Belstone has its first election in nearly 30 years 20/05/2013

The tiny parish of Belstone in West Devon is celebrating not only having an election, but a fantastic turn out at the polls too.

Belstone is a small village up on the high moor on the northern tip of the Dartmoor National Park; Okehampton is the nearest town.  The cattle, sheep and ponies from the surrounding commons wander freely around the village in amongst the many walkers and other visitors who come to admire the scenery and enjoy the local tearoom and the pub.

It has an electorate of 213 and has peacefully allowed those willing to volunteer to become parish councillors to do so unhindered for the best part of 30 years.  Indeed it has often been necessary to co-opt willing residents to make up the numbers – a situation familiar to many parish councils up and down the country.  But this year, as the four year term of office of the existing council came to an end, things were stirring in Belstone.

A planning application for the construction of a new house in the village, potentially the first for two decades, divided opinion amongst the residents.  The parish council recommended refusal and the planning authority agreed, but it marked a change in the village.  When the time came for nominations for the new parish council, instead of struggling to fill the places, 13 candidates stood for the seven available places.  The parish clerk ran out of nomination forms and had to seek more, much to the surprise of the election staff at West Devon Borough Council.

On the day of the election, 2nd May, an astonishing 74.65% of the electorate turned out to vote – even better than 72% of the national electorate who voted in the European Referendum.  The normal figure for parish council elections varies between 30-40%.  And there were no spoilt ballot papers!

When the result was announced, six of the seven existing parish councillors had retained their seats, with just one new member.  However, all of them now have a mandate for the next four years as they seek to do their best for the local community.  But will it be the same in four years time or will the usual inertia re-assert itself?  We shall see.

Guest post by Kate Little, Clerk to Belstone Parish Council