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Somerset merger plan 'using wrong law'

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Two councils are using the wrong legal basis for their planned merger, a neighbouring authority has claimed.

Taunton Deane BC and West Somerset DC have consulted on merging having shared services and staff since the latter was declared financially unviable by the LGA in 2012.

But neighbouring Sedgemoor DC has now said it - not Taunton Deane - should take over parts of West Somerset.

In a letter to the two councils, Sedgemoor leader Duncan McGinty (Con) and chief executive Kerry Rickards said the merger should not be based on the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016 - as cited in a recent public consultation - but on the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007, as the latter would allow the Boundary Commission for England to draw new demarcations across all three areas.

Sedgemoor said it had a barrister’s opinion to support this, though declined to release it.

Mr Rickards told LGC: “Our view is that they are using the wrong act and we have a barrister’s advice saying that.

“We think most of the coast along the Bristol Channel, including Williton, would be better in Sedgemoor, while the inland area and the Quantocks would be better served by Taunton.

“This council will do all it can to convince the secretary of state that they are using the wrong legal process and the Boundary Commission should come in.”

In their letter, Cllr McGinty and Mr Rickards said: “It is our view that the 2016 Act process was not intended for use in such a merger, but designed for the creation of new authorities through devolution deals.”

But Olwen Dutton, local government partner at Anthony Collins Solicitors, said the 2007 Act related to creating single tier authorities.

The 2016 Act was focused on combined authorities, but “it can be used to reorganise district councils without affecting the county council boundary,” Ms Dutton said.

“Accordingly, it seems to me that the 2016 Act is more appropriate.”

The row has been sharpened by the expected presence of the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station (pictured) in West Somerset but very near the boundary with Sedgemoor.

Councils in the area share a £30m mitigation package provided by energy firm EDF.

Mr Rickards said Sedgemoor’s headquarters town of Bridgwater “is closer to Hinkley Point than Taunton and most of the impact of Hinkley Point is in the Bridgwater area”.

A Taunton Deane spokeswoman said: “This letter was submitted as part of the public consultation on the proposal for a new council. No specific response has been sent to Sedgemoor District Council. The responses to the consultation will be publically available once they have been collated.”

 

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