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Structural changes to local government in England were effected on 1 April 2009, whereby a number of new unitary authorities were created in parts of the country which previously operated a 'two-tier' system of counties and districts. In five shire counties the functions of the county and district councils were combined into a single authority; and in two counties the powers of the county council were absorbed into a significantly reduced number of districts.

Elections to the new authorities took place on 1 May 2008 for some of the new authorities, which took up their powers on 1 April 2009. The other new authorities retained the existing county council as the "continuing authority" as of 1 April 2009 with elections taking place two months later on 4 June 2009.

Background

Following the passing of the Local Government Act 1992, the Local Government Commission for England recommended a number of unitary authorities to be created in England during the 1990s. The changes that were implemented meant that much of the country continued to have a two-tier arrangement of local government. Further proposals for unitary authorities in northern England, tied to the option of regional devolution, were put to a referendum in 2004 and were rejected. In 2006, the white paper Strong and Prosperous Communities invited local authorities in England to submit their own consensus-based proposals for unitary authority arrangements, to be submitted before 25 January 2007. Selected submissions went to a public consultation from March until June, with successful proposals announced in July. Legislative requirements for implementation were in place following the enactment of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007.

Proposed changes

Early responses

Various local councils indicated they wish to seek unitary authority status. Four medium-sized towns and historic county boroughs, overlooked by the 1990s review: Ipswichmarker, Oxfordmarker, Norwichmarker and Exetermarker proposed unitary status on their present boundaries, and commissioned a report jointly to press their case. Norwich announced its intention to respond to the invitation, as did Ipswich and Exeter. In Lancashiremarker, Prestonmarker and South Ribblemarker desired to form a single unitary authority although Preston bid for it alone. The City of Lancastermarker considered seeking unitary status on its present boundaries (having supported a merger with South Lakelandmarker and Barrow-in-Furness to form a Morecambe Baymarker unitary authority during the referendums review). Blackpool advocated a merger with the Fyldemarker and Wyremarker districts, which they did not support. Pendlemarker and Burnleymarker also tried to form a unitary authority with Rossendalemarker; however Rossendale rejected this.

The Local Government Chronicle suggested that the non-metropolitan counties of Cornwallmarker, Shropshiremarker, Durham, Cumbriamarker and Northumberlandmarker would fit the government's criteria, and that the government would be unlikely to favour carving out unitary authorities from existing two-tier counties. Shropshire County Council, as well as two of the five districts of Shropshire, stated their wish for a move to unitary status. The issue was considered in Durham and Cumbria and the idea of a North Cumbria authority covering the Eden, Copeland, Carlisle and Allerdale districts had some support. The issue was also considered in Northumberland, with the county council in favour of one Northumberland unitary authority. Alan Beith, the MP for Berwickmarker at the far north of Northumberland, suggested instead a three unitary solution, with authorities for the largely rural north and south-west, and an authority for the urban south-east (Wansbeckmarker and Blyth Valleymarker).

Consultation period

On 26 January 2007, the government confirmed that 26 proposals for unitary authorities had been received. Various county councils proposed they should become unitary authorities: Bedfordshire, Cheshiremarker, Cornwallmarker, Cumbriamarker, Durham, North Yorkshire, Northumberlandmarker, Shropshiremarker, Somersetmarker and Wiltshiremarker. Districts seeking to become unitary authorities on their own were Bedfordmarker, Exetermarker, Ipswichmarker, Lancastermarker, Oxfordmarker, Prestonmarker. Pendlemarker and Burnleymarker proposed merging as a unitary authority. On 27 March 2007, the government announced that the proposals by Bedfordshire, Bedford, Cornwall, Cheshire, Cumbria, Durham, Exeter, Ipswich, North Yorkshire, Norwich, Shropshire, Somerset and Wiltshire to become unitary authorities would go into the next phase, as would the proposal of Chester for a two-unitary authority Cheshire and by the districts of Northumberland for a two-unitary Northumberland.

On 25 July 2007 it was announced that the unitary proposals by Cumbriamarker, North Yorkshire and Somersetmarker had been rejected. On 5 December 2007 it was explained that the unitary proposals by Exetermarker, and Ipswichmarker, like those of Norwichmarker (which were referred for review on 25 July 2007) did not meet the requirements to proceed; but may be reconsidered after the Boundary Committee has conducted a review of local government structures across the whole of the two-tier counties they are currently a part of.

