Labour has promised to give all towns and cities in England new powers, along with funding, to kick-start local economies - but what would that look like in the South Hams? What isn’t clear yet is which of these new powers will be given to the grass roots town councils.
We asked the town Mayors what they thought.
Cllr David Wells in Dartmouth said: ‘’I believe more powers to local councils would benefit the community. Within Dartmouth the council would like to regain areas within the community that would bring in income that would support local transport, i.e. a better bus service, review how park and ride could be used in a more beneficial way to stop the congestion with parking within the town, to have more say about affordable homes for local families and workers. Local decisions for local people.’’
Meanwhile in Salcombe Cllr Mark Goodey said: ‘’As many as possible! Surely decisions that are made locally by local people who understand the local difficulties have got to be best, one rule cannot fit every community and area of the UK.
“Cities and rural communities oft have similar problems but the solution to them will be totally different.”
In Kingsbridge, Cllr Philip Cole remarked: ‘’My understanding of the situation is that the new devolved powers will only be awarded to principal authorities (so possibly Devon County Council and South Hams District Council) - who have control over housing, schooling, planning and transport etc. Sadly it will not involve smaller units such as ourselves (who do not have control over such areas) as otherwise every parish council in the country will be clamouring for their local car park as an income stream! Let’s wait and see what transpires - but I genuinely don’t think this will be for us.’’
In Totnes, Cllr Emily Price said: “We would welcome plans to devolve more strategic decisions to a local level. Totnes town council has long been urging higher authorities to engage more proactively, and strategically, with issues such as the town’s economic development, public infrastructure and transport, and the climate crisis.
Some of the proposals set out by Starmer’s devolution plan would allow towns to make decisions and develop strategies, to better respond to local need and challenges. For example the crisis in affordable and social housing (which is currently being dealt with by building large estates of unaffordable housing), the problem with privatised bus services, which are organised around profitability, rather than also around school access/timings, needed provision in rural areas, and reduction of car use etc. (If we want rural communities to use cars less, they need regular, reliable alternatives). And so on. I think communities across the country would benefit from being able to make more of the strategic decisions around their specific needs and challenges, rather than a one-size fits all strategy imposed from Westminster.
“Currently, Totnes Town Council has a great deal of will to engage with these issues, but little power or resource to take the necessary steps, so this initiative could be extremely helpful.
“The devil is in the detail, of course, so it will be interesting, should a labour Government be elected, to see how the devolution plans manifest in terms of real funding and authority.”
Ivybridge Cllr Alan Spencer, was also invited to contribute but his comments had not been received by the time of publication.