'Make decisions on basis of factual evidence'
PUBLISHED: 16:30 05 April 2016
A district watchdog has called for evidence-based decision-making after the conduct of some council members was called into question.
Councillors admitted being swayed by ‘powerful speakers’ when they agreed on last-minute changes to the draft East Devon Local Plan against the advice of officers and on the basis of claims that later proved unfounded.
Votes taken in the final stages of developing the document – which sets out a planning blueprint for the region - saw Dunkeswell and Chardstock added to a list of villages classed as ‘sustainable’ and thus suitable for further development.
Both decisions have now been overruled by the Planning Inspectorate, but members of East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) scrutiny committee have criticised the process that allowed the controversial votes to be taken without any evidence being checked.
Speaking before the committee on Thursday, March 17, Chardstock parish councillor David Everett said: “Chardstock is now – as far as the East Devon Local Plan is concerned – unsustainable.
“But the damage has been done because we now have five houses we should never have had.”
The meeting heard how Councillor Andrew Moulding had spoken out in support of a developer and proposed Chardstock be classed as ‘sustainable’.
An extraordinary meeting of the full council days later saw Dunkeswell added to the list with voters swayed by claims that a school was due to be built in the village - information that was later found to be erroneous.
Scrutiny chairman Councillor Roger Giles asked if members should have been debating and making major changes to the Local Plan at such a late stage without any evidence and against the recommendations of the chief executive.
Committee members argued that this should not have been allowed, but officers at the meeting said it is down to elected councillors to make decisions and, if there is not enough evidence, they should have declined to vote.
It was recommended that all councillors in future should beware of taking claims at face value and make decisions on the basis of factual evidence.