Council leader pledges to not sell farms

There were rumours the money could go into children’s services

Devon’s county farms will not be sold, the county council’s leader has pledged.

More examples of the state we are in – Owl

Ollie Heptinstall, local democracy reporter

John Hart (Conservative) made the commitment after opposite number Julian Brazil (Lib Dem) claimed he had “heard rumours” they could be sold to pay off a growing overspend in supporting children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

Devon’s total running overspend on the service is projected to be £127 million at the end of this month, rising to £153 million by March 2024.

Councils across the country have been instructed by the government to keep these overspends in ring-fenced accounts separate from its main budget while it develops a new funding model – an arrangement recently extended to 2026.

Negotiations between Devon and the government are ongoing about what will happen to the total – effectively debt – and who will be responsible for paying it off.

Speaking at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday [8 March], Cllr Brazil said: “I think at some stage we’ve got to have a clearer understanding of what that [overspend] is going to entail within the council.

“I’ve heard rumours that we’re going to flog off all our farms in order to pay that off.  That’s the kind of rumour that I’m hearing.”

In response, Cllr Hart said: “I will categorically say to you now, Cllr Brazil, that we are not selling the farms estate … the farms estate is not on the market. They never have been, and I said when I took over the leadership of this council that it was one of the jewels in our crown that I’m most proud of.”

Leader of the Labour group, Cllr Carol Whitton, said she “welcomed” the comments, adding: “It is indeed a real asset that is held by the county council and brings in a useful income.”

She continued: “It is a beacon in our rural agricultural county for best practice and for helping people into that particular industry.”

Devon’s county farms estate contains 3,873 hectares (9,570 acres) of agricultural land and comprises 65 fully equipped residential dairy and mixed livestock farms.

According to the county council, the estates “aims to provide people with their first opportunity to farm but with a view that within a reasonable time frame, they secure an independent livelihood from agriculture.”

Liberal Democrat councillor Alistair Dewhirst said Cllr Hart’s pledge was “really important … because there are many people out there who are really concerned about the situation at Devon County Council with this massive, huge overspend going on that somehow is hidden from public view but we all know is there.”

Updating colleagues, Cllr Andrew Leadbetter (Conservative), cabinet member for children’s services said the council is trying to reach a resolution on the SEND overspend, adding: “I am confident we will sort this out.”

Major Housing Developers Missing Crucial Government Safety Contract To Avoid Ban

Includes Persimmon.

“ Developers: Time is running out” – Michael Gove

A major housing developer at the heart of a government campaign to fix unsafe buildings has said it has still not received the final version of a crucial contract that they need to sign in the next five days or risk being “banned” from operating in the market, PoliticsHome has learned.

In January, house-building companies were given six weeks to sign a legally binding agreement that will commit them to funding repairs to unsafe buildings in England that they have developed or refurbished over the last 30 years.

Earlier this week housing secretary Michael Gove put pressure on companies to return the crucial contract in order to avoid the ban. “One week to sign the building safety contract to fix unsafe buildings you are responsible for or you will be banned from operating in the housing market,” he tweeted.

The legal commitment solidifies a pledge made last year by 49 developers to remediate critical safety works.

When Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities DLUHC launched the contract on January 30, they said that legislation planned for this Spring will create a Responsible Actors Scheme, which will allow ministers to block developers who have not signed the contract or do not comply with it, and prevent them from operating as usual in the housing market. 

However, Persimmon featured on the government’s press release to publicly back the legally-binding contract when it was launched on 30 January, and said they were the “first” to signal their intention to sign, say they have still not received the final paperwork from government. 

“We still intend to sign as we signalled in January. We will do so as soon as we receive the final contract to sign,” a spokesperson for Persimmon told PoliticsHome.

“The department has not sent that to us yet.”

When the contract was launched at the end of January, Dean Finch, the group chief executive at Persimmon said in the government’s press release that the “terms of the contract are entirely consistent with our existent commitment to protect leaseholders” and “we are pleased to confirm our intention to sign the final document.” 

Another major housing developer, Lovell, who signed last year’s pledge, said that they have told the department they will sign the contract, but are also still waiting for a final version to be issued. 

“The final-form legal contract was issued in January 2023 and Lovell Partnerships Limited has confirmed in writing to DLUHC its intention to sign and execute the contract on or before the stipulated date of 13 March 2023,” a spokesperson for Lovell Partnerships said.

