‘Town council level is no place for politics’

Exmouth Town Hall. Exmouth Town Hall.

Friday, June 6, 2014
11:04 AM

There are calls for political groupings at the town hall to be abolished for the good of Exmouth.

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Three of the council’s original founder members – Lionel Howell, Graham Kirby and Trevor Cope – say that the squabbling and settling of political scores are harming the town’s interests.

With 25 sitting councillors, Exmouth Town Council is the only town council in East Devon with political groupings – and both sides tend to vote along party lines.

The ruling Conservatives, who have a majority of two, accuse the Liberal Democrats of voting against their vision to improve the town at every turn.

For instance, outline plans for the Queens Drive Splash development were recommended for refusal because more Lib Dems than Tories turned up to the meeting.

For their part, Lib Dem members are angry at being frozen out of key positions. Despite the Tories’ small majority, the mayor, deputy mayor and all the chairmen and deputy chairmen of the committees are Tory.

The Tories counter that that’s what the Lib Dems did when they were in power – but the Lib Dems say that at that time they had a big majority, with 19 councillors.

These days arguing seems part and parcel of most meetings, apart from planning.

Lionel Howell said: “We all used to work together for the benefit of the town, now it’s just getting nasty. It doesn’t do the town any good now the town council is so divided.”

Councillor Trevor Cope said: “I stood as a liberal because I didn’t think I had the right to say to the public I was independent when I was a Lib Dem. People have a right to know who they vote for.

“But the roles then were shared out – Graham Kirby was an independent and chairman of the planning committee, while the first deputy mayor was also independent, Cybil Cardy.

“I just don’t think the groupings now do us any favours.”

Graham Kirby said: “There no doubt about it – the town council should not be political.

“When the town council was started, many stood as Lib Dems. They were sidelined at the district council so they took the positions at the town council.

“Conservatives came in, and they have done the same thing.

“When I was on the council things used to get done. Now we have the ridiculous situation that politics stops things getting done because they spend all their time fighting.”

Conservative cabinet member at East Devon District Council, Honiton’s Phil Twiss said: “I’m a firm believer that at grassroots town council [level] it is no place for politics.”

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