A view on the latest developments from SHDC

In view of some the public speculation about South Hams District Council’s possible development of some of the public car parks of Totnes, as an ex-chair of The Totnes Conservative Association I welcome the opportunity given to me by The Totnes Pulse to put across my viewpoint.

Some background;

Perhaps it is first important to understand the area and political make up of South Hams District Council. It consists of 20 Wards within which there are several sizeable towns. Totnes (8k people), Kingsbridge (18k), Dartmouth(9k), Ivybridge (12k) etc. Covering the 20 wards are 30 councillors. There are 24 Conservative councillors, 4 Lib Dems councillors and 2 Green Party councillors. The majority of the wards are covered solely by Conservative councillors. The exceptions being: –
Charterlands (one councillor, Lib Dem)
Newton and Yealmpton (two councillors , one Lib Dem and one Conservative)
Dartington and Staverton (one councillor, Green Party)
Totnes (three councillors, two LibDem and one Green Party)
Totnes is therefore a relatively small part of the area administered by SHDC.
Before commenting on recent events with regards to the central car parking areas of Totnes it is perhaps better to look back to 2016 and the fear raised that the Market Square (T3) had the potential to be developed. For twenty years before 2016 T3 had sat in the Local Plans, DPD etc as part of the Heath Garden site for possible development. As other areas of the overall site were eroded away with the Grove School expansion and Leechweel Garden the focus started to fall on T3 as one of the few central town areas left for redevelopment. Note; redevelopment does not necessarily mean building houses as we have seen with Leechwell Garden. A campaign was started, primarily led by Georgina Allen to seek assurances from SHDC that no development would ever take place leading to the loss of the Market Square and that T3 should be removed once and for all from the Local Plan. SHDC gave an assurance that no development was planned for T3 but fell short of removing it from the development plan.

A public meeting was subsequently organised by Georgina Allen which was held at the Totnes Civic Hall on Saturday 22nd October 2016.

It would be a very foolish housing secretary who would then over-rule this decision

No Conservative councillors were invited to attend, and neither was myself as chair of Totnes Conservatives. At that time, not being particularly engaged in social media, I saw a small poster in a shop window advertising the event and went along. The meeting was very well attended and public opinion was firmly for pressurising SHDC to remove T3 from any future development plan. Towards the end of the meeting a lady stood up and expressed her concern that Totnes has 3 District Councillors at SHDC and why weren’t they doing something about it? Their reply was; they are a minority and have very little influence when it comes to a vote. It is also worth noting at this point that SHDC were not doing anything wrong by leaving T3 in any future plan. I could see that there was likely to be no satisfactory conclusion to the matter in the near future and arranged a meeting with Georgina Allen to discuss, as I too was concerned that a threat of development could remain hanging over the Market Square. It was clear that we needed a catalyst to get things changed. That catalyst came in the form of Cllr Rose Rowe (Cllr for Dartmouth and East Dart). Rose has lived in and around Totnes all her life and was keen to take up the challenge to get T3 removed. Rose lobbied other council colleagues to support a motion to remove T3 from the development plan. Together with the 3 Totnes District Councillors this lobbying precipitated in the removal of T3 from any future development plan early in 2017.

Back to the present

This now brings me back to the present day and new concerns about The Nursery, Heath’s Nursery and HeathWay car parks.
Presently Local Authorities have a difficult task in meeting housing needs and pressure is being put on them to explore using any land assets that they may have, or suffer the consequence.

Governmental obligations

As reported in The Guardian Sun 4 Mar 2018  “Nimby” councils that don’t build enough homes will be stripped of the right to decide where new houses are placed in their area under plans to be launched by Theresa May on Monday. Housing secretary Sajid Javid warned local authorities he would be “breathing down your neck every day and night” to ensure home-building targets were met.

SHDC is therefore under an obligation to constantly review its land assets and I believe that is what is at present happing with the central Totnes car parks. SHDC will put forward various proposals for housing, more parking or leave as it is. The Town Council will consider whether it is something worth exploring further and also consider options that it may wish to put forward. If the answer is no; then SHDC has carried out its obligation to the government to explore more housing on its own land. It would be a very foolish housing secretary who would then over rule this decision, especially with such an active MP as we are fortunate enough to have.
I was born in Totnes and have now lived here again for the last 14 years and have no wish to see it desecrated, and if the central area comes under threat against the wishes of the people I will once again get mobilized, but meanwhile I am not prepared to get involved in some “Pied Piper” political game. Totnes has 3 District Councillors and next May we go to the polls. I really think we need one of those councilors to be a Conservative so that Totnes can be fully engaged with SHDC. It seems to work in other South Hams wards.

Agree, disagree? There is always a right to reply. Use the comment below;


  2 comments for “A view on the latest developments from SHDC

  1. georgina allen
    13th November 2018 at 11:24 pm

    This all appears pretty accurate to me Richard; there are parts I might have included and other areas that I might have stressed, but I’m glad that you will get mobilized alongside us if needed. What are your thoughts about SHDC delegating what should be democratic decisions on where to spend the £60million they are borrowing to their asset manager and that decisions on how to increase revenue from their assets be taken only by the executive committee. I personally find it very concerning and undemocratic, possibly even unlawful. What do you think? Ps I think all this talk about Pied Pipers etc is a little premature! 🙂

    • Richard O'Connell
      14th November 2018 at 9:16 pm

      Well Georgina, we seem to have headed off in another direction, but I will answer to the best of my ability. Firstly it may be helpful to read this document. This is a House of Commons briefing paper for Local Government Commercial Property Investments dated 16 February 2018. District Councils are year on year losing government funding to the point that they need to become self sufficient. They therefore need to increase income, and/or reduce spending. Raising Council Tax is an option but requires a public referendum if they to wish to raise it to keep ahead of the government cuts. Will the public vote for a rise in Council Tax? I think not. Cutting services in line with the reductions is also an option and may work if you only want your bins emptied once a year. It has therefore become the norm since 2010 for Local Authorities to invest in commercial property to seek a return. It certainly seems to have given West Devon a paddle when then found themselves up a certain creek last year. SHDC already have a property management team who run their already existing, but relatively small property portfolios. I would say that most of the Councilors on SHDC have little or no experience of running a commercial property portfolio and it therefore seems sensible to delegate this task to the officers experienced in this field. Provided the delegation to the officers was taken via a full Council vote I am not sure that you claim that what they have done is possibly unlawful, actually stands. I suppose the ultimate question is; what would you do as Leader to generate funds, given the present set of circumstances the District Council faces??

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