No sooner have we at Totnes Pulse worked our socks off explaining what the Freeport is all about (see here), along comes yet another chunk of local government change on the horizon. Devon Devolution Deal anyone?
Yes, a new layer of local government to get excited about….
It’s a combined county authority which, if approved, would join South Hams, Torbay and other local councils together. It is all part of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act. But is this a regeneration game we want to play?
The Pulse has contacted the oracle on planning matters, Richard Howell from the South Hams Society. He says no decision should be made before the next General Election. Consultation with us, the voters and council tax payers, hasn’t happened yet but must be starting soon as the decision is, it seems , going to be taken next March – that’s just three months away.
To be taken in without consent is both unacceptable and profoundly undemocratic.
The leader of Devon County Council, Cllr John Hart, has told the press there will be a consultation and “the county council will approve the deal at its cabinet meeting in March.” This will then be ratified by full council shortly afterwards, he said.
Richard Howell said:”Even if residents take the trouble to express their views, both to our District Councillors and through the promised consultation, we effectively have no say. The ‘Deal’ can be imposed upon us whether we like it or not. For neither we nor our District Councillors are to be given a vote. To be taken in without consent is both unacceptable and profoundly undemocratic.”
The Deal was first discussed in 2022 but since then Plymouth City Council has withdrawn, with new Labour leader Tudor Evans branding it “unreasonable and unrealistic”. Because Torbay and Plymouth are unitary authorities (not part of DCC) they get a say. The districts still within DCC do not.
South Hams council would get two councillors on the new combined authority. The Government says the Deal is “groundbeaking”.
The Government has chosen Devon and Torbay as one of only a small number of local authority areas in the country to form a Combined County Authority (CCA), and will not require an elected Mayor, nor the creation of a new unitary authority.
The new powers would be devolved to a proposed CCA partnership comprising Councillors representing the councils of Devon and Torbay, including District Councils, and representatives from business and education.
The ‘Deal’ can be imposed upon us whether we like it or not
Cllr Hart said: “The prospect of finalising a Deal is hugely significant. It will put Devon and Torbay in a new and very different relationship with Government, one where we will have a stronger voice in Whitehall and an ability to influence policy for the benefit of our residents, communities, and businesses.” (Devon County Council press release).
So what might this Deal do for us in the South Hams? It might be great. But we don’t know the details.
Richard Howell again; “According to Cllr Hart one advantage of the ‘Deal’ will be the ability ‘to shape Homes England funding which can support the delivery of housing and economic growth. As responsibility for affordable housing sits with Districts, this is one example of a benefit.’ It might also be thought to explain why Sir Keir Starmer would like to give CCAs more control over housing and planning in order to block out the blockers, in the process removing those controls from our directly elected local representatives.
“Separately, and from inception, the Authority is to take over the Local Transport Authority Functions held by Devon County Council and Torbay Council, in the process assuming responsibility for producing an integrated transport plan for Devon and Torbay. ‘Ironically’, as Cllr Hart points out, ‘we work together on this already’, so it is open to question what, if anything, the new authority will be able to add.”
A loss of democracy
Richard continued: “Even if residents take the trouble to express their views, both to our District Councillors and through the promised consultation, we effectively have no say. The ‘Deal’ can be imposed upon us whether we like it or not. For neither we nor our District Councillors are to be given a vote.
“Going ahead is also unwise. Until all costs are known, all future functions and responsibilities are clarified, and future funding for at least the duration of the next parliament is committed, any decision should be delayed. Otherwise, and for many years to come, we could all be picking up the bill for what will possibly prove to be an unnecessary layer of local government and getting very little, if anything, in return.”