Nannying and democracy...

PUBLISHED: 14:59 20 November 2009 | UPDATED: 12:21 10 June 2010

The meeting of East Devon District Council s development management committee (DMC) on October 20 was witnessed by the chief executive, who sat between the chairman and the planning manager.

The meeting of East Devon District Council's development management committee (DMC) on October 20 was witnessed by the chief executive, who sat between the chairman and the planning manager. Mr Williams had decided to "sit in" at DMC meetings as an adviser. The "Saharan fort" in West Hill Lane (Jim Campbell's letter, Journal, November 12) was the 11th application out of 12.

Professor Campbell's criticisms of the procedures are uncommonly outspoken. I attended that meeting, and can find no fault in his account. The following week, the standards committee debated formal complaints about DMC's handling of the Longboat Cafe on August 25. It transpired that members of the DMC have already had some training sessions, and, I understand, Cllr Diviani has had some lessons (from whom?) on chairmanship. Mr Williams told the standards committee he recommended an "aide" seated on the chairman's left to guide him as and when difficulties arose. Cllr Ann Liverton said solicitor Andrew Seddon already did that, but Mr Williams considered he was seated too far away along the head-table.

I question that, if the chairman needs an "aide" close by his side, is he the right person for the job? Mr Williams - presumably the most highly paid official in EDDC - appears to be unwilling, or too busy, to continue "mentoring" (a euphemism for nannying?) If future meetings of DMC are going to last for well over five hours, his desire to be replaced as mentor is understandable.

A fortnight ago, I complained to the leader (Cllr Randall Johnson) about the removal of Cllr Steve Hall from the DMC after his opposition to the Longboat application. She expressed "a great disappointment that members of the public should behave in an anti-social manner at a public meeting. As a result, I have asked the chief executive to ensure that our systems are robust to protect the public, officers and councillors at all meetings attended by the public".

As for Steve Hall's removal, she wrote: "The Conservative Group on East Devon has never commented on any appointment to council committees or outside bodies as these are decisions taken internally." She asked Mr Williams to send me further comments.

Mr William wrote: "I am mindful that, in the nine years I have been employed by the council, I have seen/read considerable correspondence from you (whether it be to the council or the local press). You will perhaps forgive me for commenting that I cannot recall a single occasion when you have said anything positive about the council or its planning process and, as a result, I have read your comments with this background in mind. It might be that I am mistaken in my recollection, but I believe it is important that I inform you of this perspective." Big Brother is watching!

Referring to the DMC meeting on October 20, Mr Williams said: "What I heard and saw was a number of valid debates by the councillors, some of which resulted in them agreeing with the officer recommendation and some resulted in them reaching a different conclusion to the officers. That's how it should be. The officers give advice and the councillors, as representatives of their communities (not delegates), took the decision that they considered appropriate, having read the reports, listened to the public, and debated amongst themselves."

If everything is "how it should be", who needs nannying, and will a new mentor bring about the semblance of democracy? I share Jim Campbell's impression that the members of DMC "do not weigh evidence so much as ignore it". I will not comment on whether their minds are closed or empty, but they don't look open to me.

Anita Jennings,

Northview Road, Budleigh Salterton.

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