2009 structural changes to local government in England

2009 structural changes to local government in England

It is planned that during 2009 there will be structural changes to local government in England, whereby a number of new unitary authorities will be created in parts of the country which currently operate a 'two-tier' system of counties and districts. In five shire counties the functions of the county and district councils will be combined into a single authority; and in two counties the powers of the county council will be 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, with them taking up their powers on 1 April 2009. The other new authorities retain the existing county council as the "continuing authority" as of 1 April 2009 with elections taking place the following month in May 2009.


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. [Sancton, A., "Merger Mania: The Assault on Local Government", (2000)] 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: Ipswich, Oxford, Norwich and Exeter [cite news|url=http://www.exeter.gov.uk/index.aspx?articleid=5105|publisher=Exeter City Council|title=Council Submits Unitary Case To Minister|date=2006-05-09] proposed unitary status on their present boundaries, and commissioned a report jointly to press their case. [cite news|url=http://www.exeter.gov.uk/media/doc/0/5/0604245FourcitiesINLOGOVreview_1.doc|publisher=Exeter City Council|title=Four Councils Unite In Bid For Unitary Status|date=2006-05-09|format=DOC] Norwich announced its intention to respond to the invitation, [cite news|url=http://www.eveningnews24.co.uk/content/news/story.aspx?brand=ENOnline&category=News&tBrand=ENOnline&tCategory=news&itemid=NOED26%20Oct%202006%2011%3A44%3A39%3A130|publisher=Norwich Evening News|title=City welcomes new council plans|date=2006-10-26] as did Ipswich and Exeter. [cite news|url=http://www.eadt.co.uk/content/eadt/news/story.aspx?brand=EADOnline&category=News&tBrand=EADOnline&tCategory=zNews&itemid=IPED26%20Oct%202006%2021%3A50%3A04%3A647|publisher=East Anglia Daily Times|title=Ipswich's solo bid sparks council wars|date=2006-10-27] [cite news|url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/devon/6090214.stm|publisher=BBC News|title=£14 m cost' of city independence|date=2006-10-27] In Lancashire, Preston and South Ribble desired to form a single unitary authority although Preston bid for it alone. [cite news|url=http://www.preston.gov.uk/News.asp?id=SX9452-A7808826|publisher=Preston City Council|title=Preston and South Ribble bid for the future|date=2006-09-01] [cite news|url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/lancashire/5305622.stm|publisher=BBC News|title=Councils to support joint venture|date=2006-09-01] The City of Lancaster considered seeking unitary status on its present boundaries (having supported a merger with South Lakeland and Barrow-in-Furness to form a Morecambe Bay unitary authority during the referendums review). [cite news|url=http://www.lancaster.gov.uk/news/News.asp?id=SX7F1D-A7809355|publisher=Lancaster City Council|title=Lancaster City Council welcomes Local Government White Paper|date=2006-10-26] Blackpool advocated a merger with the Fylde and Wyre districts, which they did not support. [cite news|url=http://www.blackpooltoday.co.uk/ViewArticle2.aspx?SectionID=62&ArticleID=1876361|title=Councillors' snub for 'City of the Fylde' bid|date=2006-11-14|publisher=Blackpool Today] Pendle and Burnley also tried to form a unitary authority with Rossendale however Rossendale rejected this.

The Local Government Chronicle suggested that the non-metropolitan counties of Cornwall, Shropshire, Durham, Cumbria and Northumberland would fit the government's criteria, and that the government would be unlikely to favour carving out unitary authorities from existing two-tier counties. [cite news|url=http://www.lgcnet.com/pages/news/article.asp?ArticleID=339290|publisher=Local Government Chronicle|title=Only five may get unitary go-ahead|date=2006-10-11] Shropshire County Council, as well as two of the five districts of Shropshire, stated that they wish for a move to unitary status. [cite news|url=http://www.shropshire.gov.uk/shropshirecc.nsf/open/6735D40672F70A7680257213003E72FB|publisher=Shropshire County Council|title=One Council for Shropshire|date=2006-11-11] [cite news|url=http://www.shropshirestar.co.uk/2006/11/councillors-backing-unitary-body|publisher=Shropshire Star|title=Councillors backing unitary body|date=2006-11-18] The issue was considered in Durham and Cumbria [cite news|url=http://www.thisisthenortheast.co.uk/display.var.990986.0.white_paper_paves_way_for_councils_shakeup.php|date=2006-10-27|title=White Paper paves way for councils shake-up|publisher=The Northern Echo] [cite news|url=http://www.cumberland-news.co.uk/opinion/viewarticle.aspx?id=428534|date=2006-10-27|title=Cumbria needs a unity of purpose|name=The Cumberland News] and the idea of a North Cumbria authority covering the Eden, Copeland, Carlisle and Allerdale districts had some support. [cite news|url=http://www.timesandstar.co.uk/news/viewarticle.aspx?id=429281|date=2001-10-30|title=MP backs council merger idea|publisher=Times & Star] The issue was also considered in Northumberland, with the county council in favour of one Northumberland unitary authority. Alan Beith, the MP for Berwick 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 (Wansbeck and Blyth Valley). [cite news|url=http://www.berwicktoday.co.uk/ViewArticle2.aspx?SectionID=970&ArticleID=1855198|title=Leader voices fears for residents with shake-up|publisher=Berwick Today|date=2006-11-02]