“We await a final version of the contract from the Department of Levelling Up Housing and Communities to enable signing.”

While some firms are believed to have received the final paperwork, PoliticsHome understands that work is still ongoing within DLUHC to add a number of annexes to contracts relating to specific buildings from particular firms, and officials hope this will be sorted in the coming days before the final deadline. 

When the contract was first announced, Gove said “there will be nowhere to hide for those who fail to step up to their responsibilities – I will not hesitate to act and they will face significant consequences”. 

A spokesperson at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said: “Developers who signed the pledge last year committed to remediate buildings they developed. The contract binds them to that commitment.

“All developers received the final text of the contract on 30 January and several have since confirmed they will sign.

“We expect all developers to do so without delay. Those that fail to do the right thing will be banned from the housing market.”

Councillors’ concerns about planned cuts to Devon homeless prevention

Planned cuts to homeless prevention services in Devon have been criticised by senior opposition councillors.


Devon County Council is consulting on proposals to stop funding adult homelessness services across the county, saving around £1.5 million per year.

It says it can no longer afford to pay for the services, with the money instead going towards increasing spending in other areas that support vulnerable children, young people and adults.

But local charities have urged it to think again.

YMCA Exeter, which receives £150,000 in support from the council, said “the consequences for vulnerable young adults will be huge,” while St Petrock’s warned it could lead to a “homelessness crisis” in the city.

The proposals come as new figures reveal the estimated number of rough sleepers in Devon increased by 28 per cent last year to 113.

Opposition leader of the council, Julian Brazil (Lib Dem, Kingsbridge), said: “It’s extremely worrying, but we all knew it was the case.

“Despite all the positive messages around the budget, we knew it was absolutely appalling and we’re struggling to find these cuts somewhere.”

But he added he had “some sympathy” with the council and expressed his frustration at the county’s Conservative MPs, who he claims have failed to secure more money for Devon.

“The truth is, if we don’t get the proper funding from central government, we’re never going to be able to provide these services.

“And they put as much spin as they like on it, but in the end these are cuts to the most vulnerable people in Devon and it breaks my heart to think we’re having to do that.”

Speaking to Devoncast from Radio Exe, Independent councillor Jess Bailey (Otter Valley) said she was “very concerned” about the proposals.

“I think it’s the worst possible time and, as a member of the [county council’s] health and adult care scrutiny committee, I will be looking very closely at these proposals. I’m strongly opposed to them and I think it’s removing funding from our most vulnerable residents.

“I’m very disappointed that the county council cannot apparently find the money for our most vulnerable residents and I think, in terms of health inequality, we need to find a way of supporting these people and continuing with that funding.”

Outlining the potential impacts of its loss in funding last week, YMCA Exeter warned that over 100 young adults a year could continue to face homelessness and “no longer have access to tailored wellbeing support, unable to move beyond their circumstances and thrive again.”

“Without the essential prevention measures YMCA Exeter provides,” it said, “Devon County Council could find themselves covering an average bill of over £924,000 a year in adult social care costs, rather than the current £157,000 they give to YMCA Exeter.”

The council estimates the cuts could save around £1.5 million per year. (Image: Terry Ife)

Meanwhile, Peter Stephenson, St Petrock’s director said the proposals are “disastrous for people at risk of homelessness in Exeter and across Devon, who are some of the most vulnerable people in our community.

“Long-standing and desperately needed support is set to disappear, removing a life-line people desperately need to avoid becoming homeless.”

A spokesperson for Devon County Council said: “We’ve budgeted this year to significantly increase spending in services that support vulnerable children, young people and adults, to meet rapidly growing demand for those services.

“To prioritise spending on our statutory responsibilities, we have to make savings in the region of £45 million from elsewhere and get the best possible outcomes from every single penny we spend.

“While we’ve been able to help fund this support service in the past, even though it falls outside our statutory adult social care responsibilities, sadly, we can no longer afford to do so.

“Reluctantly, we are therefore proposing to stop our contributions to this contract and instead target our scarce resources to support growing numbers of vulnerable adults who are eligible for social care support.”

The spokesperson added: “We will not make a decision regarding this proposal until we’ve considered the consultation responses, and we encourage people in the meantime to let us know what they think.”

The public consultation is open until Wednesday, April 19.

Teignbridge to build 741 homes a year

Residents in Teignbridge have less than a week to give their views on plans for development across the district over the next 17 years. 

