Council justify throwing away the equivalent acreage of farmland to that which it purchased in 2009 in order to make Markhams Farm more viable?
  • Arable and agricultural quality land should not ‘be disposed of’ in a piecemeal fashion, in order to “generate capital receipts” for investment by the Council in the capital programme, and “enable land to be replenished”.
  • Farms cannot be established like jigsaw pieces – removing 80 acres of land from Markhams Farm to generate income to buy more land elsewhere, will remove the viability from Markhams Farm, which you sought to benefit in 2009 when you purchased an additional 85 acres of land there.
  • How can Devon County Council declare a climate and ecological emergency, and yet pay no regard farming sustainability, nor care for the current and next generations of farmers in our Devon, by selling off County Farm land here and there?
  • A farm takes time to create, months to nurture, and years to farm successfully and sustainably, and yet you propose to sell land off, in order to buy other land elsewhere.
  • I am troubled that you state that selling off land which is currently farmed “aligns with the recommendations made by Sir Donald Curry CBE FRAgS, in his capacity as Chair of the Sustainable Farming and Food Delivery Group, in his paper on ‘The Importance of the County Farms Service to the Rural Economy’ (November 2008)”. 

    In the Farms Estate Committee meeting held on 5 February 2009, at which the above paper by Sir Donald Curry was presented, the key points were also noted: 
    “Farms owned and managed by Local Authorities are an important, strategic, national asset that should be retained. These farms assist Local Authorities in meeting wider economic, countryside and environmental objectives and provide an essential route into farming for new entrants.” https://democracy.devon.gov.uk/Data/Farms%20Estate%20Committee/20090205/Minutes/pdf-CX-09-17.pdf
  • Why is Devon County Council planning and working to sell off County Farm-land in order to generate capital receipts, when that County Farm land can generate capital receipts for the Council?  Has Devon County Council not considered the effects that the selling off parcels of County Farm-land must have on the mental health and wellbeing of the County Farm tenants, and the effects that the threatened sale of County Farm-land must have on tenant farmers, their feelings for the farm security, and their farm work-plans for the future ?

The reply that I received last week from Dan Meek, the senior land agent last week was unsatisfactory and did not answer any of my questions (listed above). 

“The County Council would be unable to invest in it Farms Estate if it had not generated (and continued to generate) funding through the sale of land, nor would it have had money to ensure the Council discharges it’s statutory responsibilities in relation to the farms estate which would no doubt lead to a position where it would not be financially or legally  sustainable for DCC to retain farm holdings (and you will no doubt be aware that many Council’s across the country have disposed of their entire interest in a farms estate).

DCC have balanced the identification of development opportunities, the acquisition of land and the retention of a viable Farms estate which the Curry report sets out.”

This reply from Mr Meek quotes just a small section of the Curry report, which also states (as given in my question to Mr Meek and Cllr John Hart, “Farms owned and managed by Local Authorities are an important, strategic, national asset that should be retained. These farms assist Local Authorities in meeting wider economic, countryside and environmental objectives and provide an essential route into farming for new entrants.” https://democracy.devon.gov.uk/Data/Farms%20Estate%20Committee/20090205/Minutes/pdf-CX-09-17.pdf  “

The farms estate gave a surplus of £464,000 in 2020/2021 https://democracy.devon.gov.uk/mgConvert2PDF.aspx?ID=35884 (point 4).

My concerns are:

I am troubled that Devon’s tax-payers funds are being used to buy and sell Grade 1 agricultural land with an aim of selling it on for property development.

Where is the transparency for the Devon tax-payers, including the tenant farmers, regarding the farms estate being managed by a company controlled and owned by Norfolk County Council?

Is it in the interests of the tenant farmers and Devon County Council’s tax-payers that Norse Group Ltd (the company of which NPS (SW) Ltd is a part) made over £2 million profit for Norfolk County Council in the year 2020/2021?  (Norfolk County Council statement of accounts, page 105)
(NPS (SW) Ltd was dissolved as a company on 31 March 2021, taken over by Norse Consulting Group Ltd, part of Norse Group Ltd, controlled and owned by Norfolk County Council)

(reference: Companies House documents: https://opencorporates.com/companies/gb/05694657 and

https://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/company/06078903/filing-history/MzI5NjQyMzE2OWFkaXF6a2N4/document )

It is worrying that both sites at Markham Farm and at Manor Farm are proposed for house-building, at a time when the need for sustainable farming and encouragement for local farming is crucial at this time of climate and biodiversity emergency.

