'Better together' - West Hill's bid for independence fails to win the support of Ottery Town Council
PUBLISHED: 06:04 19 January 2016
Campaigners say their proposal represents the 'will of the people'
West Hill’s bid for independence failed to win the backing of Ottery Town Council - as a majority vote determined that the parish is ‘better together’.
Campaigners calling for the woodland village to form its own parish council say their proposal represents ‘the will of the people’ and is the next step in it forging its own identity.
But questions over the financial implications for residents across the parish - and whether it would be in the interests of the community as a whole - ultimately swayed the vote on whether West Hill should break from the governance of Ottery Town Council.
Representatives from both sides spoke passionately at an extraordinary town council meeting held last Thursday [January 7] as members struggled to agree on how to respond to East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) consultation.
Chairman of the West Hill Parish Council Campaign Group Margaret Hall said it was never its intention for the process to be acrimonious and called for discussion and negotiation on the matter.
Speaking on behalf of the bid, West Hill resident and former district councillor Tony Howard said the objective is ‘the will of the people’ and also in line with government policy to devolve power to the lowest common denominator.
But Paul Lewis – also a West Hill resident and former town councillor – argued: “We are better staying as one unit. We will be stronger financially, more secure and can work together.”
A potential hike in the council tax precept was raised as a concern, but Councillor Jo Talbot argued too much emphasis was being put on the financial implications.
“Obviously, it is of interest to taxpayers, but it’s not about that entirely – it’s about West Hill having its own council and identity,” she said.
The campaign group estimated Ottery residents would be hit by an annual rise in their council tax contribution of £24.11 [based on a Band D house] – assuming no savings are made as they anticipate. Cllr Talbot said this is ‘not a huge amount’.
Cllr Anne Edwards argued that the possible financial cost is ‘vital’ to the issue and Cllr Lyn Harding said that, to the average person, £24.11 is a huge jump. She accused campaign supporters of ‘glossing over’ this.
Cllr Christopher Hall said: “If that £24-a-year is so important as to deny the people of West Hill a bit of self-determination, it’s a very poor show.”
Early in the meeting, Cllr Hall asked if a decision had to be made and voiced fears that the talks would turn into an ‘us and them’ situation.
The mayor, Cllr Glyn Dobson, said EDDC had asked the town council for its decision, so ruled that one had to be made.
Cllr Dobson said: “You say you speak for the people of West Hill, but many people I speak to from West Hill do not want this.”
He added that a number of facilities, such as the new library and The Station community centre, are paid for by the town council for everyone in the parish.
Cllr Elli Pang put forward a proposal that the town council vote against independent governance for West Hill on the premise the parish is ‘better together’.
Her motion was carried by a majority – but the three West Hill councillors present abstained from voting.
The town council’s response will be submitted to EDDC – where the final decision will be made.