Paul Arnott www.midweekherald.co.uk
Throughout the two main years of the Covid-19 crisis, 2020 and 2021, our officers at East Devon (EDDC) gladly took on the extra burden of assessing and then distributing government funds to local businesses, as well as delivering extra help to individuals really struggling to cope.
One of the central boasts of 45 years of Conservative rule at EDDC until 2019 was the artificial suppression of council tax rises. This went hand in hand with not bothering to review car park charges, maintain assets such as the Exmouth Pavilion theatre, or do anything about our public loos.It also led to a “pared-to-the-bone” approach to Human Resources.
Yet despite this, in the middle of the pandemic, our officers were obliged to take part in “Levelling-Up” bids to government for “oven-ready” projects, with just weeks to get the paperwork in. Yet this was always a classic, all mouth no trousers, Boris Johnson approach to the serious matter of funding regional infrastructure. Nevertheless, our terrific officers burned the midnight oil to submit bids.
Devon County Council (DCC) is the highways authority and so (using much work by EDDC) submitted a bid for new works in the approach to Exmouth around the station. We were pleased with this, as it had the potential to fit in with out own Placemaking work in Exmouth of the last two years, soon to bear the essential fruit of well-consulted concepts, so that progress can be made with as much local support as possible.
DCC also included completing the Dinan Way road extension in the north of Exmouth, a piece of transport infrastructure first promised half a century ago as the exponential growth of housing in that area really took off. Ordinarily the funds for this might have come from the Highways Agency, but DCC saw an opportunity, won the signature of local MP Simon Jupp, and got the thumbs up last week at last. The Democratic Alliance administration will continue to work together with all parties to improve Exmouth.
However, the other scheme submitted – for works in Axminster and Seaton – lost its key signatory in the very week it was handed in. Neil Parish, the former MP, left office at a crucial time, having personally promised me (the day before he resigned) that he’d do all he could to get these projects approved too.
His replacement, Richard Foord MP (Lib Dem), moved like greased lightning the minute he was voted in to sign off in support himself. He also – quite rightly – backed the Cullompton relief road, a seriously overdue and desperately needed scheme in Mid-Devon.
Last week, it was announced that Axminster, Cullompton and Seaton were all unsuccessful. I offer no further comment.
However, to the people of Axminster and Seaton I would wish to assure them that we’ll be resubmitting bids at the next possible opportunity – there is meant to be a Round Three of Levelling Up. And we will read the feedback from government with genuine respect and in a spirit of seriousness.
On another front I’d like to thank the many friends and colleagues who went across to Dartmoor at the weekend to protest about the loss of the ability to wild camp. This seems to me about the difference between landowners who are genuine stewards of the land which they have the good fortune to own, and those who do not understand such obligations.
All of my four children took part in DofE or Ten Tors expeditions, as did most of their friends. The officers of the Dartmoor National Park authority will, I am sure, strive to negotiate with the landowners for maximum public access.
The protesters behaved immaculately. Now, following their example, it would be a good gesture for the Totnes Conservative Association to return the £5,000 donated to them by the landowner.