Is a Metro Mayor the key to future prosperity in this part of Devon?

The Idea being floated is that devolution would be facilitated if there was a Metro Mayor for the combined area of Exeter, East Devon, Mid Devon and Teignbridge.

The “moles” tell Owl that Devon County Councillor Phil Twiss, as newly appointed cabinet member for finance, is plotting to dismember Devon into several unitary authorities.

Would this proposal pass his “scrutiny”? Probably not because none of these districts is currently Conservative controlled! – Owl 

Daniel Clark, Local Democracy Reporter

Is a Metro Mayor the key to future prosperity in this part of Devon?

It’s been suggested that a Metro Mayor for the area of Exeter, East Devon, Mid Devon and Teignbridge could drive forward infrastructure improvements across the area, boost the economy and support job creation.

Metro mayors hold powers over spatial planning, regional transport, the provision of skills training, business support services, and economic development, and are directly elected by residents.

Cllr Paul Millar floated the idea at East Devon District Council Strategic Planning Committee on Tuesday, June 22, as the best way to get the ‘first class infrastructure’ that the region needs in order to flourish and prosper.

His suggestion would see the authorities of Exeter, East Devon, Mid Devon and Teignbridge – who were working together on a combined Greater Exeter Strategic Plan until it collapsed last summer – prepare a shared vision for devolution as they begin work on their joint, non-statutory strategic plan.

Why do we need a Strategic Plan?

The Greater Exeter Strategic Plan (GESP) was to be the formal, statutory planning framework for development across Exeter, East Devon, Mid Devon and Teignbridge, but collapsed after East Devon and then Mid Devon pulled out last summer.

However, the four councils did all agree that in its place there should be a non-statutory Joint Strategy covering infrastructure matters that affect the four areas, and on Tuesday East Devon joined Mid Devon in agreeing to support the scope, resourcing, timetable and governance arrangements.

The Joint Strategy is an opportunity for the authorities to jointly identify a clear, ambitious future for the area, demonstrate a commitment to joint working on strategic matters and distil the key strategic issues facing the area. It would enable each of the authorities’ Local Plans to respond in a way that reflects local conditions, support joint evidence preparation where appropriate, and act as a prospectus to lever in external funding to overcome strategic issues and unlock development.

The case for having a Metro Mayor

Cllr Millar, speaking at the meeting, suggested that given the scope and the ‘recognisable brand’ of the Greater Exeter region, a Metro Mayor for the area may be a sensible route to achieve some of the aims.

He said: “It is important we retain the Greater Exeter brand as the region has a bright future and when you look at the rest of the country, to get first class infrastructure, the answer tends to be Metro Mayors, so I can see the Greater Exeter brand leading us down that route, so have there been discussion among authorities on what the branding may be at this stage?”

After the meeting, Cllr Millar added: “Take Greater Manchester and their Metro Mayor Andy Burnham, who is bringing public transport back under public control, making bus travel more affordable. Metro mayors have independence from their political parties, thus being able to get things done without the usual point scoring.

“We’re still working together on a joint plan as four authorities, but leaders are seemingly ashamed to refer to the idea of a ‘Greater Exeter’ since the GESP died.

“As a fairly recent graduate, I want to see the South West deliver more jobs and a greater range of them. Andy Burnham didn’t just get a massive transport budget and powers to go with them for his beloved Greater Manchester, but generous grants to kickstart apprenticeship schemes. This area desperately needs that to keep more of our young people and with Exeter University, we have the platform to do so.

“I am by all means aware that there are many precarious hoops to jump through before any devolution deal is granted by the government. But the idea of a Greater Exeter City Region – East Devon, Exeter, Mid Devon and Teignbridge – makes a lot of economic sense.”

“For the future prosperity of our area, devolution matters, and a Metro Mayor and four combined unitary authorities would be the best way to achieve that.”

The argument against the Metro Mayor idea

However, Cllr Paul Arnott, leader of East Devon District Council, said that he didn’t expect the Metro Mayor suggestion to be taken up, and that given the backlash against the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan, the four leaders were unanimous in agreeing that the non-statutory strategy had to have a different name.

He said: “I think I don’t see Exeter going in the Metro Mayor direction any time soon. One of the difficulties GESP had was the areas on the extremities – like where I live in Colyton -we do business and look to Taunton and Bridport as much as Exeter and that was the same with far parts of Teignbridge as well.”

Cllr Paul Hayward, deputy leader of the council, added: “We need to seek assurance we are cooperating with the other authorities of South Somerset and Dorset as well.

“Axminster has a lot of interest in sites for development, as does Colyton and Seaton, Lyme Regis is looking to Uplyme to solve some of its problems, Chard is encroaching south into East Devon, so there is a great deal of interest along the boundary, so we need an assurance not just looking to the authorities that were in the GESP, but talking to the authorities in the east so what they do doesn’t impact on us and vice versa.”

Following a proposal made by Cllr Mike Allen, the committee voted by nine votes to one, with one abstention, that while they would be engaging a consultant to prepare the Joint Strategy on behalf of the authorities, and any brief would include the statement that each authority will consume its own housing need.

2 thoughts on “Is a Metro Mayor the key to future prosperity in this part of Devon?

  1. Dismembering Devon into several unitary authorities would be a good thing. I’m quite confident that this is not Cllr Twiss’s plan and that your moles are mistaken. What I believe he would want is one super-sized unitary authority in Devon which would be bad for local democracy, but preferable, in my view, to the outdated two-tier system we have now. Middle tier authorities really need to be abolished in England as they have been in Wales and Scotland. They are dinosaur institutions.


    • Government views the optimum size for new unitaries as no larger than 600,000 (with minimum of 300,000). So super-sized authority unlikely, more like combining 2,3,or 4 districts.


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