A legal challenge was made by Shrewsbury and Atcham Borough Councilmarker and by Congleton Borough Councilmarker to the government's decisions, on the basis (amongst other things) that the reviews were made without statutory authority. The High Courtmarker and then on 4 March 2008 the Court of Appealmarker rejected the challenge, finding that the review had been legalized retrospectively.

Region Proposed by Proposal Result
East Bedfordshire County Council single unitary authority Not proceeding
Bedfordmarker Borough Council unitary authority with existing boundaries Implemented
Mid Bedfordshiremarker District Council
South Bedfordshire District Council
unitary Central Bedfordshire Implemented
Ipswichmarker Borough Council unitary authority with existing boundaries Referred to Boundary Committee
Norwichmarker City Council unitary authority with existing boundaries Referred to Boundary Committee ‡
East Midlands no bids
Londonmarker not affected by the review
North East Durham County Council single unitary authority Implemented
Northumberlandmarker County Council single unitary authority Implemented
Northumberland districts two unitary authorities Not proceeding
North West Cheshiremarker County Council single unitary authority Not proceeding
Chester City Council two unitary authorities:
Cheshire West and Chestermarker and Cheshire East
Implemented
Cumbriamarker County Council single unitary authority Not proceeding
South East no bids
South West Cornwall County Council single unitary authority, Cornwall Council Implemented
Exetermarker City Council unitary authority with existing boundaries Referred to Boundary Committee †
Somersetmarker County Council single unitary authority Not proceeding
Wiltshire County Council single unitary authority Implemented
Yorkshire and the Humber North Yorkshire County Council single unitary authority Not proceeding
West Midlands Shropshiremarker County Council single unitary authority Implemented


† - in the context of examining options for unitary arrangements in the wider county area.

‡ - the Boundary Committee is asked to advise whether an alternative unitary proposal for Norwich based on revised council boundaries could deliver the required improvements.

Successful proposals

On 27 March 2007 Local Government Minister Phil Woolas announced that 16 councils bidding for unitary status had been shortlisted to go forward for public consultation. On 25 July 2007 Woolas' successor John Healey announced that nine proposals would proceed, subject to the approval of Parliamentmarker in the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007. A further announcement on 5 December indicated that only the five county level proposals (Cornwallmarker, Durhammarker, Northumberlandmarker, Shropshiremarker, and Wiltshiremarker) would proceed, while further consideration was to be given to the various proposals submitted for two more county areas (Bedfordshire and Cheshiremarker). On 18 December it was confirmed that the two-authority plan for Cheshiremarker would proceed. On 6 March 2008 it was confirmed that proposals for Bedfordmarker Borough Council to become a unitary authority on its existing boundaries, and for Mid Bedfordshire District Council and South Bedfordshire District Council to merge to create a new Central Bedfordshire authority would be implemented.

Single authorities

In the following areas, the existing non-metropolitan county has now also become a non-metropolitan district (i.e. a "unitary county") and the existing non-metropolitan districts have been abolished.

Ceremonial county Non-metropolitan districts
abolished in 2009
New unitary authority
from 2009
Existing unitary authorities
from 1990s reforms
Map
Cornwallmarker Penwithmarker
Kerriermarker
Carrickmarker
Restormelmarker (Borough)
Caradonmarker
North Cornwallmarker




Cornwall Isles of Scillymarker
Durham Durham (City)
Easingtonmarker
Sedgefieldmarker (Borough)
Teesdalemarker
Wear Valleymarker
Derwentsidemarker
Chester-le-Streetmarker





Durham Hartlepoolmarker
Darlington
Stockton-on-Teesmarker (part)

Northumberlandmarker Blyth Valleymarker (Borough)
Wansbeckmarker
Castle Morpethmarker (Borough)
Tynedalemarker
Alnwickmarker
Berwick-upon-Tweedmarker (Borough)




Northumberland none
Shropshiremarker North Shropshiremarker
Oswestrymarker (Borough)
Shrewsbury and Atchammarker (Borough)
South Shropshiremarker
Bridgnorthmarker