Will they then follow EDDC and pause to await the revisions to the PPF? – Owl

Phillip Churm, local democracy reporter

The draft local plan identifies how land should be used for homes and jobs as well as setting out the infrastructure needed to support developments such as roads, schools and healthcare.

It also aims to protect the environment by tackling climate change and promoting low carbon energy.  

People can give their thoughts on the plan until noon on Monday 13 March  when the fifth and final public consultation closes.

The draft local plan, described by the council as “ambitious and forward looking,” has been approved by councillors and features land allocations for 4,560 homes, with about a quarter of them affordable, more homes for people with mobility issues and it will ensure all developments are net zero by 2028.

Liberal Democrat councillor for Dawlish South West and executive member for planning, Gary Taylor said: “The final draft proposals have been shaped by the more than 7,000 people who have contributed their views at the different consultation stages.

“Residents, businesses and other organisations have just a few days left to take advantage of this final consultation and submit their views.  Please take the time to do so by completing the feedback form on our website by noon on Monday.”

The approximate distribution of new homes across the district will be:

Newton Abbot and Kingsteignton Garden Community – 37 per cent

Edge of Exeter – 46 per cent

Coastal and rural towns – 5 per cent

Villages – 12 per cent

In addition, about 65 hectares of land is allocated for employment use while two sites are identified for gypsies and travellers.

Three major expansions to existing settlements are proposed. Firstly, at Bradmore, west of Houghton Barton on the outskirts of Newton Abbot, for approximately 1,050 homes. These are in addition to the 1,800 homes in the area allocated in the existing local plan.

On the edge of Exeter, approximately 900 homes are planned for Markham Village, which will be created as a small new village between Ide and Shillingford Abbot, while a mixed use development of approximately 750 homes at Peamore is also proposed.

The plan will increase the rate of new housebuilding in Teignbridge to an average of 741 homes per year and all new-build open market homes on allocated sites will be occupied as a primary residence – secured through a legal process.

It adds how brownfield sites will be prioritised to help regenerate town centres, while most new homes would be located close to jobs, services and sustainable transport. Some small development sites are also identified in larger villages to help sustain essential local services.  

After the consultation ends on Monday, the draft plan and all comments received will be submitted to the planning inspectorate for review and public examination. 

If approved, the plan will come into force in early 2024.

Devon elections 2023: Jess Bailey criticises voter ID scheme

Devon County and East Devon District Cllr Jess Bailey (Independent, Otter Valley) is concerned about the rule’s impact on democracy and that it favours the Conservatives.

Rob Kershaw 

A government scheme requiring voters to show identification at polling stations has been criticised.

The new rule means that people will need to bring a certain form of ID – which include passports and drivers’ licenses – or they won’t be able to vote. It will come into effect at local elections in less than two months.

Among accepted IDs are older people’s bus passes, but not those for young people or students.

Devon County and East Devon District Cllr Jess Bailey (Independent, Otter Valley) is concerned about the rule’s impact on democracy and that it favours the Conservatives.

Speaking on Devoncast, a new weekly podcast, she said: “My view is that it’s an absolutely terrible scheme.

“Not only is it a terrible scheme that discriminates against younger people, but it also has been introduced far too late before the local elections.

“There’s an established principle that you don’t start messing around with rules relating to elections within the six months prior to those elections.

“Well, this government’s completely ignored that by introducing these rules at the last minute and I don’t think people are aware of them.

“And I’m really, really concerned that instead of making our system more robust, I think it’s actually going to disenfranchise thousands of people across the country.”

Cllr Bailey claims the rule is “designed to take votes away from non-Tory voters,” and warns of the risk of people being turned away from polling stations in May.

Former Conservative MP Neil Parish, who resigned last year, accepted that the deployment of the new scheme could have been better, but feels that it is needed to prevent voter fraud.

“I think it is actually necessary for people to identify themselves,” he told Devoncast.

“I think we are actually slow in rolling it out and we are slow in getting the necessary information to people.

“I think it’s necessary, I think we’ve got to make sure that the district councils get the information out and I would accept what Jess says – it’s getting close to the election now.

“But I think it’s really necessary because I think, in the end, we need to make sure everyone who votes are who they say they are.

“I think most people don’t actually pretend to be somebody they are not, but in some parts of the country it has happened, and I think it’s right to get it.

“Jess is right, there will be first problems in the first instance, but at some stage we do need to bring this in to make sure who is voting are exactly who they say they are.”