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Local Government Review

Volume 248: debated on Tuesday 25 October 1994

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To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what is the latest position on the local government review; and if he will make a statement.

I have today written to Sir John Banham, chairman of the Local Government Commission for England, giving my decisions on the Commission's recommendations for Avon, Humberside Lincolnshire, North Yorkshire and Somerset as set out in its reports "Final Recommendations on the Future Local Government of Avon, Gloucestershire and Somerset" and "Final Recommendations on the Future Local Government of North Yorkshire, Humberside and Lincolnshire". I announced my decision, on 1 March, to ask the Commission to undertake a further review of Gloucestershire.

AVON AND SOMERSET
Avon
I have carefully considered the Commission's recommendations for both Avon and Somerset counties and the many representations which have been made about them. I have concluded, for Avon, that abolishing Avon County Council and establishing four unitary authorities for the area (Commission recommendations 1, 2, and 3), would best reflect local identities and interests and achieve effective and convenient local government. I propose to accept Commission recommendations 8 to 12 (on strategic planning and electoral arrangements) for Avon as submitted.
I am still considering the recommendation (Commission recommendation 16) that a town council should be established for the unparished area of Weston-super-Mare. I am also still considering whether to ask the Commission to conduct a review of electoral arrangements in the area before its normal statutory periodic review. I support recommendation (Commission recommendation 18) about consultation between principal authorities and parish and town councils, but, this is for the relevant principal authorities to take forward.
Somerset
The Commission has recommended a move to a structure of three unitary authorities in Somerset (Commission recommendations 6). However, after taking account of the number and strength of the representations which I received opposing the recommendations and the lack of support for the alternative options considered by the Commission in its draft report, I have concluded that to retain the present two-tier system would best reflect local identities and interests and achieve effective and convenient local government in Somerset. I have therefore decided not to accept this recommendation. Consequently I am also rejecting recommendations 8 (in so far as it applies to Somerset) and 13 to 15. I am still considering the recommendation (Commission recommendation 17) that a town council should be established for the unparished area of Bridgwater.
Fire and Police Services
My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, is making a separate announcement about the arrangements for the Fire and Police Services in Avon and Somerset (Commission recommendation 7).
Ceremonial Issues
As regards ceremonial issues (Commission recommendation 4), I do not have the power to include unitary authorities in counties where the two tier structure is to be retained. I am therefore obliged to modify some of the Commission's recommendations in this respect. The Commission recommended that the County of Avon, should for ceremonial purposes be divided between Gloucestershire and Somerset, with Bristol as a separate city and county. I propose to establish Bristol as a separate county, and to deem that for ceremonial purposes the unitary authorities of North West Somerset and Bath and North East Somerset should be part of Somerset. It is not possible to make a final decision on the nature of the ceremonial arrangements for South Gloucestershire until the outcome of the Commission's further review of Gloucestershire is known. However, I am minded that, by deeming or otherwise, the South Gloucesterhsire unitary authority and the present county area of Gloucestershire should be united for ceremonial purposes.
HUMBERSIDE, LINCOLNSHIRE AND NORTH YORKSHIRE
Humberside
In its report "Final Recommendations on the Future Local Government of North Yorkshire, Humberside and Lincolnshire", for Humberside, the Commission has recommended the abolition of both the County Council and the County of Humberside and their replacement with four unitary authorities (Commission recommendation 1). I have concluded that, subject to some minor modifications, effective and efficient local government and local identities and interest would best be served by accepting the Commission's main recommendation. I propose to accept the recommendation (Commission recommendation 2) that a unitary authority be established upon the present boundaries of the City of Kingston upon Hull. However, because I take the view that the present boundaries of the City may be too tightly drawn, I intend to direct the Commission to undertake a further review of the City's boundaries with the East Yorkshire unitary authority in due course. I also accept the recommendations (Commission recommendations 3, 11 and 12) for three unitary authorities covering the greater part of the rest of Humberside. However, because of my decision not to accept recommendation 8, the reasons for which are set out below, I propose that Goole, the remaining part of Boothferry, should be incorporated in Selby district in North Yorkshire.
I propose to accept the recommendations (Commission recommendations 16, 17, 21, 22 and 25) covering the electoral arrangements for authorities in Humberside. However, I am still considering whether to ask the Commission to conduct a review of electoral arrangements in the area before its normal statutory periodic review. I am also still looking at whether there should be a review to consider the scope for further emparishment in the area (Commission recommendation 24). I support the recommendation (Commission recommendation 23) about consultation between principal authorities and parish and town councils, but again, this is for the relevant principal authorities to take forward.
