East Devon District Council's Honorary Alderman David Atkins.
East Devon District Council's Honorary Alderman David Atkins.

The right to share your views on planning applications in your area was only introduced when East Devon District Council (EDDC) was founded.

To mark the 50th anniversary of the authority this month (Monday, April 1 2024), David Atkins – who became an Honorary Alderman for his long and excellent service, has spoken of his memories of the council at its inception.

David became one of EDDC’s first ever councillors and one of its youngest members at age 33 in 1973. He went onto serve a total of 26 years from 1973 to 1991 and from 2007 to 2015.

He said:

“Members of the public and parish council were not allowed to pass comments to Devon County Council (DCC) about any planning applications. But, in the years before as we were preparing to establish the new authority, councillors worked hard to persuade DCC that this should change.

“This made a huge difference to local residents and councils, who knew their areas better than anyone else, giving them the chance to help shape how their communities grew.”

David recalled how the most difficult part of forming EDDC was uniting all the rural and urban councils, bringing everyone together for the benefit of the whole area in what was a very controversial move.

A lot of the people who started working for the council as officers came from other councils in the area, bringing a wealth of experience, while DCC slowly transitioned powers to EDDC as it found its feet.

David added:

“Establishing a new district council wasn’t a complete shock, but it wasn’t a smooth transfer either.

“What was nice is that all the chairs, leaders, and chief executives came together from local councils to share their knowledge for the benefit of the whole area.

“I felt it was very important to have regular meetings with the town councils, chambers of trade and commerce and local councillors to build relationships, and this was something that really made a difference in years to come.

“One of the biggest coups of all was the purchase of The Knowle.

“This was thanks to the foresight of the Sidmouth Town Council leader Ted Pinney who managed to purchase the former hotel (that also included flats) years in advance, using the building as the town council headquarters, along with other local councils, before it was made quite clear that our headquarters had to be in Sidmouth, with this historic building ands its interesting features. EDDC was then initially based in DCC’s Exeter headquarters before moving across to the Knowle in 1973/74.

“It had a beautiful council chamber room, with a fireplace and pillars as did the members' area. The lower quarters in the basement of the building were out of this world.”

David said he was also very proud of EDDC’s move, in the early stages, to use all the capital funds from the merged councils to establish a Rural Aid Fund to help improve rural and urban areas.

He added:

“It made a massive difference to local communities, for instance in Lympstone it was used to extend the village hall so they could have two functions at the same time, and to improve the car park and kitchen facilities as well as creating hard tennis courts for residents to use.”

During his time as a councillor, David was vice-chair of environmental services from 1977 to 1980, chair of property services from 1980 to 1983, chair of tourism from 1983 to 1987, chair of planning from 1987 to 1991.

He was also chairman of East Devon Citizens’ Advice Bureau Management Committee for 21 years.

EDDC would like to thank him for his time and for sharing his 50-year-old memories.