Councillor John Hart, Leader of Devon County Council appeared recently on BBC Spotlight, and explained that Devon was unlikely to become a Unitary Authority, because its population, at nearly 800,000, was greater than the Government’s preferred size for a Unitary, which is between 300,000 and 500,000. He may be right: Devon might be too big.
Meanwhile Michael Gove, Minister for the Environment, announces that he is to conduct a national review of National Parks, and says he is keen to create new ones.
Is there an opportunity here to kill two birds with one stone?
The Dartmoor and Exmoor National Parks already exist, and there are proposals for a Dorset and East Devon National Park, and a South Hams National Park. Were these National Parks to be created, and significant powers handed over to them, the rest of Devon’s population would be significantly reduced.
There is also the Tamar Valley AONB and the Blackdown Hills AONB, which could be incorporated into an expanded Dartmoor National Park and Dorset and East Devon National Park respectively.
A redrawing of boundaries to, for example, link the South Hams AONB/National Park with Dartmoor opens the prospect of three large parcels of Devon being created to create new National Parks, which would be at least semi-autonomous administratively from the rest of Devon.
The rump of Devon, still centred upon Exeter, and including, essentially, Teignbridge, Torridge, North Devon, Mid Devon, and much of East Devon, would have a population of around 500,000, and thus meet the Government’s guidelines.
All the existing District Councils would disappear, thus at a stroke removing an entire tier of local government and saving tens of millions of pounds. And the new and expanded National Parks will bring in greatly increased tourism revenue, and provide much-needed protection to our glorious countryside.