Councillors reject merger plan

Ben Fox
Ben Fox

Plans to merge West Devon District Council with South Hams District Council have been thrown up into the air after the former voted against the merger.

West Devon councillors voted 18 to 13 against the plans to form a single district council to cover the two regions.

This vote comes after a public consultation into the plans saw 55.46% of residents in West Devon and 85.98% of those in the South Hams vote against the proposals. The proposals for the merger had originally come about as a way of solving some of the financial burdens that each of the councils were facing, especially since they were starting to receive less and less money from the government.

Despite current cost-cutting measures, the councils are still facing a combined budget gap of £1.9-million each year after 2020, due to further government cuts. The vote took place after a meeting in which councillors discussed the proposals.

Councillors raised issues over council governance, how a reduction in councillors for West Devon could lead to poorer constituent representation and whether the council had had enough time to truly consider the proposals.Cllr James McInnes, member for Hatherleigh and Chagford, voted for the creation of one council.

He said: ‘I am very proud to be a member of West Devon. I care deeply about our area and our council because it has a history of adapting to circumstances, to keep providing services for our residents. We have been through ten years of shared services, even before the 2008 crash. ‘We know more cuts are coming from whichever government is in power. I believe West Devon should take ownership of its own decisions and want to move forward, be proud to take ownership to make the difficult decision and vote for one council.’

Cllr Robert Oxborough, member for the ward of Tavistock South East, initially made a proposal to defer the decision for 12 months. That proposal was voted against by fellow members. He said: ‘It is not a simple, straightforward, easy decision. Despite what impression I may have given other members tonight, it is a 52/48 decision for me. I am just not convinced we know enough about key areas affected by such a decision.’

Cllr Ric Cheadle, member for the Buckland Monachorum ward, was also against the decision. He said: ‘My experience is that bold decisions like that are made best when there is a full command of the information required. Is the council absolutely sure it has checked every corner of its finances and has no other choice but to plunge into a new future like this? My answer would have to be no.’

Cllr Kevin Ball, member for Okehampton Rural, said: ‘I have struggled with making the right decision. I started in the position of being against this.

‘Everyone who has spoken this evening has done so brilliantly, but I still haven’t heard the one thing to make me change my mind. I needed that revelatory comment to change my mind but I’ve not heard it. I think it’s too soon to make this decision.’

South Hams councillors voted in favour of the ‘One Council’ proposal which would have seen the two authorities merge; the vote in the South Hams was 19 in favour of the merger; eight against; three abstained and one councillor was absent from the debate.

Local LifePolitics