Concerned about Vanguard

he editor of the Journal kindly published two letters from me last year regarding the new Vanguard System being trialed by East Devon District Council (EDDC) that introduced fundamental changes to the planning process but without any public consultation

he editor of the Journal kindly published two letters from me last year regarding the new "Vanguard System" being trialed by East Devon District Council (EDDC) that introduced fundamental changes to the planning process but without any public consultation. In one, I referred to a letter to me from Miss Randall Johnson, EDDC's leader, in which she stated "I have to say that there is no merit in your suggestion that Exmouth is being targetted" (her words). Subsequently, however, EDDC's chief executive advised me that "for a period from April until end of September, one geographical area was selected as a test-bed for a number of process changes." Guess where - Exmouth! I just cannot see how Miss Randall Johnson can square her letter to me with the facts. The upshot was that, for six months ahead of the rest of EDDC's area, Exmouth was denied scrutiny of applications by elected officials, discretionary powers relating to planning decisions were delegated to the unelected chief executive (whilst at the same time town council views were marginalised) and neighbours were only advised of applications via the internet and not also by letter, newspaper as hitherto. All this from an authority that trumpets its commitment to local democracy yet only consults when it thinks the answers will suit it. In the same period it consulted over new Dog Control Orders but not on changes to planning procedures, so significant that it may even require changes to EDDC's constitution being considered at the full Council Meeting on May 20. So, what was learnt from the piloting the new planning procedures in Exmouth? According to our town clerk, the town council has not been directly consulted on Vanguard proposals, although it submitted comments to EDDC raising some concerns. The trial period is barely referred to in the glowing report that Kate Little, EDDC's head of planning, wrote about Vanguard, (now renamed "systems thinking") that was considered at EDDC's Scrutiny Committee on January 29, with no reference to the test bed, ie Exmouth, nor the views put forward by our town council. In fact, do a word search of her report and it does not mention Exmouth once but concentrates on administrative efficiency for the planners themselves and serving the needs of the "customer" who is identified as the developer, not EDDC's residents or council taxpayers.I wrote to Hugo Swire MP who has acknowledged that constituents have complained and he is meeting with EDDC to discuss the new system. Fortunately, our local elected representatives are asking the right questions too and final approval of the new procedures will now take place at the Full Council meeting, to be held on May 20, and not rubber stamped without opportunity for proper review in March, as EDDC originally planned. One of the arguments cited by the planners themselves as to why they, and not elected councillors, should take planning decisions is that 84 per cent of all planning recommendations that are referred to development control committee are approved and so it is considered a waste of time as "only" 16 per cent go against their recommendations. As a resident and council tax payer, I would turn this argument around and say that 16 per cent disagreement is a very significant figure and will lead to inappropriate planning decisions as local knowledge and the balanced, objective input of councillors is lost. Quality planning is essential to ensure appropriate and sensitive development of our area and administrative ease surely must be, at all times, secondary to democratic accountability. If that costs money and takes time, then that's a democracy at work and I'm happy with that. Besides which, if their role is effectively excluded, what is the point of having elected representatives?If anyone else has been affected by these matters or thinks this is just plain wrong, then can I suggest that they write to Hugo Swire MP and their local councillor (perhaps with a copy to EDDC's chief executive) saying that you want a return to the old system of local adverts, letters and newspaper listing of applications; a more reliable website for those that do use it (as EDDC's is often not working); reinstatement of local councillors' right to call in applications, where they wish it to be voted upon; removal of all discretionary powers from the chief executive (what were EDDC thinking about on that one?) and listening to the views of town and parish councils. Finally, EDDC should be asked to publish these changes to its constituents and explain why changes to its constitution are necessary rather than appear to want to hide this matter from public scrutiny. Whilst it may be too late for a proper public consultation, EDDC should be taken to task for not consulting on this crucial issue rather than lobbying us to write to Max.I am very grateful to the editor for allowing me to write at length on such an important issue.David Keep,Salterton Road, Exmouth.