It’s been a fascinating run up to the 2015 election.
I’ve enjoyed dropping off my leaflets to the houses in Feniton, Gittisham and Buckerell and chatting to those who were at home and had time to talk to me. People are really engaged with this election and want to talk about national issues as much as local ones … and there was a lot of interest in the ‘rise of the Independents’, as one resident described it.
There were several recurring themes which were of concern to everyone in my ward … planning inevitably being at the top of the list.
On the stump, Question 1:
What about the attenuation tanks?
This is a continuing issue in Feniton, where developer Wainhomes eventually succumbed to pressure from me, the Parish Council, EDDC and the media, and provided the attenuation tanks which were required of them following the planning inquiry in 2012. However, the Parish Council is not happy with the system the developer was forced to install and has grave concerns that the tanks will fail. This is an unresolved issue and a great worry to those who live ‘downstream’ of the site.
There is quite reasonably very little faith in developers and the promises they make to sweeten the offer of concreting over precious sites. Residents still bemoan the loss of the tennis courts which were such a feature of life in Feniton before the developer of the existing Acland Park site bulldozed them in pursuit of profit. Promises were made that they would be reinstated, but the tennis courts never reappeared.
On the stump, Question 2:
Whatever happened to the Graham Brown affair?
The police investigation into former Councillor Graham Brown was closed with no action taken in 2014 as there was insufficient evidence to take the case forward. End of story.
My concern is not with the individual, but what process allowed anyone whose main source of income was building and development to be put in a position of such authority (he was for some time Chairman of the Local Development Framework panel, the committee set up to steer the Council towards adoption of a Local Plan, identifying possible sites for development and deciding on strategic allocations for development within the district), and who must have found it extremely difficult not to confuse the two roles. I have called on a number of occasions for an internal inquiry at EDDC to look into the lapse in decision-making which allowed this to happen. Each time I posed the question, I was met with the response that the matter was in the hands of the police and therefore any internal investigation would be inappropriate.
At the full Council meeting in December, and given that the police investigation had concluded, I asked the question again.
I was surprised on this occasion when my request for an internal inquiry was met with the minimal response, ‘Why?’, with no further explanation. In other words, whether the former councillor was charged with any misdemeanour or not, EDDC never had any intention of conducting a full internal inquiry.
Something to think about for the next council.
On the stump, Question 3:
What is the East Devon Alliance?
There was lots of interest on the doorstep in this umbrella organisation formed to support independent candidates.
It’s a lonely business being an Independent.
I chose to stand as an Independent in 2013 so that I was not constrained by party politics which, to my mind, should have no business in local government. But standing alone means that you don’t have the backup of the party machine to write your leaflet for you and even pay for it to be printed, as well as the advice of those who have been councillors before.
Had it existed at that time, I would have welcomed the help and advice of the East Devon Alliance to steer me through the minefield of the election process. Two years on and EDA candidates have the support of their leader, Cllr Ben Ingham, whose 25 years of experience is invaluable to those who don’t know how the system works. Their excellent website (http://www.eastdevonalliance.org.uk/) has given the candidates an on-line profile and their YouTube videos have reached a wide audience.
Once elected, every ‘Independent EDA’ candidate will work hard in their ward and represent that ward at Council. No Party Whip to ‘encourage’ them to vote in a particular way and no question of being lambasted by senior party figures if they fail to conform.
But whatever the issues and whatever hue your politics, the main thing is to make your voice heard and Remember To Vote. The turnout at elections has fallen steadily from an all-time high of 83% in 1950 to just 65% in 2010, reflecting disillusionment and mistrust of party politics.
If you want to change the status quo, Thursday 7 May is the day to make a difference!