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Community Governance Review for the Parish of Dunchideock

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5. Draft recommendations for Dunchideock Parish

On the date the petition was submitted there were 212 electors on the Dunchideock parish register and the petition was signed by over 50%.

Before commencement of the CGR each household within the parish received a letter notifying them that the CGR would be taking place and it actively encouraged as many residents as possible to respond. The CGR commenced on 16 October 2023 with publication of the Terms of Reference, and the initial consultation period was open from 19 October 2023 to 15 December 2023.

During this initial consultation period only 15 comments were validly submitted by residents, representing just 7% of the electorate. Responses were also received from Dunchideock Parish Council, Dunchideock Village Hall Committee, 3 councillors at district and county level and 2 neighbouring parish councils.

Dunchideock Parish Council, Dunchideock Village Hall Committee and 2 councillors were in favour of abolishing the parish council. The 2 neighbouring parish councils did not wish to pursue any consideration of working with Dunchideock Parish Council.

Of the responses received from residents, 3 were in favour of retaining the parish council and 12 in favour of abolishing it.

In favour of abolishing the parish council

Although the information sent to households expressly stated that some form of formal governance would need to be retained in Dunchideock, i.e. either a parish council or parish meeting, a number of residents in favour of abolishing the parish council only referred to replacing it with an informal forum or WhatsApp group. A number of those in favour of abolishing the parish council also referred to this being because of divisive characters, cost, volatile and chaotic history, spurious Freedom of Information requests and complaints, and increasing difficulty finding candidates willing to stand for the parish council. A number of these respondents expressed a belief that the community had worked well together during the period the parish council had no members and so had proved a parish council is not necessary.

Reasons given in support of abolishing the parish council include:

  • it is too expensive
  • past councillors were ground down by vexatious complaints
  • it is too admin heavy with too much red tape
  • divisive characters have rendered it inert and burdensome
  • the village functioned and got things done when it had no members
  • decisions take an age to be actioned
  • the formality of parish council meetings does not allow residents to take part
  • the powers of a parish council are very limited
  • concern that members of the parish council were not elected
  • lack of interest in standing for the parish council

In favour of retaining the parish council

Of those who responded in favour of retaining the parish council, the overwhelming concern is that of secrecy surrounding who initiated the CGR petition. There is concern that the organiser did not publicly identify themself and a leaflet written in support of abolishing the parish council which was circulated as part of the Dunchideock and Shillingford parish news booklet (Country News) did not include the name of the author. Therefore, concern has been expressed that a community group or forum could act in the same way, with no accountability. It has been suggested that the WhatsApp village chat group is not open to everyone and only includes around 50 people. An acquaintance of a respondent requested membership which they say was denied, and they believe the group is not advertised. A resident expressed concern that the Parish Council’s response to support abolishing the parish council had been written before the vote was taken and that there was very little opportunity for members of the public to comment at the meeting.

Reasons given in support of retaining the parish council include

  • no evidence to support that abolition of the parish council has long standing support
  • organiser of petition and request to abolish the parish council is not identified
  • membership of the WhatsApp group may not open to all
  • a number of current parish councillors only joined it to abolish it
  • the precept is accountable and applies to all households
  • democracy is important
  • issues such as footpaths, potholes, applying for grant aid, filling grit bins and planning matters can all be influenced by a parish council
  • planning matters were ignored when the parish council had no members
  • concern over a perceived wish to conduct parish matters without openness, transparency and accountability

Draft recommendations

When conducting a CGR, we are required to have regard to guidance issued by the Secretary of State and the Local Government Boundary Commission for England (LGBCE). In order to dissolve an existing parish council, the principal council (Teignbridge) must provide evidence that this is in response to “justified, clear and sustained local support” from the area’s inhabitants. The guidance we are obliged to take account of, issued by the Department for Communities and Local Government with the Boundary Commission for England, states:

“ …… the government expects to see a trend in the creation of parishes and parish councils, rather than their abolition, and believes it is doubtful that the abolition of a parish council could be justified as the most appropriate course of action in response to a particular contentious issue in the area”.

However, the government did conclude that there may be circumstances where abolition may be the most appropriate way forward, but this must be evidenced by the principal council as being justified. For example, the principal council needs to find evidence that there is clear and sustained local support for such action. A factor taken into account by the government in deciding abolition cases before responsibility for this was handed to principal councils, was that local support for abolition needed to have been demonstrated over at least a period equivalent to two terms of office of the parish councillors (i.e. eight years), and that such support was sufficiently informed.

Prior to 2021 there was no suggestion that Dunchideock residents lacked interest in standing for the parish council. In fact, historically, a number of elections have been contested including by-elections. There is clear evidence even now that residents wish to be involved in parish decision making and taking action to ensure parish needs are met. However, concern has be raised by some residents that those who wish to be involved do not want to formally represent the parish or have accountability to it.

As far as Teignbridge Council is aware, the suggestion to abolish the parish council was only raised during the summer of 2023 following two sets of uncontested elections where members were elected without contest. We received at least two complaints from residents who said they would have stood had they known the election was taking place. This certainly does not support the requirement to show that local support for abolition has been demonstrated over at least a period of two terms of office and we believe the election may not have been sufficiently publicised within the parish due to the lack of a functioning parish council at that time.

The other criteria we need to consider is why a petition requesting abolition of the parish council was submitted. Overwhelmingly, the reason stated is contention within the parish. Therefore, it is our view that seeking abolition of the parish council in response to a contentious issue in the parish does not meet the requirement for abolition to be justified as the most appropriate course of action. If Dunchideock became a parish meeting would there be less contention? We believe the particular challenges facing the parish council would likely be no less contentious for a parish meeting to deal with.

It is apparent from the responses there is little or no desire to de-parish the area, or to seek to merge or combined with a neighbouring parish or parishes.

The overall response from residents to the initial consultation was 1.4% in favour of retaining the parish council and 5.6% in favour of abolishing the parish council. We received one additional response from a resident supporting abolition of the parish council, but this was submitted anonymously so is not included in the figures. We therefore believe the level of response is nowhere near high enough to suggest majority support for abolishing the parish council, as 93% did not give any view.

Having considered the level of responses and all comments submitted, the recommendation is to retain Dunchideock Parish Council in its present form.

A full report is available.

If you wish to comment on these draft recommendations you can do so up until 30 April 2024.

You can send your comments by email to electoralservices@teignbridge.gov.uk  Please head your email Dunchideock CGR.

If you would prefer, you can write to us at:

Electoral Services (CGR)
Forde House Brunel Road
Newton Abbot
TQ12 4XX