In the report published this week by the Royal Town Planning Institute, it warned that developers were failing to build homes near public amenities and public transport: “There are, however, still many areas across England where development is occurring in relatively inaccessible locations. In these areas, owning a car increasingly becomes a necessity as travel times by other modes cannot compete. While the proportion of development with more than an hour travel by public transport or walking to a town centre of major employment centre is low, the impact of these developments and their potential carbon footprint have long-term consequences.”  https://www.rtpi.org.uk/research/2021/december/the-location-of-development/#_Toc89101917

Further, grade 1 agricultural farm-land owned by public authorities should be protected, rather than bought and sold for the interests and profits of property developers. 

I totally agree that the provision of affordable housing for local people is essential, and I urge Devon County Council and local authority property agents and planners to look for ‘brownfield’ land sites first, on well-served public transport routes, to ensure sustainable living, and sites that don’t require the use of a car to access them.

Alison

Cllr Alison Foden

District councillor’s report for December

Recently there have been allegations made about the operation of Teignbridge District Council.
At full council in September, an independent councillor pointed out that the constitution was changed sometime last year, apparently without consulting councillors. He raises 6 points which he believes are “material changes that erode the rights of Members of the Public and Members of the Council to scrutinise the work of this Council”. It is claimed this was deliberate and is being used to curtail their rights.
I take these allegations very seriously and as the representative of my community, I consider it my duty to investigate.
This relates to a decision the previous year which councillors did agree to, asking the monitoring officer (the council’s solicitor) to “tidy up” the constitution. The tidy up was needed, and was not supposed to materially change the content. This was done, but the new constitution was posted to the web site without consulting councillors again and without announcement. This was unfortunate, but I do not believe it was a deliberate assault on democracy. The officer did what they were asked to.
In September I and other councillors voted to affirm the new constitution provided there was a mechanism to review and reverse any material changes. I have since looked in detail at the 6 points. I see changes of course, but not so major as they were portrayed.
Previously the public could ask questions relevant to “the business of the council”. This was changed to “the business of the meeting” and the power has been removed, for a Group leader to insist that a change to the constitution is major if others claim it is minor.
I also found that the tidy up had failed to update the language so I brought a motion to full council in November proposing that the monitoring officer be asked to restore these two powers and substitute non-sexist gender-neutral language throughout.
At the full council meeting in September another independent councillor made a separate allegation, claiming to have evidence that a planning application heard at committee had been subverted by the applicant putting up ‘fake’ objectors. It was claimed that early registration for the 2 speaking slots had prevented genuine objectors from making representations.
My colleagues are still investigating this case as it is again a serious allegation. My own enquiries have revealed however, that speaking slots are not allocated on a ‘first come first served’ basis and could not be manipulated in this fashion. If they were, I would now be seeking to repair that.
Applications to speak at planning must be made by noon, on the third working day before the planning committee meeting. Ward Councillors and Parish Councillors are given first priority as elected representatives. The remaining slot(s) are then offered to the other applicants. If there are insufficient slots, the applicants are instead offered contact with each other and asked to mutually agree who will speak for them. If this fails, slots can be allocated randomly but in the career of the officer I spoke to this has happened only once.
While we continue to investigate the specific case (and still await the claimed evidence) I have confirmed that the system is not broken in the way it was claimed, and should provide fair representation at planning committee meetings.
As the community’s representative at Teignbridge, sometimes this means challenging officers, but sometimes it means supporting them. Unfortunately lies can be told very quickly. Establishing the truth takes longer, but it is vital that we do.

Why did I vote for…

At the full council meeting in November, we were asked to agree the political balance of the committees. Within Teignbridge we have councillors arranged in political groupings, and there are smaller committees for example to decide planning applications, to decide on licensing and regulatory issues, and scrutiny committees to check up on the work of other parts of the council.