Consultation period

On 26 January 2007, the government confirmed that 26 proposals for unitary authorities had been received. [cite news|url=http://www.24dash.com/localgovernment/15788.htm|title=Twenty-six councils bid to become unitary authorities|date=2007-01-26|publisher=24dash.com] Various county councils proposed they should become unitary authorities: Bedfordshire, Cheshire, Cornwall, Cumbria, Durham, North Yorkshire, Northumberland, Shropshire, Somerset and Wiltshire. Districts seeking to become unitary authorities on their own were Bedford, Exeter, Ipswich, Lancaster, Oxford, Preston. Pendle and Burnley 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. [cite news|url=http://www.egovmonitor.com/node/10037|title=Woolas announces sixteen successful bids for unitary status to improve local services|date=2007-03-27]

On 25 July 2007 it was announced that the unitary proposals by Cumbria, North Yorkshire and Somersetcite news | title = Unitary authority plan rejected | publisher = BBC News | date = 2007-07-25 | url =http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/somerset/6915789.stm | accessdate = 2007-07-29 ] had been rejected. [ [http://www.gazetteandherald.co.uk/display.var.1572139.0.worst_unitary_fears_confirmed.php Worst Unitary Fears Confirmed (from The Wiltshire Gazette and Herald) ] ] On 5 December 2007 it was explained that the unitary proposals by Exeter, and Ipswich, like those of Norwich (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 Council and by Congleton Borough Council to the government's decisions, on the basis (amongst other things) that the reviews were made without statutory authority. The High Court and then on 4 March 2008 the Court of Appeal rejected the challenge, finding that the review had been legalized retrospectively. [ [http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2008/148.html Shrewsbury and Atcham BC and another v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government] ; [2008] EWCA Civ 148]

‡ existing district

Further changes

The Boundary Committee for England is currently carrying structural reviews for Norfolk, Suffolk and Devon. [http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/boundary-reviews/about-structural-reviews]

The draft proposals published in July 2008 recommended a single unityary authority model for all of Devon except Plymouth and Torbay (which are already unitary authorities; a second suggested alternative was an Exeter and Exmouth unitary authority and a rump Devon unitary authority. [http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/boundary-reviews/all-reviews/south-west/devon/devon-structural-review] The proposals for Norfolk and Suffolk range from single countywide unitary authorities to up to four authorities in each county.

A 12 week consultation process is underway and the Committee is expected to make final recommendations by the end of 2008.


External links

*Office of Public Sector Information - [http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2008/draft/ukdsi_9780110811833_en_1 Bedfordshire (Structural Changes) Order 2008] (Draft)
*Office of Public Sector Information - [http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2008/draft/ukdsi_9780110808871_en_1 Cheshire (Structural Changes) Order 2008] (Draft)
*Office of Public Sector Information - [http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2008/draft/ukdsi_9780110808147_en_1 Cornwall (Structural Change) Order 2008] (Draft)
*Office of Public Sector Information - [http://www.opsi.gov.uk/SI/si2008/draft/ukdsi_9780110808154_en_1 County Durham (Structural Change) Order 2008] (Draft)
*Office of Public Sector Information - [http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2008/draft/ukdsi_9780110808123_en_1 Northumberland (Structural Change) Order 2008] (Draft)
*Office of Public Sector Information - [http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2008/draft/ukdsi_9780110808116_en_1 Shropshire (Structural Change) Order 2008] (Draft)
*Office of Public Sector Information - [http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2008/draft/ukdsi_9780110808130_en_1 Wiltshire (Structural Change) Order 2008] (Draft)

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