The beautiful counties of Devon and Somerset are facing an enormous threat, one of the worst we have faced for hundreds of years; but it is not an external enemy, not piracy, or invasion, it is a home grown threat. The plans drawn up for our future, plans created behind closed doors and within very small circles sees our counties laid out on a table, turned into statistics and figures and carved up amongst a small cartel of property developers, government advisors and investors.
Devolution is going to hand power to this group of people, the Local Enterprise Partnership and it could happen this year. They are a self-appointed, private group, who meet in secret, have no head office, avoid consultation or publicity and are almost totally unaccountable. You can’t take out a freedom of information to check what they are up to. This is the list of them:
HotSW (Heart of the South West) LEP (Local Enterprise Partnership)
Chief Executive & Non-Executive Directors
Nicholas Ames: Managing Director of Supacat (armoured vehicles)
Simon Barker: Agusta Westland
Stephen Bird: Managing Director SW Water
Frances Brennan (Vice Chair HotSWLEP): Welfare to Work sector
Martin Brown: high-tech, cyber security
Adam Chambers: CEO Peninsula Enterprise, Serco
Stephen Criddle: Prinicipal, S Devon College
Cllr Paul Diviani: Leader of EDDC, (founder of EDBF)
Nick Engert: Planning Consultant
Cllr Tudor Evans: Leader of Plymouth City Council
Cllr David Hall: Deputy Leader Somerset Co Council, Consultancy, Property Company
Steve Hindley (Chair of HotSWLEP): Chair of Midas Group, Construction Industry
Tim Jones: Chair of Devon & Cornwall Business Council, Property Development
Cllr Andrew Leadbetter: Director of Income Generation for Conservative Party, economy
Gordon Oliver: Mayor & Leader of Torbay Council, Estate Agent, Property management
Prof Judith Petts: Vice Chancellor, Plymouth Uni, science
Barbara Shaw: Chief Exec Westward Housing Group
Cllr Harvey Siggs: Leader Mendip District Council, transport & highways
Steve Smith: Vice Chancellor, Chief Exec of Exeter Uni
Martha Wilkinson: Chief Exec Devon Community Foundation, economic devt consultant
Chris Garcia (Chief Exec HotSWLEP): economic development
They do declare their interests and belonging to a masonic lodge seems to be a common theme. Looking at them, one thing in particular stands out and that is their shared interest in construction and development. Their plan for our future, their statement of intent, which although they now protest they wrote jointly with local councils, but which bears such a striking resemblance to the bid they wrote almost a year ago, before councils got involved as to make that claim ridiculous, is almost entirely about building. They want to build business parks, by-passes, 179,000 houses, nothing but growth and building and concreting over our countryside. There is nothing about social housing or affordable housing, very, very little about the countryside, or tourism, or sustainability. The bid is nothing but a carving up of our historic, beautiful place into what they want to happen, in other words this is just about a few people making an awful lot of money and destroying the West Country as they do so.
This is a picture taken from their statement of intent…
The red spots indicate growth areas and growth areas to the LEP, mean building business parks and houses. Now there is obviously a strong case to be made for growth in the West Country, we need investment and if the LEP were more open and were not made up almost entirely of people who will benefit from all this building, then I would look at it with a less sceptical eye. There has been no consultation however, although they are claiming a democratic mandate to their plans. This is based on the fact that all the district councils have signed up to the bid. The councils signed up because they had no choice, that is the councillors who do not work in development or are not in the inner circle, those that are signed up enthusiastically and are represented on the board; but the other councillors, councillors from my local area were coerced into doing so and I know this because they told me and they have told each other. My council, South Hams, were given about 20 minutes to look through the bid and were informed by the head of the council that they had no choice but to sign up. If they did not, they would lose more funding, if they did, then the government would let the millions of pounds they have taken from council budgets to be released through the LEP. The millions of pounds that the LEP control is to be spent on mega projects, which will profit them, not on keeping the roads going, or on libraries or paying for planners. ‘We are being held over a barrel’, the Tory leader of the council announced. Most of the council had not heard of the LEP before the meeting, where they were supposed to sign up to the biggest change to local democracy for hundreds of years.
Once devolution has gone through and in conjunction with new powers and the lifting of restrictions as enabled by the Infrastructure and Devolution Act and the Housing Bill, devolution will hand planning decisions, health care, roads and a raft of other local council responsibilities to the LEP and a combined super council based in Somerset (possibly). Healthcare experts see this as yet another nail in the heart of the NHS, privatisation by the back door, handing healthcare to a group of businessmen and carefully selected councillors, who can break it up and sell it off, whilst managing to make it look as if this was the responsibility and fault of local authorities and not the government. Its very clever and very alarming.
A couple of weeks ago, an LEP councillor from Plymouth announced the go-ahead of an LEP plan in Plymouth to build an enormous new marina there. This might be a great plan, but it should be known that the contract has been given to Midas, whose CEO is on the LEP board. How can this not be a conflict of interest? This needs to be a transparent process, but nobody is talking about the LEP or devolution. There’s very, very little in the press or on the TV, a member of the LEP in Cornwall is the managing editor of the BBC in Cornwall. This may be absolutely fine, but I think its not. There is no transparency, no consultation; if you phone the number they give you on their website http://www.heartofswlep.co.uk/ it diverts you to a call centre in Yeoville, where you are informed by a young man there, that he doesn’t work for the LEP, but can send them messages. This is an organisation that is funded to the tune of hundreds of millions of pounds from the public purse and Europe. How can they not have a telephone line, how can they not have a head office, its like 1984.
Have a look at any of the recent controversial developments going on down here and you are likely to see the hand of the LEP, their board have fingers in many pies; arms manufacturing and cyber security are on the list and that takes us down a road leading to Hinkley. One of the board members Nicolas Ames, is the head of Supacat, who make armoured vehicles, they are about to branch out into nuclear waste. One of the biggest projects the LEP is involved in is Hinkley C, they are basing most of their growth forcasts on Hinkley going ahead. They are spending millions and millions of public money on investment in this extremely controversial scheme on the Somerset coast. This investment is not being scrutinized in any serious or transparent way that I, or any members of the public can see. A nuclear engineer, who is involved in the campaign group South Devon Watch finds the LEPs involvement in Hinkley C extremely worrying. The fact that they operate in secret and yet have so much of our money wrapped up in Hinkley does not encourage confidence.
I could go on and on; the list of LEP schemes and conflict of interests would take pages, but overall I want to emphasise what is happening to Devon and Somerset, my home, which is under threat from these people. If they are allowed to get away with it, we will look back in 20 years time at our devestated landscape, our blighted fields, our disenfranchised populace and realise that we were under attack and that we didn’t know.