Act now and register to vote for the local elections
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It’s good to see letters responding to these columns, some supportive and others critical.
One asked for constructive, local reports, so I’ll do my best. However, it isn’t really possible to separate local from national issues - be warned that politics will creep back in!
There are new developments on two longstanding local schemes. Since it opened several years ago, the Seaton-Colyford section of the Stop Line Way cycle and walking route has been missing a key section through the Wetlands, forcing people back onto the road. It’s a big item in my postbag, and since being elected four years ago, I’ve pressed Devon County Council to purchase the land to join the route up. Frustratingly, negotiations with the landowners dragged on and on, but the council has now issued a compulsory purchase order. When the legal process is complete, we should see work begin, with money in the 2021-22 budget for this.
The other scheme is Seaton Seafront Enhancement, the architect-designed plan which has won overwhelming approval in three public consultations. This has also been delayed, both by negotiations between East Devon District Council and private developers and changes in the Town Council. Recently new momentum had developed, but it turned out that, due to a misunderstanding of Covid-related legal planning deadlines, the existing planning permission had expired. So now I’m supporting efforts by the Town Council and EDDC to get things back on track. On this topic too, my email box has been full – people really care about it.
In the background of both issues – this is where the national angle comes – are the ten years of austerity in local government. Councils depend on central government for most of their funding, and the county council – while aiming to complete the Wetlands section – has ruled out continuing the route from Colyford to Axminster as originally planned. There is, they say, just no funding for rural cycle routes. Likewise, EDDC hasn’t been able to find money for the seafront.
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People think that councils run their own affairs, but what they can do is massively constrained. Devon County Council is about to impose an above-inflation council tax rise for (I think) the seventh year in a row. It’s so unfair on council tax payers but the Government has decided that councils should pay much of the extra bill for social care, rather than increase national taxation for which they would be blamed.
Even in the NHS, which was woefully under-resourced for the pandemic challenge, Devon Clinical Commissioning Group seem to be getting the message from Government that it will be back to normal cost-cutting as soon as circumstances allow. CCG managers are ploughing ahead with a plan to move all services out of Teignmouth Community Hospital and cancel a promised new rehabilitation ward, so that the hospital can be closed and the site sold off.
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Teignmouth was the big issue at last week’s Health Scrutiny Committee. Everyone agreed that the CCG’s consultation was flawed, and the CCG had ignored the committee’s views. But most Conservative councillors plus the Labour vice-chair voted down my proposal to use our only
statutory power, to refer the plan to the Government’s Independent Reconfiguration Panel. Readers may recall that the same thing happened when East Devon hospitals lost their beds. Here, the CCG failed to follow through by closing the hospitals themselves. In Teignmouth, since they are moving all services, there will be nothing to stop closure.
Local and national politics go together. We come up against a government which doesn’t care, and Tory councillors who time and time again fail to stand up for us. Boris Johnson says county elections will be held in May – which probably means they won’t. But they will be held this year. Please act now to register to vote (you can do this online) and to vote safely by getting a postal vote (download a form or phone EDDC). Make sure you have your say!