Shropshire Telford and Wrekin
Wiltshiremarker Salisburymarker
West Wiltshire
Kennetmarker
North Wiltshiremarker


Wiltshire Swindon


sui generis unitary authority since 1890

Multiple authorities

In the following areas, the existing non-metropolitan county councils have been abolished. Each of the two new non-metropolitan districts in Cheshire (resulting from amalgamations of the existing districts) is now also be a non-metropolitan county. In Bedfordshire the new Central Bedfordshire non-metropolitan district (resulting from the amalgamation of two existing districts) is now also a non-metropolitan county, and the previous Bedford non-metropolitan district is now a unitary council.

Ceremonial county Non-metropolitan districts
abolished in 2009
New unitary authorities
from 2009
Existing unitary authorities
from 1990s reforms
Map
Bedfordshire Mid Bedfordshiremarker
South Bedfordshire
1. Bedfordmarker
2.

Central Bedfordshire
3. Lutonmarker
Cheshiremarker Ellesmere Port and Nestonmarker (Borough)
Chester (District and City)
Crewe and Nantwichmarker (Borough)
Congletonmarker (Borough)
Macclesfieldmarker (Borough)
Vale Royalmarker (Borough)




1. Cheshire West and Chestermarker
2.

Cheshire East
3. Warringtonmarker
4.

Haltonmarker


‡ existing district

Further changes

The Boundary Committee for England has completed its structural reviews for Norfolk, Suffolk and Devonmarker.

Initial draft proposals were published in July 2008 with further draft proposals published in March 2009. The committee was expected to make final recommendations by 31 December 2008, but these were delayed, due to legal challenges, and were then due in July 2009.. A further legal challenge resulted in a further delay and has been appealed by the Boundary Committee. The appeal was heard in October 2009 and the judgement is awaited. If the appeal is successful, the Boundary Committee will submit its recommendations to the Secretary of State and, in theory, there is still time within the current parliament for the government to legislate for further structural changes which would come into effect in April 2011.

Draft Proposals for Devon

The further draft recommendations propose two unitary options:

  • A Devon unitary authority comprising the existing county of Devon, with no changes to Plymouthmarker and Torbaymarker.
  • An Exetermarker and Exmouthmarker unitary authority, and a unitary authority covering the remainder of Devon, with no changes to Plymouth and Torbay.


Draft Proposals for Norfolk

The further draft recommendations propose two unitary options:

  • A single Norfolk unitary authority comprising the existing county of Norfolk.
  • A two authority structure with greater Norwichmarker unitary authority and a rural Norfolk unitary authority for the rest of the county.


Draft Proposals for Suffolk

The further draft recommendations propose two unitary options:

  • A single Suffolk unitary authority comprising the existing county of Suffolk.
  • A two authority structure with a North Haven unitary authority consisting of Ipswichmarker and Felixstowemarker, and a rural Suffolk unitary authority for the rest of the county.


See also



References

  1. Sancton, A., Merger Mania: The Assault on Local Government, (2000)
  2. Worst Unitary Fears Confirmed (from The Wiltshire Gazette and Herald)
  3. Shrewsbury and Atcham BC and another v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government; [2008] EWCA Civ 148
  4. Boundary Committee for England - Structural reviews
  5. Chester City Council - People & Places
  6. Communities and Local Government - Woolas announces sixteen successful bids for unitary status to improve local services. 27 March 2007.
  7. Communities and Local Government - Healey announces nine successful unitary proposals. 25 July 2007.
  8. Communities and Local Government - Green light for five flagship Unitary Councils. 5 Dec 2007.
  9. Communities and Local Government - Two flagship unitary Cheshire councils to proceed. 18 Dec 2007.
  10. BBC News, 25 July 2007 - County split into two authorities. Retrieval Date: 25 July, 2007.
  11. Macclesfield borough council press release 25 July 2007. Retrieval Date: 25 July, 2007.
  12. http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/boundary-reviews/about-structural-reviews
  13. Statement from the Boundary Committee dated 9 February 2009
  14. [1]
  15. [2]
  16. [3]
  17. http://www.unitarynews.com/
  18. [4]


External links

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