There have recently been changes in the political groupings for example I understand Councillor Patch has left the independent group and now works alone. Having an independent group sounds like a contradiction, but it makes sense. Independent councillors can work together as a group for the purposes of being allocated seats on committees. If there are enough people in the group they will be allocated places on the committees which they share out.

The proposed political balance has been calculated by the council officers using the formula set down in law. An amendment was proposed to give councillor patch a place on the planning committee since he didn’t have any committee places. This is very sporting but the amendment did not state where the additional place was to come from. Cllr Eden offered her place on planning, but it became clear she didn’t have a place to give up.

I think it highly likely that voting to give a place to one particular councillor would have been illegal (if the balanace is handed down in law from central government) or at least unconstitutional (since the political balance rules are stated in the TDC constitution). The amendment seemed unworkable. I voted against the amendment, and for the politically balanced numbers calculated by the officers.

I do think it is important to scrutinise the democratic processes, I am a dedicated supporter of preference voting because first past the post is a totally inadequate system of democracy as soon as there are more than two candidates. I campaign for change on the issue of preference voting. Distribution of committee places proportional to elected councillors is not a part of the system that I think is broken.

Constitutional dilemmas


An interesting item in the recent full council meeting is item 8, about the Teignbridge constitution. The constitution is a lengthy document but legally underpins all the council’s decisions and actions. Councillor Patch (independent) has pointed out that the constitution was changed sometime last year, apparently without consulting councillors.

This relates to a decision the previous year which councillors did agree to, asking the monitoring officer (the council’s solicitor) to “tidy up” the constitution, which at the time was not a single document but a collection of web pages that had been added to in stages without much review. The tidy up was needed, and was not supposed to materially change the content.

This was done, but the new constitution was posted to the web site without consulting councillors again, without drawing attention to it, and the old web pages were discarded.

Councillor Patch believes that there are “several material changes in the document that erode the rights of Members of the Public and Members of the Council to scrutinise the work of this Council.” In the recent full council meeting he urged councillors not to “Nod through” the new constitution. Instead he invited councillors to vote to reinstate the old constitution pending a review.

I voted against councillor Patch’s amendment to reinstate the old constitution, and I voted for the motion to accept the new one, with the proviso that there is a clear mechanism for any material changes to be reversed, which there is. I agree with councillor Patch that this is an important issue, but I am not nodding through the changes.

I think it is unfortunate that the new document was not circulated, that the old ones were not archived and the change was not announced, however the officer had not specifically been asked to do these things, and they did do as they were asked. They tidied up the constitution.

I cannot support reverting to the old constitution which has been deleted and only exists in paper copies with some councillors. I don’t have a copy. Are other copies all the same? By voting to accept the new constitution, it puts the council back in a robust position to make decisions, and avoid future confusion. The ambiguity puts all the council’s actions at risk.

I have looked in detail at the “material changes […] that erode the rights […]”. I see changes of course, but not quite so major as they might be portrayed. On several of the alleged points I can see no material difference at all.

The chair can reject questions that are inappropriate according to the constitution. The old constitution said “after consultation with the independent person” and this phrase is dropped. It isn’t clear who “the independent person” was, or what this ever meant. In my view it is the job of the chair to reject questions based on the criteria set out in the constitution.

In some cases powers have indeed been added for example to dismiss questions that specifically should be taken by a sub committee. I don’t consider this eroding our rights, just making the process clear. Tidying up.

The public can ask questions relevant to the business of the council. This has been changed to the business of the meeting. This is a significant material change. It is just one word, and I suspect it was a genuine error, but that is one word too many and this change needs to be restored. I will pursue this to get it changed back.

There is a change that motions can now be rejected if they relate to the personal affairs or conduct of individual Members or include inappropriate or inflammatory language. These would seem reasonable.

It is claimed Group Leaders have lost the power to veto delegated ‘minor’ changes to the Constitution. This could be a material change, but the difference is not as strong as it seems. Group leaders never had the power to veto a change because they didn’t like it. The removed wording is “If group leaders agree a change is minor, It can be done by democratic services manager” The only power being lost is for a Group leader to insist that a change is major if others claim it is minor.

