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OTTERY:Councillor walks out of meeting over housing row

Thursday, 12 December 2013

A heated row over potential housing development in West Hill caused an Ottery St Mary town councillor to walk out of a meeting, amid claims that he had breached council confidentiality rules.
Councillor Roger Giles left a meeting of the town council, after claiming he had been “put on trial” by other members of the council.
Councillor Paul Lewis had called for a vote on whether Councillor Giles had breached confidentiality rules by making public the proposal that councillors should have a private meeting with Persimmon Homes, who are interested in an area of land adjacent to Higher Broad Oak Road in West Hill. No formal planning application has yet been made.
Councillor Giles agreed he had informed Ottery’s East Devon District Councillor and Devon County Councillor Claire Wright of the proposal to meet privately with Persimmon, which was later published on Councillor Wright’s website.
The council decided, by seven votes to five, that Councillor Giles had broken the rules on confidentiality, but a second vote to determine whether he should be suspended from the Planning Committee until May was defeated. Both Councillor Giles and Councillor Wright left the meeting after the second vote took place.
Councillor Giles said: “There is no way in the world that the council meeting a developer could be considered confidential information. It is completely ridiculous.”
He later told Pulman’s View: “What I did was quite right and proper. They were out to get me and have damaged my reputation. It was bullying.”
Councillor Wright said she was sorry to have witnessed the debate and described proceedings as a “show trial”. Writing on her website, she said the discussion was a “carefully choreographed attempt to cause maximum public humiliation” and that councillors “acted as judge, jury and executioners”.
A town council spokesperson said the mayor was investigating the allegation.
Members of a campaign group set up to resist housing development in West Hill also reacted angrily to news that a private meeting had been proposed.
West Hill resident Jennie Elliott, who is heading the “Save West Hill” campaign, was angry that members of the public would be excluded from the meeting and that the minutes would not be published.
She told the meeting: “It does give us concern that you are meeting behind closed doors. How do we know what incentives are going to be put to you at this meeting?”
Dick Beardsall, chairman of the West Hill Residents’ Association, said that the area of land was deemed “not developable” in East Devon District Council’s strategic housing land availability assessment, and backed calls for the meeting to be held in public.
The proposal that the minutes of the meeting be recorded and published was made by Councillor Giles and seconded by Councillor Jessica Bailey, but only five of the 14 town councillors voted in favour.
Councillor Wright, writing on her website, called the decision “inexplicable” and “disappointing”.
But Mayor of Ottery St Mary, Councillor Glyn Dobson, insisted that the meeting was being held on the advice of EDDC and that similar meetings had taken place on six occasions in recent years.
He said: “If we did not meet with the developers we would not be able to have a public exhibition. We do not take these meetings lightly and we will not commit ourselves in any way.”

All content © of Pulmans Weekly News unless stated otherwise.

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