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East Devon appeal over unitary ruling

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East Devon District Council is to appeal a High Court ruling against its challenge to the Boundary Committee’s backing of a Devon county unitary.

The district’s executive last week agreed to appeal the verdict in the hope of preventing the merger of Devon’s eight districts and county council, as provisionally recommended by the committee last year.

East Devon leader Sara Randall Johnson (Con) described herself as “mystified” by Mr Justice Cranston’s judgment, which she insisted was critical of the Boundary Committee on several fronts.

She continued: “If local government in Devon is to be tinkered with, we want to be sure that the process is both transparent and foolproof. At the moment, we are not confident on either count.”

It is anticipated East Devon’s challenge, together with one being undertaken by Breckland District Council against proposals for a Norfolk unitary, will be heard by the Court of Appeal in February 2009, just one month before a final government decision is expected.

Meanwhile, speculation has mounted that Devon County Council could leave its headquarters in Exeter in the event of the committee overturning its initial support for a county unitary and recommending a unitary council for Exeter and the surrounding area.

The existing building would be some way outside the boundaries of the rump Devon authority.

County chief executive Phil Norrey said: “A residual Devon Council would have to take a view on whether it wanted its headquarters outside its geographical area, although there are some precedents of that.”

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