Tories lose 50% of their councillors in eight years but they don’t intend to change tack

In 2011 the Tories had 43 councillors.

Two electoral cycles later, after the 2019 election, they had only 19.

Time for a re-think?

No, our Tories aren’t for turning.

Seeing the writing on the wall in February, otherwise loyal Conservative “I support Simon Jupp” Mike Howe, was forced to quit saying he: “Can’t defend the indefensible”.

Mike Howe is now contesting his Clyst Valley ward as an Independent against an Official Conservative and a LibDem. A Conservative “lose” here looks to be on the cards.

So the Tories face the May elections signalling business as usual with their choice of Leader Phil Skinner and his Deputy Ben Ingham, who started as a Tory, played with being an Independent but has now been “reborn” a Tory.

If you vote Tory on May 4 under Phil Skinner this is what to expect

Phil Skinner was first elected in 1999.

He was elected Chair Exmouth regeneration board 2016 and Deputy Leader EDDC May 2018. 

As Deputy Leader he would have been one of two EDDC representatives on the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan (GESP).

GESP was a strategic plan to spread Exeter’s housing needs more widely with its neighbours: Teignbridge; East Devon and Mid Devon.

Under the ill fated Ingham “Independent” regime in 2019 in addition to Deputy leader Susie Bond, Phil Skinner was also elected to represent EDDC on the GESP, providing continuity. He was the Conservative Group leader on Strategic Planning at the time.

Devised in great secrecy, behind closed doors, a draft GESP Housing Allocation plan was published in 2019 (since withdrawn from the public domain). An East Devon paper of 2020, however, reveals the scale of what was being proposed. East Devon was to bear a hugely disproportionate number of houses accounting for one third of the total. This amounted to 6,000 houses in addition to the 4,000 in the local plan over an equivalent period. (The GESP was working to a 2040 planning horizon). This DevonLive article also records details.

In other words Phil Skinner and Ben Ingham were going along with a plan for a 150% uplift to the EDDC Local Plan which was already based on a “jobs led” high growth scenario.

It illustrates graphically where Phil Skinner is coming from.

Along the line his Councillor responsibilities have included: being portfolio holder to both the economy and development management (planning in plain speak); rural champion; a member of the Heart of the South West LEP Joint Committee; and a member of The Exeter and Heart Of Devon Growth Board, Joint Advisory Reference Group.

In short Phil Skinner has been at the forefront of place shaping for not only EDDC but for the region. His time in power coincides with the period when the Conservative electoral fortunes started to go downhill.

He is a “Build, build, build” developer’s friend through and through.

The legacy we still experience, with an eye watering Local Plan housing target 2013 to 2031 and problems concerning Exmouth Regeneration and forfeiture of East Devon land to fulfil Exeter’s housing plan shortfall, can all be traced to him and his contemporaries, of which he is very much the “continuity candidate”.

As he said, whilst supporting the Exeter and East Devon bid for “Garden Community” status in 2019:

“We are going to have the housing numbers whether we like it or not, and we cannot put off and delay this as there is a much bigger vision than just focusing on that. This is a really exciting project and I hope people grasp it with the enthusiasm that I have so we get the good things for the area that we live in.

[The villages of Poltimore, Huxham, Clyst St Mary, Clyst St George, Ebford, West Hill, Woodbury​, Woodbury Salterton, Exton and Farringdon would be most likely to be included in this plan as ones that could be expanded further, based on them being in the quadrant and close to existing infrastructure.]

As for the chameleon Ben Ingham, who has already failed as a Leader of the Council.

All you need do is ask yourself this: “Would you buy a second hand car from him?”

Leopards never change their spots.