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Buckinghamshire (Structural Changes) (Supplementary Provision and Amendment) Order 2020

Volume 802: debated on Monday 23 March 2020

Motion to Approve

Moved by

My Lords, this order has been laid before this House and the other place, which approved it on 18 March 2020. It will update the membership arrangements of the Conservation Board of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty to take account of the restructuring of local government in Buckinghamshire. We expect that this will be the final statutory instrument connected to local government restructuring in Buckinghamshire.

The order bringing about local government reorganisation in Buckinghamshire came into force on 23 May 2019. It provided for a reorganisation date of 1 April 2020, when the new Buckinghamshire council will assume the full range of local authority responsibilities and the five existing councils—the county council and the four district councils—will be wound up and abolished. That order established a shadow authority and shadow executive, which has been managing the transition to the new council. I am very pleased that all the councils have been working closely together to deliver the new unitary council and I thank them for their hard work and dedication.

The Conservation Board of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which is the subject of this order, is made up of members appointed by the relevant local councils, parish council representatives and members nominated by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The board’s composition is set out in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (Establishment of Conservation Board) Order 2004. The conservation board is responsible for conserving and enhancing the natural beauty of the Chilterns and increasing the understanding and enjoyment of its special qualities, which are so loved and well known by so many.

As I have said, local government restructuring in Buckinghamshire will abolish all five of the Buckinghamshire councils that currently nominate a member of the board. Some changes are needed to the board membership arrangements to take account of these changes. The Chilterns board currently has a total membership of 27: one representative for each of the 13 councils specified in the 2004 order, two parish council members for each of Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and Oxfordshire, and eight members nominated by the Secretary of State. Without this order, the new Buckinghamshire council will only be able to appoint one member, instead of five, to the conservation board. However, 50% of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty falls within Buckinghamshire. The shadow executive of Buckinghamshire Council has, therefore, requested that the status quo be maintained so that the new council will nominate five members to the board to provide adequate representation for the area. It considers that the current membership arrangements, with five board members for Buckinghamshire as a whole, better reflect the extent of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty that falls within the new council area, and the Government agree. Furthermore, the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 specifies that at least 40% of the AONB board membership must be from local authorities and at least 20% from parish councils. These changes ensure that that statutory requirement continues to be met. There are no other changes to the membership of the board.

In conclusion, this order will amend the membership arrangements of the board of the Chilterns AONB to retain a total of 13 members nominated by local councils, five of whom will continue to be nominated from the Buckinghamshire area, for the reasons explained. There are no changes to membership of the board otherwise. I commend the order to the House.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to speak in this debate on behalf of my noble friend Lord Kennedy. The issue of restructuring local government in Buckinghamshire has been discussed by this House previously and is settled, so I do not intend to dwell on it today. This minor order is, however, the final statutory change necessary for the restructuring process and the House will recall that the initial public consultation on the creation of a Buckinghamshire unitary authority found that a majority of respondents opposed the change. I would therefore be grateful if the Minister confirmed whether the Government believe that the people of Buckinghamshire are now fully behind the merger.

Moving on to the order before the House, there are two small issues on which I would appreciate clarification. First, as the House will be aware, a shadow authority for the new unitary council has been in place since mid-2019, as part of the effort to aid the transition. Can the Minister confirm whether, during this period, a representative of the shadow authority has been sitting on the board of the AONB? Secondly, as this change will result in the five representatives who are currently distributed equally between the five authorities being replaced with five representatives of the new Buckinghamshire council, can he confirm that the new council intends to appoint five individuals from across the county, rather than multiple representatives from any single area?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his response and for speaking on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy. On the question of transformation, which is slightly wider than this order, the process has obviously been the subject of repeated discussion. My understanding is that the shadow arrangements have been working well. I am sure that, over time, consent will continue to grow so far as the changes undertaken are concerned. The appointments will be a matter for the Buckinghamshire authority, but I am sure that it will take note of the noble Lord’s remarks. As a responsible local authority, it will obviously be able to decide that matter for itself.

I have a feeling that the noble Lord asked another question that I did not initially know the answer to, but I will look it up and respond to him; I am grateful for the response. This is a technical change but, as I explained, it is required for statutory reasons to keep the numbers up. The size of the area of outstanding natural beauty in Buckinghamshire also justifies that change.

I may be getting an answer to the noble Lord’s other question. The board membership will have been drawn from the membership of the shadow authority, as it comprises all elected members in Buckinghamshire. I ought to have been able to think of that answer myself, but I come late to the Buckinghamshire issue, given the coronavirus crisis, which I want to conclude on.

All of us are dealing with this matter. This is one of a number of small orders that are dwarfed by what is going on, but I am sure everybody in this House wishes that the day will come, after this period of enforced confinement, when the people of this country can go out and again enjoy the beautiful area of the Chilterns, for which the board is responsible. I commend the order to the House.

Motion agreed.

House adjourned at 4.28 pm.