My honourable friend the Minister for Local Government (John Healey) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
Following our announcement of 5 December [Official Report, col. 65WS] on decisions on unitary proposals, I have today requested the Boundary Committee under Section 4 of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 to advise on certain matters respectively relating to the unitary proposals made by Exeter City Council, Ipswich Borough Council, and Norwich City Council.
These proposals are three of the 26 proposals submitted by councils in response to the Secretary of State’s Invitation to Councils issued on 26 October 2006.
On the basis of her judgments that there was not a reasonable likelihood that these proposals would meet all of the outcomes specified by the five criteria set out in the invitation, the Secretary of State is at present not minded to implement these proposals. However, she believes, having regard to the circumstances of each area and to certain strengths that the proposals possess, notwithstanding her assessment of them against the criteria, that there could be alternative proposals covering the whole or part of the wider county area which would achieve those outcomes.
We have requested the Boundary Committee to advise on these proposals by 31 December 2008. We have in parallel issued guidance under Section 6 of the Act to which the Boundary Committee must have regard in making a recommendation or alternative proposal to the Secretary of State.
I have placed copies of the request and guidance in the Library of the House and they are also available on the departmental website.
The Secretary of State has specified in her request that the matters on which the committee’s advice is sought include whether for the areas affected by these proposals—in each case the city or borough area and the remaining county area—there could be alternative unitary proposals that would meet the five criteria specified in the request.
Our request also specifies the possibility of the Committee making alternative proposals, which may involve merging the whole or part of the districts of Great Yarmouth and Waveney or, if essential, involve changes to the boundaries of the existing Devon unitaries—Plymouth City and Torbay Borough. Given that these latter councils are already established unitary councils, our request about alternative proposals is on the basis of maintaining the concept of the City and the Borough.
When providing its advice, it is a matter for the Boundary Committee to decide whether to make an alternative proposal. The Act provides that the Secretary of State may decide to implement by order, with or without modification, any alternative proposal made by the committee, or to take no action on it.