On Commission recommendation 4, because of my decision to abolish the County of Humberside, the statutory requirement for all authorities to be within a county area, I have decided that, for ceremonial purposes, the City of Hull and East Yorkshire unitary authorities should be included in a new county area to be known as East Riding of Yorkshire.
I have decided to accept the Commission's recommendation for no change to the existing structure in Lincolnshire, and my reasons for doing this are dealt with below. I do not have the power to include unitary authorities in counties where the two tier structure is to be retained (Commission recommendation 10). I am therefore obliged to modify some of the Commission's recommendations in this respect. However, for ceremonial and related purposes I propose to accept the Commission's recommendation that the two authorities south of the Humber should be deemed to be part of Lincolnshire.
I propose to accept the recommendations (Commission recommendations 26 and 27) for minor changes to parish boundaries.
Lincolnshire
The Commission has recommended retaining the present two-tier structure in Lincolnshire (Commission recommendation 13). I have looked closely at this recommendation. The Commission found little support for change in the County, and where there was support, no consensus about what form any change should take. This view is supported by the representations which I have received, and I have, therefore, concluded that I should accept the Commission's recommendation.
North Yorkshire
In North Yorkshire, the Commission has recommended the abolition of the County Council and that the existing eight districts should be combined to form three unitary authorities (Commission recommendations 5 to 8). I have decided to accept the recommendation that a unitary authority be established for the City of York, with its boundaries extended to include the Greater Planning Area (Commission recommendation 76). The Commission identified evidence of strong community identity amongst its residents and support for unitary status and I agree that the residents and support for unitary status and I agree that the present boundary is particularly restrictive. Because of the significant increase in the size of the City, in terms of the area it will cover, its population, and the additional functions for which it will become responsible, I have concluded that a unitary York will be considered a new and not a continuing authority. However, in the light of the strong representations which I have received opposing the Commission's recommendations for North and West Riding authorities (Commission recommendations 6 and 8), and in the absence of any consensus about alternatives, I have concluded that to retain the present two-tier system would best reflect local identities and interests and achieve effective and convenient local government in North Yorkshire outside the City of York. I have therefore decided to reject the recommendation for these two authorities and to retain the two-tier system in the remainder of North Yorkshire. A small number of district wards and county divisions would be split by the proposed boundary changes and it will be necessary to consult the authorities concerned about how the areas remaining outside York should be combined with other wards or divisions.
I have decided to accept the recommendations (Commission recommendation 19 and 25) covering the electoral arrangements for the new unitary authority for the City of York. However, as a consequence of my decision not to introduce unitary authorities elsewhere in North Yorkshire I shall not be accepting recommendations 18 and 20.
Planning
I am still considering the recommendations for planning (Commission recommendation 15) in the three counties in the light of my decisions about local government structure in the area.
Police and Fire Service
My Right hon. and Learned Friend, the Home Secretary, is making a separate announcement about the arrangements for the Fire and Police Services in these three counties (Commission recommendation 14).
Ceremonial Issues
I propose to deem the unitary authority for the City of York to be part of North Yorkshire for ceremonial and related purposes.
Implementation
In all areas where I am agreeing with the establishment of unitary authorities, I have given careful consideration to representations which I received about the implications for those services and functions currently performed on a wider basis. My decisions are based on the presumption that the authorities which are to become unitary will work together, and where relevant with existing authorities, to plan for these services and functions, and will forge effective links with other bodies such as health authorities.
Once I have had the opportunity to consult the affected local authorities, orders giving effect to the Commission's recommendations for these counties, with the aforementioned modifications, will be laid before the House. I intend that elections to unitary authorities in these counties should be held next May, with them assuming full responsibility for their new functions from 1 April 1996. A copy of my letter to Sir John Banham has been placed in the Library.
Conclusion
My decisions mean that nine further unitary authorities will be established from April 1996. Local people in these areas will enjoy the benefits which we believe that unitary local government brings; improved accountability and understanding of where responsibility for services lies; less duplication and improved cost-effectiveness; and improved quality and co-ordination of local services. Where there is to be change, I believe that the costs of change will be justified by the savings and other benefits which it will bring. Elsewhere, where I have judged that this would best provide efficient and effective local government which reflects local identities, I have decided to retain the present two-tier system. This diversity reflects our determination not to impose a uniform structure on local government in England. Instead, we wish to see the structure which works best for each area, which reflects the local preferences, history and tradition, and meets the needs and wishes of local people.