Lincolnshire CC is to “reluctantly” abandon plans to hold a referendum on reorganisation following a legal threat from districts.
While the county council refutes the legal advice obtained by some of the districts, it has decided against taking the matter to court.
County councillors will decide whether to hold an alternative form of public consultation later in the year instead at a meeting of full council today.
LGC reported last month how the county council was seeking to hold a referendum on the same day as the local elections on 4 May. This would have sought residents’ views on the abolition of all eight councils in the county and the establishment of a new unitary system.
Lincoln City Council said legal advice from Timothy Straker QC stated that any attempt by the county council to combine their elections with such a referendum would be “unlawful”, with the plans being “contrary to the election rules and fraught with danger of litigation”. As a result, the city council said the referendum would need to be held on a different day and would cost more than £1m.
Lincoln’s leader Ric Metcalfe (Lab) criticised the county council for not consulting districts on its proposals.
“Hopefully, they will now realise their mistake, reconsider their plans and not progress with either an unlawful referendum or one costing a vast amount of public money,” he said.
While “in favour of a collective debate on the future of local government in Lincolnshire”, Cllr Metcalfe said “a remote unitary mega council for the whole of Lincolnshire would be ridiculous”.
Martin Hill (Con), Lincolnshire CC’s leader, said he had received “contrary legal advice” to the districts and added: “The local election would have been a good vehicle to engage with people in Lincolnshire, but we never had any intention of spending £1m to hold a separate poll.
“I stand by the premise that it is right that residents have their say on the future of local government in the county. We should listen to the people we represent, not dictate to them.”
The report due before full council said it was “evident” there was “no wish” for districts to compromise on the matter of holding a referendum on 4 May. The only way to resolve the issue would be through the courts, it added, but said the county council “would not countenance incurring such expense”.
The county could hold a poll on a different date that would cost “in excess of £1m” so alternatives, such as a postal ballot, opinion polling, and consultation through the council’s newsletter and website, are being considered.
Should the council decide to run an alternative form of polling, that is likely to take place in September or October this year, the report said.