Three south west councils are developing plans for a breakaway devolution deal if the one proposed for Devon and Somerset collapses over the requirement to adopt an elected mayor.
Informal talks, dubbed locally as the ‘Golden Triangle’, involve Plymouth and Exeter city councils and Torbay BC, who are open to adjacent districts joining them.
The area has been part of the Heart of the South West devolution bid, embracing Devon and Somerset CCs, their districts, and unitaries Plymouth and Torbay.
But David Thomas (Con), leader of Torbay’s majority Conservative group, said the Golden Triangle idea had arisen from fears “because the districts do not want an elected mayor”. As a result there are concerns the region “will not get a devolution deal, or only one on a small scale like Cornwall’s rather than the full package we need”.
A senior source involved in the discussions, who did not want to be named, told LGC Exeter favoured exploratory talks, though it is involved in a strategic plan with East Devon, Mid Devon, and Teignbridge DCs, which could influence the Golden Triangle’s membership.
Teignbridge’s leader Jeremy Christophers (Con) said: “The Golden Triangle talks are going on around us rather than with us, and a few of us who aren’t involved are looking for clues.”
John Tucker (Con), leader of South Hams DC, said: ”We’ve not been involved in any talks. I think the Golden Triangle idea could be OK, but it may not be a big enough area for devolution and you have to wonder how it would leave the rest of Devon.”
Progress, though, has become entangled in Torbay’s convoluted internal politics. In a letter, seen by LGC, Torbay’s elected mayor Gordon Oliver (Con) wrote to chief executive Steve Parrock: “I would not want to discuss, in isolation, such a deal as proposed without giving the courtesy to [the] leader of Devon and possibly Somerset too, to discuss these things in [an] open and honest manner.
“Our geographic location has more in common with Devon than Plymouth, distances are a problem but the biggest one is that we would still be very much the junior partner of the three. I would not support a devolution deal with Plymouth and Exeter cities.”
Cllr Thomas, though, intends to table a motion at a February council meeting authorising participation in talks on the Golden Triangle.
He told LGC: “If there is a large majority in favour I cannot imagine the mayor wanting to not go along.”
Torbay’s elected mayoralty will be abolished in 2019 following a referendum last year.