East Devon: Neighbour wars rage on as Colyton leaders refuse to comment on why the town has left Colyford waiting for a year amid a land ownership handover

Leaders of an East Devon town have refused to explain why its council has failed to hand over land worth around £140,000 belonging to a neighbouring village, amid an ongoing row lasting a year.

Action has been requested by an East Devon parish in an ongoing spat with its neighbour, writes local democracy reporter Bradley Gerrard.

Ian Priestley, chairman of Colyford Parish Council, has urged help in securing land he says should have been transferred to his parish when it officially separated from neighbouring Colyton.

Cllr Priestley addressed East Devon District Council’s cabinet as part of an ongoing bid for assistance in a long-running disagreement with Colyton, which centres around three fields at Stafford Cross.

“The one outstanding issue we still have since setting up Colyford Parish Council relates to the transfer of land and associated documents,” he said.

“The reorganisation order said it should have been transferred in May last year, a decision that was reinforced by a judicial review in the High Court.

“We have informed East Devon’s legal services to facilitate the transfer but it has not been forthcoming.”

He asked what else East Devon was doing to enforce the order.

Anita Williams, head of legal at East Devon, said she could provide answers to Mr Priestley outside the meeting but acknowledged the challenging situation.

“It’s a difficult position as the parish won’t comply, and it’s very difficult and potentially very expensive to achieve [an outcome], but we can provide answers to Mr Priestley about our current position.”

A spokesperson for Colyton Parish Council said the council did not want to comment at this time.

Minutes from a parish meeting on February 12 show that Councillor Andrew Parr, who is also a Conservative East Devon District Council member for Coly Valley, had wanted to question Councillor Paul Arnott about a Grant Thornton report that assessed the culture of bullying at East Devon between 2021 and 2023.

The Grant Thronton report said good governance of the district council was “undermined by poor working relationships between certain officers and members”.

Cllr Arnott (Liberal Democrat, Coly Valley) is also a Colyton parish councillor, and leader of East Devon.

“Moral was low and the [district]council was dysfunctional and not communicating with the residents,” the Colyton minutes said.

“This was at exactly the time they were doing the Colyford Governance Review and that is why they did not consult with us, used the wrong Act and did not reply to our emails.

“We really should have that whole process redone because obviously it wasn’t done properly.”

Last year, Colyton Parish Council agreed to increase the parish precept – its share of council tax – by 20 per cent, or an average of £48.55 per household for the year.

It blamed this rise on the fact Colyford Parish Council had been created.

“The formation of the new Colyford Parish Council has put a serious drain on Colyton’s finances and [the parish]stands to ‘lose’ around £17,000 of its annual income while still bearing the responsibility involved in the upkeep of the vast majority of the assets,” the council said on its website.

“It is estimated that the increase would have been around five per cent if Colyford had not split from Colyton.”

In a report from an annual meeting last year, Colyton said the land at the centre of the dispute had an estimated value of £140,000 and also the annual rental income from those fields was £3,606 at the time.

*Correction made to article on May 10, 2024.

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