West Devon Borough Council has voted against a merger with South Hams District Council – although South Hams, based in Totnes and representing the coastal stretch from Torbay to Plymouth, voted for it.

The following report is taken from the Tavistock Times website tonight (Tues Oct 31), reporting on the West Devon meeting in Tavistock …

In a special full council meeting held this evening, councillors voted 18 to 13 against forming a single council to cover the district of South Hams and the borough of West Devon.

Despite current cost-cutting measures, the councils are facing a combined budget gap of £1.9-million each year after 2020, due to futher government cuts.

During a lengthy discussion on the topic that lasted nearly two and a half hours, councillors debated the merits of uniting forces with South Hams — including the financial benefits — and the potential negatives of such a move.

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.

Among those most vocally against the move was Cllr Robert Oxborough, member for the ward of Tavistock South East, who 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.’

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.’

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.

The council’s press office has since issued the following statement:

Last night, South Hams District Council and West Devon Borough Council voted on the proposal to create one new council.

The results are as follows:

  • In South Hams 19 councillors voted to submit a proposal to the secretary of state, 8 voted against and  3 councillors abstained
  • In West Devon 13 councillors voted to submit a proposal to the secretary of state and 18 voted against the proposal

This means that the proposal to create one new council for South Hams and West Devon will not be submitted to the Secretary of State.

Councillors from both authorities now need some time to regroup and talk to their members before making any further statements about what this outcome means.

all for now …

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  1. I would be interested to know the results of the consultation questionnaire on the proposed merger, many people I know from south hams were against the merger, so did the councillors take the publics view into account? I find it hard to believe the south hams public ‘voted’ by such a margin in favour of the merger. If the councillors ignored the publics opinion, then what does that say about local democracy?

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