Buckingham CC’s leader has expressed concern his district counterparts’ rival plans for new unitary councils may win ministerial support because they can claim they will result in greater housebuilding.
Martin Tett (Con) said one of his district councils, which supports a rival two-unitary structure to the county, as opposed to Buckinghamshire CC’s single unitary goal, was promising a “mind-boggling” numbers of houses.
Aylesbury Vale DC launched a consultation on its local plan earlier this month, saying the document would “meet the need for over 27,000 new homes in the Vale by 2033, half of which are either already built or have planning permission”.
Speaking at the County Councils Network conference in his own county, Cllr Tett said that had the government finalised a decision on reorganisation last winter, this spring or summer, “I’ve no doubt it would have been a county unitary,” but since then the Department for Communities & Local Government’s goals had become even more housing focused.
“My question now is whether the massive housing issue switches the spotlight to the local planning authorities,” Cllr Tett said, in relation to the districts. “They are playing that card very strongly with DCLG.”
Communities secretary Sajid Javid used his CCN speech to praise both the rival Buckinghamshire proposals as “ambitious, innovative, and ready to come forward with exciting ideas for the future”.
Meanwhile, Cllr Tett was critical of the government’s decision-making process, noting his council had initially expected a decision before Christmas last year but no decision had yet been made.
“I’ve not discovered anyone in DCLG who can tell us what the criteria are or what the process is,” he said. “They make it up as they go along. During meetings new rules emerge.”
He also admitted his ”relationships with district council leaders have deteriorated” over the course of the reorganisation debate.
Wiltshire Council leader Baroness Jane Scott (Con) also spoke during the CCN debate, saying she believed it was “immoral” for areas to retain the two-tier system, which meant “we are wasting huge amounts of money”.
Her comments were subsequently criticised by Local Government Association chair Lord Porter (Con) who said: “I love you to bits Jane but I think you are wrong.”
He described any move to facilitate widespread restructuring as “mutually assured destruction”.
A number of senior officers present were privately critical of the anti-district tone of some of councillors’ comments during CCN debate on reorganisation. One described it as “embarrassing shouting in a bucket”.
And former Cabinet Office minister Lord Maude told the CCN he was a “sceptic of reorganisation”, which “often ends up with the same people sitting around bigger desks with bigger salaries”.