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The Local Government Commission recommended the retention of two council tiers in rural parts of Derbyshire and Dur...
The Local Government Commission recommended the retention of two council tiers in rural parts of Derbyshire and Durham this week despite recent government support for unitary councils. But the DoE said ministers' hands 'remain entirely free' to modify, reject or accept the proposals.

The Association of District Councils said the government should ask the commission to re-examine some of the first tranche review areas under the new policy guidance - issued last week - that states clear support for unitary councils. The commission, which reviewed first tranche councils under older, more equivocal guidance, would also 'consider new possibilities that might be brought forward locally', said commission chairman Sir John Banham.

Announcing the commission's final recommendations on Monday, Sir John said six new unitary councils should be created. Earlier recommendations suggested two unitary councils in Derbyshire, to cover Derby and the rest of the county, and two in Durham - one to serve Darlington and another for the rest of the county.

Sir John said the commission was disappointed and surprised local people had rejected rural unitary councils. 'In general, people do want to see change. They do want to see the wasteful two tier system replaced by a unitary structure. However, he insisted people do not want unitary districts.

'In general they would like to see unitary structures that are larger rather than smaller provided they can be satisfied that the new authorities are not unduly remote from local communities', he said. Sir John confirmed the commission's original proposals in Cleveland, recommending four unitaries, based on existing borough councils. One based on Darlington, in Durham, should be created, he said.

The commission estimates the cost of change in Cleveland at £13m-£18m with annual administrative savings of £6m-£11m, paying back this investment in two to three years. Transitional costs in Durham of up to £500,000 may take five years or may never be repaid.

Annual savings of £1m from a single tier in Darlington could turn into costs of £2m a year, according to reworked commission calculations. In Derbyshire, Sir John said Chesterfield, North East Derbyshire and, despite local opposition, Bolsover should be merged into one council while Derby City Council should assume control over county services.

This would add £3m-£8m in transitional costs which would not be offset by ongoing savings. 'The establishment of unitary authorities in north east Derbyshire and Derby would save some money, while in the rest of the county there would be some loss of economies of scale. The net effect would be broadly neutral', the commission report on Derbyshire says.

If accepted by the government, five districts in Derbyshire and seven in Durham would survive. Asked whether these recommendations contradicted government guidance, Sir John said there was nothing in the new guidance which told the commission 'to ignore local opinion'.

The ADC said only in areas where locally supported unitary councils have been proposed, such as Avon and Cleveland, should commission recommendations stand. ADC Chair Margaret Singh said structures created by two tier recommendations would have to be reorganised within 10 years.

'A county with a hole in it is bizarre, unworkable and unenable', she said. The Association of County Councils said: 'The commission has reached a correct judgment in its recommendations for Durham'. It also welcomed the retention of two tiers in parts of Derbyshire. Cleveland CC said it would continue to lobby ministers and senior civil servants for two unitary authorities based on Hartlepool and Teesside. Derwentside DC said the review had been 'a disaster' in Durham.

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