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Cumbria districts mull unitaries

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District leaders in Cumbria are discussing possible models for unitary councils in readiness for any move by a future government to revive the concept.

A meeting last week saw them oppose the idea of a single unitary, which Cumbria CC unsuccessfully proposed in 2007.

South Lakeland DC leader Peter Thornton (Lib Dem) said: “Most of us regard unitary local government as inevitable because of the efficiencies you could get, but think Cumbria would be too big for a single council and there should be two or three.

“We were looking past the next general election so that we would have our own plan if a government then wanted unitary councils, rather than have something imposed on us.”

Eden DC leader Gordon Nicholson (Con) said: “I think there is a view that the present arrangements are not sustainable and the budget situation means we all need to plan better co-ordination of delivery of services.

“I’d not want to see a single unitary imposed; you could divide it a number of ways. It may be that councils on the coast would want to be a single council in charge of their own [waste and minerals] planning for the nuclear industry.”

South Lakeland in 2006 unsuccessfully proposed a unitary formed with Barrow BC and Lancaster City Council, named Morecambe Bay.

Cllr Thornton said: “We may want to revive that.”

Carlisle City Council leader Colin Glover (Lab) said: “I think Cumbria is too big for a single unitary, but what is more pressing now, rather than unitaries, is working out how we work together to make economies.”

Any reorganisation of the county and the six districts has been potentially complicated by a local referendum at Copeland BC which last month voted to switch to an elected mayor. A poll is due in October.

A Cumbria CC spokesman said: “There is no government appetite for unitary reorganisation and it’s not something we’re spending time on.”

Attempts to reorganise as county unitaries were aborted earlier this year in Leicestershire and Warwickshire because of opposition from districts.

Communities and local government secretary Eric Pickles has said he would allow reorganisation only if all parties involved agreed.

 

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