East Devon District Council Leader Councillor Paul Arnott sends a formal reply to Devon County Council Leader Councillor John Hart about the proposed devolution deal for Devon and Torbay.

Dear John,

Assessment of the Proposed Devolution Deal for Devon and Torbay

This letter provides East Devon District Council’s response to the proposed Devolution Deal for Devon and Torbay. The proposed Deal was discussed at Cabinet on the 28th February. This response captures the key points from this discussion and highlights areas that we wish to see strengthened as the proposals move forward. This is aligned with the issues and concerns identified across the network of Devon Districts.

Overall Support for Devolution

We welcome the potential of the proposed Devolution Deal as a positive step towards increased local control. The transfer of powers and resources from central government aligns with the principle of subsidiarity, allowing decisions to be made at the most appropriate level. We recognise the considerable time and effort that has been invested in to securing the offer of this Deal.

The provisions of the Levelling Up and Regeneration Act 2023 mean that District Councils cannot automatically become full constituent members of the proposed Combined County Authority (CCA). Subsequently it is difficult to escape the impression that District Councils are starting from a position of being junior partners in the devolution proposals. We hope that this position can be corrected locally through the constitution for the CCA.

Our response focuses on three specific aspects to the proposed Deal;

1. Relationship with Design Principles
The nine design principles set out in the consultation document provide a useful framework against which to consider the proposals. A particular area of focus relates to the principle of subsidiarity and the importance of ensuring that specific activity happens at the lowest viable level.

• UK Shared Prosperity and Rural England Prosperity Funds: While the proposed deal routes these funds through the new Combined Authority (CCA), our strong preference is for continued devolution directly to District Councils. The remaining CCA remit should be to broker conversations about strategic commissioning of countywide (generic) business support activity, and to maximise the effectiveness of local investment aligned to the economic support activity newly-returning to the county council as part of the winding down of the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP). However, since the LEP failed on both its democratic mandate and often in its local relevance, we would wish the CCA to set off firmly on the right foot by committing to retain local delivery methods for business support where this is currently in place via districts.
• Heat Network Zoning Coordination: The proposal positions the CCA as the Heat Network Zoning Coordinator. Given the localised nature of heat networks, particularly in the Exeter and East Devon areas, we believe that District Councils are better placed to manage this activity.

2. Resources

The proposed £16 million of additional capital is a welcome development. We support the emphasis placed on ensuring investment in housing delivery and the transition to net zero.

• Housing Delivery: We support the potential for a shared strategic investment pipeline with Homes England. However, we emphasise the importance of utilising existing housing functions and groupings like the Devon Housing Task Force. We expect the CCA to enable and accelerate delivery with and through Districts and local housing associations. We specifically want to ensure that the District Councils relationship with Homes England be retained and built upon. The aims of the CCA should be to build on best practice and expertise; to provide a stronger platform and empower the excellent work being done across the Team Devon landscape, not to duplicate or add extra bureaucracy. We understand that this is the intention, however we would wish to be involved more fully in the discussions around ‘operationalising’ the CCA.
• Transport - Investment in transport infrastructure is crucial, including projects like the new passing loop on the Exeter-Waterloo line. We recognise that operational highway matters will remain with DCC and Torbay respectively. However, in the duty to produce a joint strategic transport plan across the CCA geography, we would urge inclusion of the District Councils in the formulation of this in order to ensure that vital land-use and housing plans are aligned with transport plans and that sustainable transport options are embedded – both in terms of strategic intent and future investment.

3. Governance and Decision Making

We acknowledge the constraints of the Levelling Up and Regeneration Act. We believe that enabling District Councils to also become full constituent members of the Combined Authority will be an important step towards improving the representative voice of Devon residents and in strengthening local democratic accountability.

• Constitution of the CCA – We ask that all opportunities to enable Districts to become full constituent members are considered to ensure that districts can have a voice on reserved matter issues. This is of particularly significance given that many of these matters are of relevance to districts and existing partnership ambitions are already in place, for example around carbon reduction and the Devon Climate Emergency.
• Team Devon - The proposed Team Devon statutory joint committee is a positive step towards collective decision-making which we firmly support. This will help to inform voting intentions at CCA meetings. However, further details regarding its operation and role in relation to the CCA are necessary. We would particularly welcome the opportunity to develop the detailed terms of reference for this committee.
• Community and involvement of local towns and parishes – the voice of the Devon Association of Local Councils (DALC) is a welcome one within the current ‘Team Devon’ arena, and we would strongly support the inclusion and recognition of town and parishes in the implementation and operationalising of the CCA. Housing, transport, jobs, skills and sustainability are strategic issues with often local or hyper-local solutions. The CCA should aim to be the bridge that demonstrates strategic intervention and scale, while empowering our communities’ ambition and aspiration.


We believe the proposed Devolution Deal presents both opportunities and challenges. Our focus is on ensuring it strengthens local democracy and empowers effective decision-making at the most appropriate level. We look forward to engaging further in discussions to refine the details and maximise the benefits for Devon and Torbay.

Yours sincerely
Councillor Paul Arnott
Leader, East Devon District Council