Party leaders at odds over way forward for northern Devon amid major bid for greater decision making powers for Devon and Somerset
There are fears that North Devon could be left behind should a bid to broker a devolution deal for Devon and Somerset get the go-ahead.
North Devon and Torridge District councils are among 20 South West partners calling on the Government to give the region greater decision-making powers.
But North Devon Council’s Liberal Democrat shadow leader Brian Greenslade has argued that northern Devon needs to make the case for certain powers now – so-called double devolution – or miss out altogether.
At a full council meeting on Wednesday night he said: “If we don’t fight our corner now, I think we could be the losers.
Stuck in a corner
“We need to get our act together and look at North Devon’s needs in relation to this – we don’t want to be stuck in a corner where we are not able to influence our own economy or transportation issues.”
A detailed bid for devolution is expected to be made by partners in the South West Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) at end of November.
A fundamental principle of the bid would be to pass down some of the delivery of powers to economic areas like northern Devon.
But Mr Greenslade feared the area could be ‘brushed aside’ by other, more powerful groups within the LEP area.
He said: “We are peripheral to the area and lack any representation on the LEP board.
“We will have to get our act together on double devolution and push hard for what we want.
“Otherwise we will be brushed aside by powerful groupings like Exeter, East Devon and Teignbridge who have already been working together for some time.”
But Conservative leader of North Devon Council, Des Brailey, argued the council should ‘show solidarity’ with the Heart of the South West bid before pushing for double devolution.
“It is no good planning a second front when we haven’t got the first front through,” he said.
“I have spoken to the leaders of Torridge and Mid Devon district councils and at the moment they believe we should put our efforts into a combined (Devon and Somerset) authority.
“I am very keen that we work in cooperation with people; that we obtain powers to keep our voice and funding to go with it.
“I am keen to work with other partners within a combined authority to be able to strengthen the possibilities for North Devon and other partners.
“We cannot remain an island but I don’t want to muddy the waters to start with.”
Mr Brailey said the main priorities sought from a Devon and Somerset devolution bid were regeneration, transport and health and wellbeing powers.
“We have agreed some red lines,” he added.
“There should be no one mayor to cover the whole area and no boundary changes. Everything else is open for discussion.
“We are at the beginning of the journey but we have got to start somewhere.”
Mr Brailey said he was set to me with other local authority leaders to discuss the devolution bid on Monday, October 5.