The two local authorities are currently in the middle of a major consultation exercise to find out what the public thinks about the council “marriage” plans. And South Hams Liberal Democrats have launched their own campaign opposed to the merger proposals.
Following a Totnes public meeting organised by the political party, the Liberal Democrats claimed that not one person there was in favour of the merger.
They claimed that the move would fail to close the budget black hole the district council faces by 2020.
And they added: “The merger could also potentially lead to the closure of Follaton House – the biggest employer in the Totnes area – and the building of a new headquarters for the merged council somewhere more central, at great expense and with damaging consequences for the Totnes economy.”
Meanwhile South Hams District Council has launched a You-Tube campaign to explain details of the possible merger and organised a series of drop-in events across the district for members of the public to talk to their local councillors about the proposals.
South Hams and West Devon have been forging ever closer links for years sharing services and top officers to save cash.
Faced with ever-increasing government cuts in local council cash support – which is due to disappear altogether – alongside stringent caps on council tax increases the district council claims it will run out of money in three years time if the merger does not go ahead.
Opponents claim that South Hams taxpayers will be hit with major tax rises to bring the two authorities’ independent tax bills into line and that the wealthier South Hams District Council will be bailing the smaller West Devon Borough Council out of a financial mess.
The merger will also leave a question mark over the future of both local authorities’ current council headquarters – Follaton House in Totnes and Kilworthy Park in Tavistock.
Following the Liberal Democrat organised meeting at the Royal Seven Stars Hotel, Totnes, a spokesman said: “Scores of people at a public meeting in Totnes on Thursday unanimously opposed the proposed merger of South Hams District Council and West Devon Borough Council.
“After hearing arguments against the merger put forward by three Liberal Democrat district councillors, and then nearly an hour of public questions, not one person in the room was in favour of the merger going ahead.
“All five Liberal Democrat councillors on SHDC opposed the merger, along with two Conservative councillors including Cllr Trevor Pennington, who attended the public meeting in Totnes. All the other Tory councillors voted together in favour of the plan – despite some of them being known to have misgivings.”
Totnes’ Liberal Democrat district councillor John Birch said: “West Devon Borough Council is a failing council and South Hams residents are being asked to pay more council tax to bail them out. Normally a rise of more than £5 a year would have to be approved by a referendum across the district, but South Hams residents will have to pay a lot more than that if this plan goes ahead and without having a say.”
The consultation exercise closes on Sunday, October 8 after which both local authorities will have to decide whether to go ahead with the merger.
SHDC organised council merger drop-in events will be held at Follaton House, Totnes between 6.30pm and 8pm on Wednesday, August 30; Rattery Village Hall Market between 9.30am and 11am on Tuesday, September 5; Yealmpton Parish Rooms between 4pm and 7pm on Thursday, September 7; South Brent Old School centre between 10am and noon on Saturday, September 9; Salcombe Whitestrand between 10am and noon on Saturday, September 9; Active Ivybridge at Ivybridge between 10am and 4pm on Sunday, September 10; Kingsbridge Library between 3pm and 6pm on Monday, September 11; Woolwell Centre at Woolwell between 3pm and 7pm on Tuesday, September 12; the Watermark Library at Ivybridge between 3pm and 6pm on Thursday, September 14; the Memorial Hall in Modbury between 3pm and 7pm on Tuesday, September 19; the Flavel Centre at Dartmouth between 4pm and 7pm on Wednesday, September 20 and again on Tuesday, September 26.