Battle lines drawn in county reorganisation bid

Battle lines are being drawn up as Lancashire looks to seal a devolution deal for the county.

District council leaders are publicly at odds over proposals to create three unitary authorities across Lancashire in a looming shake-up of local government.

The plan has been put forward by the County Council as part of the route towards a devolution deal with the government that would unlock massive amounts of cash for Lancashire.

The county council’s blueprint would also see an elected mayor and the creation of the Lancashire Combined Authority. Presently the county is served by 15 local authorities.

Preston is calling for a ‘Central Lancashire’ authority consisting of the city, South Ribble, Chorley and West Lancashire – matched by new unitary bodies covering the coastal and Pennine areas of the county.

Leader of Preston City Council, Councillor Matthew Brown said: “It is clear to see that change is necessary and that the current structure for local government in Lancashire is not fit for purpose for our shared ambitions for both the county and the Central Lancashire area.”

But leaders from South Ribble, Chorley and West Lancashire have responded by calling for a ‘Central Lancashire’ that does not include Preston.

District council leaders, Paul Foster, Alistair Bradley and Ian Moran from South Ribble, Chorley and West Lancs respectively, have come together to express their “utmost disappointment” at the County Council’s decision to push forward with their proposals to central government.

They say County Hall is doing so “without sufficient consensus from their authorities”. And they have written to the secretary of state Robert Jenrick putting forward their views on the way forward.

Councillor Paul Foster, Leader of South Ribble Borough Council said: “I am deeply disappointed with County Council’s decision to press forward and request dialogue with the Secretary of State on this matter without our consensus.

“I’m also disappointed that the decision to push forward was made at County Council by some who also stand as Members of South Ribble Borough Council.

“The integrity of local government in this region and the needs of the residents we serve is paramount and I’m pleased I can stand alongside my fellow leaders at Chorley and West Lancashire Councils to publicly state our position.

“I look forward to moving forward in constructive discussions with all partners, including County Council in the hope of finding a resolution we are all comfortable with.”

Councillor Alistair Bradley, Leader of Chorley Council, said: “Discussions amongst Lancashire leaders on this matter have been ongoing for an extremely long time and I echo my fellow Leaders’ disappointment.

“Over the past weeks and months, we have collectively tried to work with our neighbours to develop a consistent and joined up view of where Chorley’s interests may be best placed in any changes to local government.

“Position documents have been drafted by various councils however, unfortunately we were unable to achieve any unanimity of view.

“Given County Council has moved forward with their intention to present their proposal – of which has no consensus with Lancashire leaders – forward to the Secretary of State, it is prudent for us to voice the opinion of Chorley Council to ensure that the voices of our council, our residents and beloved communities are heard.”

Councillor Ian Moran, Leader of West Lancashire Council, added: “Government’s planned shake up of local government leaves us in critical situation.

“The decisions we make at this moment will shape the future of our authorities and our operations and ultimately how we serve our hundreds of thousands of residents across the region.

“For County Council to push forward with their agenda without consensus of the other Leaders is disappointing, and I fear sets an environment of disjointed communications and mistrust across the region on what is a fundamental decision to be made.

“I am pleased that I can stand alongside my colleagues at South Ribble and Chorley Councils who share the same view as what is best placed for our boroughs and residents.

“I sincerely hope we can move forward as collective Leaders across Lancashire and move to have continued discussions about our future and to reach a consensus we can all be proud of standing by.”