A High Court judge has ruled Sheffield City Region Combined Authority’s devolution deal consultation was unlawful because it failed to ask whether Chesterfield BC should join the organisation.
The judgement followed a judicial review brought by Derbyshire CC which objects to Chesterfield BC’s intention to become a full member of the Sheffield City Region Combined Authority.
The move would involve some county services, such as transport, being transferred to the combined authority which Derbyshire says would be destabilising.
The judgement is likely to mean the city region will have to run another consultation, leaving limited time for it to be completed and the necessary parliamentary orders laid in time for the mayoral election planned for May.
Speaking in court Justice Sir Duncan Ouseley said: “The consultation exercise is flawed.”
He said it was “very odd” the Sheffield City Region did not ask people for their views on whether Chesterfield BC should join the combined authority as a constituent member.
Summing up Justice Ouseley said: “The consultation exercise carried out by the defendant [Sheffield City Region Combined Authority] was not one in connection with the proposals…because the important question was not raised.”
LGC understands the judgement says further consultation is required before the communities secretary can take a decision on whether CHesterfield BC should join the combined authority.
Responding to the judgement Derbyshire CC’s leader Anne Western (Lab) said it was “a victory for fairness and common sense”.
She said: “The people of Chesterfield knew this consultation was unfair and misleading and this High Court judgment confirms that.”
Cllr Western said 92% of 7,500 people who responded to the county council’s online poll or who filled in postcards in libraries “opposed the plans” for Chesterfield to join the Sheffield City Region.
“Taking action in the High Court was the last thing we wanted to do but unfortunately we were left with no other option to help us defend the right of local people to have their say on something so important,” she said.
“This is a victory for fairness and common sense and for the thousands of local people who – despite not being able to answer the question they wanted to in the official consultation – spoke up and made their views known loudly and clearly.”
Sheffield City Region’s consultation on whether it should expand its devolution deal to include Chesterfield ran from 1 July to 12 August 2016.
A spokesperson for the combined authority said: “This judgement confirms that our extensive and wide-ranging consultation will not be quashed. The judgement raised the need to carry out further consultation to address the proposed governance changes in Chesterfield. We will now take some time to consider the judgement and our next steps. We will make further public statements once we have had the opportunity to do this.”
A Deaprtment for Communities & Local Government spokesman said: “Government will consider today’s judgment carefully and we will look at any implications it might have for how the Sheffield City Region devolution deal is implemented.
“We remain 100% committed to the agreed deal – which would significantly benefit local peoples’ lives, bringing a range of new powers alongside £900m of extra funding.
“It is now for the Sheffield City Region to decide how it wishes to proceed.”