However, with legal wrangles over the committee’s draft advice still to be settled, Ms Blears granted an extension until 15 July 2009.
Philip Bostock, chief executive of Exeter City Council , which hopes to be granted unitary status, denied the decision signalled a loss of political will.
“This decision isn’t about kicking the process into the long grass,” he said. “I think it’s about ensuring the process is watertight and done properly.”
It is expected the delay will mean that the implementation of Ms Blears’ decision would not take place until 2011, by which time a Conservative administration that openly opposes local government reorganisation could be in power.
Mr Bostock dismissed the fears, claiming the orders implementing Ms Blears’ decision could be passed by the end of the year.
“As far as I’m concerned, once the orders have gone through, it’s a done deal,” he said.
However, Alan Goodrum, deputy chair of the District Council Chief Executives’ Network, predicted the delay would sound the death knell for any future unitary bids.
“It must cast doubt over whether other areas would put themselves for this process after it has proved so protracted,” he said.