This one deserves a closer look, but at most we should restore the power that group leaders actually had, not bestow a full veto that it is claimed they had.

So overall I think we did the right thing. The council now has a constitution that has been affirmed and we can all read it. It needs a couple of words changing, which we will do.

The new constitution can be viewed at https://democracy.teignbridge.gov.uk/documents/g2988/Public%20reports%20pack%2020th-Nov-2020%20Constitution.pdf?T=10&Info=1

Marking the death of Maria Perez Gonzalez

It was a privilege to take part in the Sober, dignified and legal “Die in” vigil organised by Exeter Cycle campaign to mark the death of Maria Perez Gonzalez, killed by a driver as she cycling along Barnfield Road crossing Western Way.  The driver has been arrested on suspicion of drink/drug driving.   

Maria’s family were grateful for the show of solidarity for them in their grief.  We lay in the road for a few minutes to underline just how vulnerable people cycling can be and heard from Maria’s work colleague, Jacqui, and Biddy, a fellow health worker who uses that junction daily.

Sadly Maria death was not unusual: five people are killed on the UK’s road every day.  We took this opportunity to challenge the normalisation of death and injury we see on our roads and to repeat our simple calls that driver lawlessness and inattention must stop and that all journeys for people cycling should be made safe.

The vigil was covered sympathetically in the media.  See here.
I will continue to work with colleagues to make walking and cycling safer and more attractive options.

Electoral Reform – or not!

Next week, the Government’s dangerous Elections Bill will be back in Parliament.

The bill sets out plans to spend up to £20,000,000 extra per election to demand photo ID at polling stations. 

With millions lacking the right paperwork, these expensive plans could disenfranchise over two million voters according to the government’s own figures.

Far from improving our elections, this bill will drive a bulldozer through our democracy – it’s a dangerous policy that must be stopped.

Sign The petition with the Electoral Reform Society

And also this petition with 38 degrees

The expensive voter ID plans aren’t all the bill contains though – it also tries to neuter our independent elections watchdog

For the first time ever, the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission has a single party majority on it. Now the government want to write a ‘Strategy and Policy Statement’ for the Electoral Commission – setting out what the Government think should be the Commission’s priorities.

As Britain continues to struggle with the pandemic, the government’s priority seems to be passing legislation that makes it harder for people to vote – and easier for MPs to set their own rules.

Why are our names in this order?

We were recently asked why our names are in this order, and specifically why Alison is last when alphabetically she would be first. There are a number of reasons why the names on our site are in the order they are, and gender is not one of them.

  • The order is important, we did think about it and discuss it. We all like this order.
  • There is a lot of research about the bias and prejudice entrenched by alphabetical order e.g. https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2018/05/29/alphabetical-name-ordering-is-discriminatory-and-harmful-to-collaborations/. Those with surname A- are 26% more successful in obtaining top jobs than those with surname Z-.
  • We work together as a team, Charles is retired and lives in Exminster, the largest community in Kenn Valley. He is often best placed to deal first with enquiries from residents.
  • Andy lives in Ide, and focuses on the villages in the North of the ward. A bigger area than Exminster but fewer people.
  • There is more to being a district councillor than responding to emails. Alison, for instance, is putting in an incredible amount of work on the possible local plan sites and has launched the very successful petition to save Markhams Farm.
  • Alan is our county councillor. We work closely with him and he shares this web site with us as district councillors. It is hard for residents to know what is a district or county issue. We omit Alan’s name in the list completely, so that we can escalate issues to him as appropriate.
  • Residents can contact any councillor, but we work together as a team and we think this order helps people to contact us.
  • The order also matches the election results in 2019 which were close with Charles fielding 1258 votes, Andy fielding 1194 and Alison 1133.
  • There are only 6 ways to put these three names in order and a third of them have the woman last. It is unfortunate that the best sequence for us happens to be one of those that could be seen as misogynistic and an example of everyday sexism. We are aware of this, and it was a compelling argument for choosing a different order, however we decided that encouraging people to contact the right person first is important and avoids people feeling “passed around” if they are redirected.

We hope this post dispels any concern.