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Council halved as five members quit to fight plans

By Mid Devon Gazette  |  Posted: September 25, 2012

A sign tells of opposition to development in Bampton

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A BREAKAWAY group has been formed after more than half of Bampton's town council resigned en-masse.

The new body will be devoted to scrutinising major planning applications affecting the area.

In an open letter to residents of Bampton and the surrounding parish, four councillors and the council clerk announced their plans to constitute the new group and appeal for more members.

The letter has been signed by Kate Millen, Lucie Moore, John Wescott, ex clerk Ann Guilfoyle and former chairman Les Hartley.

All but one of five councillors who left the authority have joined the new group.

The council is now operating with an interim town clerk and will hold elections to fill the vacancies created by the resignations.

The open letter claims a "sustained political and at times very personal campaign of misinformation and unsubstantiated rumours" has accompanied a recent series of elections for new members to join the council.

The five members of the new group say this has "distracted attention from the most urgent business" affecting Bampton.

The letter states this time could be better spent examining the "bigger picture" and concentrating on a series of major planning applications which will potentially change the character of Bampton permanently.

One application that has particularly sparked concern is a plan for 45 dwellings and industrial space on Morebath Road which has attracted more than 230 signatures of opposition on a petition in addition to more than 200 objections already sent to planners by Bampton residents.

The open letter goes on: "Small rural towns like Bampton are under unprecedented pressure from housing developers and others such as renewable energy companies and even regional and national Government."

The group argue that with changes to the planning system proposed, residents have to speak out if they want their opinions to be taken into account.

"If we say nothing, decisions will be taken for us but if we make our voices heard, we have an opportunity now to influence what happens in our area," they say.

The group does not yet have a name, but members say they are working on this.

Katie Millen said: "In recent months, we have had one or two elections at a time for a number of vacancies and every time there is an associated expense. We got to the point where we decided if we were going to work through these issues we would have to do it outside the council."

An election is already due to take place to fill an existing vacancy on the council on October 11. If new elections are requested to fill the new vacancies, they will be held in time for new members to join the council ahead of the December meeting.

The town council held an extraordinary meeting last Tuesday to accept the declaration of office from new councillor Brian Smith.

Around 15 members of the public attended the meeting, which Councillor Francis Stoner said had proceeded in an amicable fashion.

Cllr Stoner said: "After a brief hiatus, Bampton Town Council is still running.We have kept the public informed during the process.

"The councillors who left the council and decided to form an action group clearly thought they could achieve more if they were not constrained by being a town councillor and their code of conduct. However, the people I have spoken to about this have been somewhat bemused by the open letter."

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