‘This is a break-up’ - West Hill’s split from Ottery divides opinion

Proposed boundaries for the new West Hill Parish Council. The black outline is the boundary campaign

Proposed boundaries for the new West Hill Parish Council. The black outline is the boundary campaigners in favour of independence have put forward. The hatched parts are areas that EDDC is suggesting should remain part of Ottery Town Council, subject to further consultation. - Credit: Archant

Dispute over how to keep public informed

Efforts to form a united front over West Hill’s increasingly acrimonious bid for independence were fraught - as battles over the proposed boundary raged on.

There was a heated debate at an extraordinary meeting of Ottery Town Council last week, in which members struggled to agree on how best to inform members of the public about the implications of the split.

It was finally agreed that a series of drop-in sessions will be held so that people can receive information from both sides in order to make a decision on a second consultation that focuses largely on the proposed boundary lines.

Initial feedback found in favour of the bid for the woodland village to create its own parish council – separate from the governance of Ottery – with 60 per cent of respondents voting for it.

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However, opinion is now divided over the boundary proposed by East Devon District Council (EDDC), which would effectively split the current West Hill ward in half and puts Higher Metcombe within the town.

Mayor Glyn Dobson said: “The meetings [being proposed] are to let people know what is going on and the financial implications and ramifications of the boundary.

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“If we want to give this information out to the rest of the residents, we have to decide how we are going to do that.”

Divisions within the council arose because its four West Hill representatives are vehemently against the proposed boundary, but other members – including the mayor - have spoken out in favour of it.

Speaking last Thursday (April 28), Councillor Jessica Bailey, of West Hill, agreed that it should be possible to present a united front, but argued both sides need to agree on the information being presented first.

Cllr Josefina Gori said West Hill councillors were given the opportunity to join with other members of a working group to inform residents about the bid from the beginning, but declined.

She referenced emails sent between the two sides, claiming there were grounds for a complaint, but said the group ‘did not want to do anything to disrupt the working of the council’.

In response, West Hill ward member Cllr Jo Talbot said they also had grounds for a complaint, adding: “I think you are treading on very thin ice.”

Cllr Paul Carter told the meeting: “Every time we try to discuss this, we end up down this road and it’s so disappointing again.

“As a town council, have we not got a duty to go out together and interact with the public about the most important thing affecting the town council, certainly in my lifetime? This is a break-up. It’s about informing people, and if we do not go out and speak to the public, then are we doing what we should?”

Cllr Christopher Hall, of the West Hill ward, said: “I agree wholeheartedly – we need to restrict ourselves to facts, but I think it’s important to discuss beforehand what these facts are, because at the moment there are some ‘facts’ being mentioned, such as a 53 per cent increase in council tax, which is not a fact.”

Cllr Peter Faithfull stressed the importance of presenting information to members of the public and to not get bogged down with opinions, but Cllr Anne Edwards said she didn’t want to end up lying if asked her thoughts on the boundary.

Members ultimately agreed to host a series of drop-in sessions across the parish with information collated by Cllr Faithfull as an impartial representative. Details for these are to be confirmed.

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