We have nothing to hide, says council
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Councillors have defended their decision to hold a private meeting with a developer, saying their only aim is to keep residents informed.
Members of Ottery Town Council are set to meet informally with representatives of Persimmon Homes, who are understood to be interested in building on land in West Hill.
But at last week’s council meeting, concerns were raised over the ethics of holding a ‘closed door meeting’ with no record of what was discussed.
Mayor Glyn Dobson said the council ‘did not take such meetings lightly’, and that the goal was to persuade the developer to hold a public exhibition.
He said: “We have probably had six meetings with different developers in the past five years – and we have been successful in every one to get them to hold an exhibition.”
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Councillor Ian Holmes added: “When a developer comes to us, we ask if it can be a public meeting – but at this stage they said no.”
And councillor Paul Lewis said it was rare that questions were asked of the developer. “They are purely presenting information to us,” he added.
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But West Hill resident Jennie Elliot said there was an ethical issue of holding a ‘closed door meeting’.
“How does this bring balance to a process that is going to be controversial anyway?” she asked. “And how do we know what incentives are going to be put on the table?”
Higher Metcombe resident Carol Royal said she thought the council ‘needed to be transparent in this day and age’, and Councillor Jo Talbot said she felt the council was ‘selling residents down the river’ by meeting developers in private.
A spokesman for East Devon District Council (EDDC) said no specific advice had been given to Ottery Town Council regarding when and how to conduct informal pre-application discussions with developers.
“Our advice was merely that there was no reason not to have such a meeting,” they added. “National planning guidance encourages councils at all levels to engage in informal talks with developers – and vice versa.”
“The major objective is to ensure that local community needs and preferences are taken fully into account when an application is submitted.”
“EDDC engages in so-called pre-application talks with developers and it is entirely proper that developers should expect a degree of confidentiality when discussing proposals that could well be the subject of land values that would interest their competitors.”