Grow North Devon

North Devon is a primarily rural area, peripheral in geography and with an ageing population. The council recognises that a more ambitious and interlinked approach to growth is required to sustain North Devon into the future. This project looked to develop and pursue North Devon Council’s corporate objective to grow North Devon, as part of our Productivity Experts programme.

Efficiency and income generation

The original brief sought to:

  1. Instil a culture of growth
  2. Establish appropriate governance
  3. Develop a vision for growth
  4. Agree a policy framework and project plan to deliver the vision.

Through facilitated workshops, North Devon Council has established its Vision for 2050. We have now set up a strategic partnership board with key stakeholders, recognising that delivery requires a collaborative approach. North Devon Council worked with Paul Brockway, of Hyas Associates.

The challenge

To deliver the council’s corporate objective to grow North Devon. This required a much more ambitious and connected approach to growth to secure North Devon’s economic future and to address demographic challenges. The growth agenda's ambitions sought to address our demographic imbalance by delivering housing above Local Plan requirements and by working with partners to ensure the right infrastructure was in place and that skills are connected with business growth and opportunity.

The solution

North Devon Council worked closely with Hyas Associates. In March 2018, the council members unanimously supported a programme for transformative growth. This gave us cross party support for the work.  A number of facilitated workshops followed, including presentations by other Council undergoing similar transformative thinking. Both Exeter City and Taunton Deane discussed their experiences. Taunton had particular synergy with Barnstaple; the Sub Regional Centre, for North Devon. Indeed Taunton’s experience helped inform a North Devon bid into the Garden Communities Programme for Barnstaple. Whilst unsuccessful, we strengthened our working relationship with Homes England and we have commissioned a piece of work to consider opportunities for growth in Barnstaple specifically in the form of a Barnstaple Vision, which will sit underneath our 2050 work for North Devon.

These workshops established member’s priorities for growth and their aspirations for North Devon for 2050.

A Growth Group was established, made up of party group leaders, which became the internal governance for this work. They met on a monthly basis and steered the project. Decision making powers still rested with the Executive and now rest with our Strategy and Resources Committee as we have reverted to a Committee based system. We are currently reviewing our internal governance for this work.

A vision for North Devon 2050 was drafted and shared, capturing the messages from the workshops together with the views of an internal officer working group.

The work paused before the elections in April 2019, given the political nature of it but in July 2019 we held a stakeholder workshop, which sought to establish a Partnership board for this project, as well as a shared way of working.  This included stakeholders from DCC, Health, Blue Lights, Education Sector, Business Community and Voluntary sector.

The workshop was well received and there was a consensus around the table that in order to shape our future, respond to challenges and make the most of our place and our people then we need to all work in partnership.

Following the workshop we sent out a pledge to all parties asking them to sign up to working with partners to develop and implement a joint 2050 vision for North Devon.

A number of organisations have already signed and returned the pledge and a number are pending. We have also had positive conversations with our neighbouring council, which would enable the programme to become a Northern Devon one, a geography which our partners are much more familiar with than the administrative boundaries of the two councils.

We have a further Partnership meeting in November scheduled, where we hope to establish a shared Vision 2050, understand the scope of the programme and define our outputs. We also hope to consolidate the governance for the programme, including finalising the board members,  and understanding who the chair person, senior responsible officer and programme manager should be for the work.

North Devon Council are in the process of reconfirming the internal governance for this Programme following the elections by establishing an officer/member working group.

Once the governance has been established, the programme manager can ensure that the right active projects are captured by the Programme whilst ensuring the partners’ strategies align to deliver longer term aspirations.

The impact

The real impact has yet to be realised but should be significant. This work has enabled NDC to think ‘long term’ and would facilitate a joined up approach between key organisations to deliver shared outcomes for the Northern Devon community. This might be an upskilled workforce, decent housing for all, protected environment or a broadened economy, but in each case the interdependencies of our work will be recognised and should drive forward more efficient services. As we define the scope of the work with our partners, the anticipated efficiencies will be captured across all organisations.   

How is the new approach being sustained?

The partnership working will ensure a sustained approach to delivery.  Once established and embedded, the governance structures and project management approach emerging should ensure a committed agenda moving forward.

The internal resourcing of this project has now been absorbed into the council’s Economic Development Team. We are hoping however that partners will together resource a programme manager for this work.  This is to be introduced to partners in November and will need to be considered alongside anticipated efficiencies.

Lessons learned

Despite cross party support for the growth agenda, the May 2019 elections saw a marked change in North Devon Council’s political make up. We had a 30 per cent change in councilors and we went from being a Conservative Council to ‘no over all control’, but with the Liberal Democrats only falling short by one seat. The timings of the elections led to a pause in this work, as it became too politically sensitive to pursue.  Since the elections, we have seen a slight change in emphasis of our agendas, which will need to be reflected in this work. 

The timing of implementing this sort of work within the political cycle is very important.

We have also learnt that the term ‘growth’ can be divisive and just seen as more houses.  We have found that a subtle change in the name of this Programme to ‘North Devon Futures’ has helped remove negative perceptions and will ease public engagement moving forward.


SarahJane Mackenzie-Shapland