The leader of the district council has waded into the controversy over a meeting on housing numbers where the public were not allowed to speak by praising the chairman of the committee.

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Paul Diviani sent an internal email calling Councillor Mark Williamson ‘masterly, restrained and a credit to the council’ for the way he handled last week’s Development Management Committee.

More than 150 members of the public had turned to speak out against a proposed policy change which would allow thousands more houses to be built in East Devon.

They protested against increased countryside development outside Knowle beforehand, but once they were inside the chamber Cllr Williamson said they were not allowed to speak.

He said the report delivered to the committee about sorting out a five-year land supply, a list of housing sites for development, was for councillors only and not public debate.

This led to a furious chorus of heckles and claims East Devon District Council (EDDC) was stifling debate and gagging residents on this highly important issue.

But Cllr Diviani, who was at last Tuesday’s meeting, took a different view.

Writing to committee chairman the EDDC leader said: “May I just say that the quality of debate yesterday was excellent and you followed a logical path in your deliberations.”

He even compared the meeting to new a new television show about council planning departments, adding: “Perhaps if the BBC had covered your meeting, they might raise the standards of ‘The Planners’!”

On the complaints from people over the lack of debate or public speaking Cllr Diviani said there was ‘obvious (if sad) politicking over the housing numbers’.

“There will be criticism over ‘democratic deficit’ in terms of the rules of debate, but that is sadly, what we have come to expect,” he added.

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