THE leader of Devon County Council has announced he is leaving the post after 15 years.

Cllr John Hart became leader of Devon’s opposition Conservative Party in 2007 and won power of the County Council in the 2009 election.

He has remained Leader since then.

The Devon Conservative Group will hold a ballot to decide the County’s next Leader and John will remain in post until then.

He said: ‘It is the right time for me to stand down as leader. The county council is in a good position with a balanced budget.

‘We've managed the budget this year so that we can now propose an allocation of an extra £10 million to repairing potholes and carrying out extra drainage work on our roads.

‘We've concluded an agreement with the Government for £95 million of national funding to support our special needs education and, within weeks, we will hopefully finalise our devolution deal.’

Mr Hart was first elected to his home ward of Wembury and Erme in 1989 and now represents Wembury and Bickleigh after boundary changes.

He said: ‘It has been a real privilege and pleasure to serve the people of Devon for so long and I particularly want to thank the people of my ward for their continued support.

‘Devon is the county in which I grew up and have lived all my life, in which I've run my family business, got married and raised my children and it is the county which I love.

‘I must pay tribute to my wife Rita and my children for their support which has enabled me to do this job in the way that I have.’

Mr Hart said among the highlights of his career in Devon were the major reorganisation of education in Exeter and winning a £100 million contract which saw all five secondary schools re-built with a big increase in exam standards along with the development of a number of new primary schools.

He led the council through the national period of austerity and headed Devon’s response to the Covid pandemic when the county council was the regional lead authority for the South West.

He set up Team Devon with the leaders and chief executives of all Devon's district councils and representatives of the county's town and parish councils and national parks. Team Devon came into its own during Covid when it mobilised to get help and support to the most vulnerable people as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Under Mr Hart's leadership, the county council has invested some £2 billion on infrastructure including the construction of the South Devon Link Road, major improvements to the North Devon Link Road, the opening of Okehampton Railway Station and the introduction of daily train services to Exeter and the creation of a new railway station at Marsh Barton in Exeter.

He has also overseen the expansion of Exeter’s innovative Science Park and the purchase of the old Flybe building at Exeter Airport to create the Future Skills Centre.

He has been involved with the establishment of the Plymouth and South Devon Freeport with South Hams District Council and Plymouth City Council.

He also oversaw the county council's commitment to be net carbon zero by 2030.

Latterly he has piloted Devon's pioneering devolution deal with the Government in partnership with Torbay Council.

Mr Hart said he was also proud of his record of producing balanced budgets in every year of his leadership except one exceptional year during Covid.

He has chaired the South West Councils' organisation representing every local authority from Cornwall to Gloucestershire since 2013.

‘Devon County Council has been a huge part of my life and I have thoroughly enjoyed working with some excellent councillors and officers to provide vital services to the people of Devon,’ said Mr Hart.

Devon's longest-serving MP, Sir Gary Streeter, said: ‘John has been a tower of strength in the life of the county for three decades or more.

‘He has been a great servant to the people of Devon and epitomises the best principles of public service. On top of all that, he has been a wise counsellor to me on many occasions.’

Christine Channon preceded John Hart as Conservative leader and was county council leader for two years during the coalition administration between 2001 and 2005.

She said: ‘John combines great political skills with a limitless capacity for hard work.

‘He's known for being at his desk early in the morning and he's still there when almost everybody else has gone home.

‘His door is always open to councillors of all political persuasion as well as council officers. They are customarily greeted with great good humour and he always listens to their concerns.

‘John has made his mark regionally and nationally as well as in Devon as exemplified by the ‘Western Morning News’ regularly naming him as one of the most influential people in the South West in its annual surveys.

‘He will be sorely missed as leader and we all wish him and Rita well for the future.’