Actions defended in planning row

Wednesday, May 7, 2014
6:00 AM

Ottery’s annual assembly saw the shock resignation of a councillor, criticism of the town’s position on meeting with developers and the flare-up of a long-running row over a breach of confidentiality.

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Last Tuesday’s meeting also provided residents with an update on the council’s ‘very healthy’ finances, falling crime figures in the parish and the presentation of more than £6,000 in grants to local organisations.

But the positive news was largely overshadowed by the unexpected resignation of ‘excellent’ town treasurer Paul Lewis and the controversial subject of pre-application talks with developers.

Addressing the council on the emotive issue, resident Jenny Carpenter said she was concerned about a lack of openness and the ethics of meeting with developers.

“How does meeting with them help us as residents?” she asked. “Is that not giving the advantage to the developer?”

Philip Algar added: “I’m not decrying all of the good work the council does, but that doesn’t mean you can avoid transparency. You must be aware of the widespread criticism?”

Defending the town’s stance, Councillor Martin Thurgood said that government guidelines advised town and parish councils to take part in pre-application talks at the earliest opportunity.

He added that a new policy recently adopted by the council went well beyond what is required by the guidelines in terms of transparency.

“We agree with you that openness is key,” said Cllr Thurgood. “Our policy is that as soon as the meeting is concluded then we make all of the notes available as soon as possible.”

Mayor Glyn Dobson added: “All the guidelines say we should do it. If we don’t do it, we could be accused of not doing our job properly.”

The mayor also repeated a previous allegation that Cllr Roger Giles, who has been outspoken in his criticism of the council’s decision to meet with Persimmon Homes in November, had himself met privately with developers in his capacity as a district councillor.

This was refuted by Cllr Giles, who said the meeting being referred to was at the district council headquarters with a planning officer present.

“What I have always said is that I don’t think it is appropriate for the town council to meet developers in private, even though it is entitled to,” he added.

A report into the behaviour of town councillors published earlier this year concluded that members should attend team building training to improve relationships within the council.

However, it also emerged at last week’s assembly that a meeting called last week to discuss the issue was not attended by Mr Giles.

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