PROPOSALS to radically alter the local government fabric of Devon have been on the cards for some time, with the Government seemingly keen on replacing the two-tier system with unitary authorities. The Boundary Committee - part of the Electoral CommissionVIEW THE FULL PROPOSAL DOCUMENT CLICK HERE >>

PROPOSALS to radically alter the local government fabric of Devon have been on the cards for some time, with the Government seemingly keen on replacing the two-tier system with unitary authorities.The Boundary Committee - part of the Electoral Commission - believes the county will be best served by being reorganised into just three councils: Plymouth, Torbay and the rest of Devon.In December, Exeter's bid for unitary status was rejected, although on Monday the committee said it "saw merit" in another authority made up of Exeter and Exmouth.It said proposed Community Boards would "empower" neighbourhoods and be based around Devon's 28 market towns. In the north of the county there would be seven: Barnstaple, Bideford and Northam, Braunton, Great Torrington, Holsworthy, Ilfracombe, Lynton and Lynmouth.They would not replace existing town councils, but be comprised of the town mayor, town or parish councillors, unitary councillors and representatives from statutory groups such as the police and primary care trust.There was a wave of disbelief from the Civic Centre in Barnstaple following Monday's proposals. North Devon Council's submission to the committee had suggested four unitary authorities based around Barnstaple, Plymouth, Torbay and Exeter.Now it is feared a single Devon authority would inevitably be based in Exeter and result in a "north-south divide," with the population in the northern half of the county outnumbered and out-voted by at least two to one."We are stunned by this and cannot believe anyone would propose a council that will represent three-quarters of a million people in one of the most inaccessible areas in the country," said Council Leader and head of the Conservatives, Cllr Mike Harrison. "Dartmoor splits the county in half, creating two distinct communities. One council to serve both where one half carries most of the weight is madness."Councillor Malcolm Prowse, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, said it could be "the death knell for local democracy and the economy in North Devon.""We will not take this decision lying down," he said."This is a public consultation period and we will do our very best to continue to hammer home the importance of North Devon being served by its own council."Deputy leader Cllr Des Brailey said it was "a travesty" and that democracy would suffer."Once it settles, North Devon and Torridge will have 12 and nine unitary councillors respectively - what impact can 21 out of 100 have? I think the community boards will be talking shops. We will haemorrhage up here and I think they have missed a golden opportunity - the north-south divide would have worked very well but clearly they have taken the easy option by leaving Devon as it is."Torridge District Council welcomed the proposals and in a joint statement from the Leader, Councillor James Morrish and chief executive John van de Laarschot, said it captured the essence of the council's own submission to the Boundary Committee.It would, they said, "provide our communities with the best possible services as efficiently as possible and is consequently welcomed."But the statement added: "We are surprised by the decision not to adjust the boundaries for Plymouth and Torbay, bearing in mind the socio-economic challenges faced by these existing unitaries Disappointment"We are disappointed the pivotal question of whether or not to include the capital city of Exeter within the boundaries of the proposed county unitary has not yet been determined and we are a little disappointed our proposals for Market Town Community Networks were not given the same recognition as the Community Boards proposed by the county council. "However we welcome the opportunity to continue a progressive dialogue with the Boundary Committee and will continue to work in helping to shape their final recommendation."In a joint statement, Devon County Council Leader Brian Greenslade and shadow leader Cllr John Hart said:"We welcome the announcement and are pleased the committee has seen strength in the argument put forward by a number of councils, that a single unitary council for Devon is best placed to cut costs, deliver value for money and reduce the burden of council tax."We believe that keeping Devon strong and united will ensure the capacity to manage major services like education and social care for the elderly and to make the big investments needed to invigorate the County's economy and prosperity as a whole."In response to fears of lost democracy, Mr Greenslade told the Gazette he thought it was a predictable reaction, but unfounded."A unitary authority could work very well for the north: I would point to Barnstaple, that I represent - the county council has been a very supportive local authority," he said."Since I have been a Barnstaple county councillor, £100 million in capital investment has flowed into the town and that was achieved through the county democratic system."I believe each of the community boards could have a sum of money of around £200,000 they could use for the benefit of the community."County and district Tory councillor Rodney Cann also supports the proposals:"The bottom line is the taxpayer just wants good services and value for money," he said."Different councils providing services often cause public confusion and this proposal is the best of all worlds, eliminating costly duplication of senior management and providing a population large enough to give significant economies of scale."Now it all goes out to consultation until September 26 and Boundary Committee chairman Max Caller, said: "This proposal takes a fresh look at local government. The Secretary of State has asked us for our advice on unitary local government in Devon. "Your responses to the draft proposal will inform the advice we give, so tell us what you think. More importantly, tell us why you think that."Responses to the draft proposal can be made by filling in an online form at www.boundarycommittee.org.uk - where the proposals can also be viewed - or by writing to: Review Manager, (Devon Review,) The Boundary Committee for England, Trevelyan House, Great Peter Street, London, SW1P 2HW. Alternatively email: reviews@boundarycommittee.org.uk

VIEW THE FULL PROPOSAL DOCUMENT CLICK HERE >>