Preston City Council proposes merger with South Ribble, Chorley and West Lancashire
Preston City Council has revealed that it wants to merge with the boroughs of South Ribble, Chorley and West Lancashire to create a new Central Lancashire-wide local authority.
It has become the latest council in the county to reveal its hand as moves to redraw Lancashire’s local government map gather pace.
The government has said that an end to the current two-tier system in Lancashire and a dramatic reduction in the overall number of councils would be a condition of any devolution deal to bring extra powers and cash to the county – along with an elected mayor and a separate combined authority.
Preston leader Matthew Brown has now sent a letter to the government to request a review of Lancashire’s local authority set-up and to be invited to formally pitch his proposal for a new Central Lancashire “unitary” council, which would be responsible for delivering all services in the area.
He told the Lancashire Post that it was important to “put an end to the speculation” and set out Preston’s preferred option – which he believes will bring big benefits to residents.
“We have been very successful in trying to achieve our social justice aims – things like the living wage and making sure that the public pound is spent with locally-based companies.
“But the reality is we are a small district council – imagine what we could do if we were a much larger authority pursuing that agenda and an environmental one as well. We could, for instance, get much more involved in the provision of social housing.
“The way things are done at the moment is holding Central Lancashire back. If we were a unitary council, the new cinema and restaurant development in the city centre would probably have been built by now, but for the first two years we were in discussions with the county council about how we would do it jointly – and then we ended up finding a way of developing it ourselves,” said Cllr Brown.
He added that he was keen for the benefits of any new structure to be felt equally across the four existing council areas.
However, Chorley, South Ribble and West Lancashire have not co-signed the letter – and the government does not require consensus amongst councils before it will consider any proposed changes.
South Ribble Council leader Paul Foster said that he was “open to all suggestions that are in the best interests of Central Lancashire”.
The leaders of Chorley and West Lancashire councils were approached for comment about Preston’s proposal
Speaking about the earlier county council pitch for a four-way Central Lancashire authority, West Lancashire leader Ian Moran said: “I, along with opposition leaders here in West Lancashire, are concerned with County Cllr Driver’s plans and whether it will help West Lancs residents or the businesses that operate here. We will support proposals that are in the best interests of West Lancashire.”
The four constituent councils of the proposed new unitary are all currently Labour-controlled, but all have also been Conservative-led within the past ten years.
The new council would acquire powers from the county council, such as social care, highways and education, to add to responsibilities it already has like planning, parks and waste collection.
In his letter to secretary of state for housing, communities and local government, Robert Jenrick, Cllr Brown writes: “The four existing authorities working together as a unitary would be committed to nurturing and supporting our diverse but cohesive communities as well as enhancing the historic city, towns and settlements across this proposed authority area.”
Lancashire County Council is understood to be poised to send its own letter to the government within days, with a more detailed outline business case to follow before publication of the government’s devolution white paper in early September.
County Cllr Driver said that he welcomed Preston City Council's proposal, but added: "I'm disappointed with the negative attitudes of some council leaders, which demonstrates exactly why we need to act to break the logjam.
"It would appear that some of them would do anything to protect their own fiefdom, even if that was to the disadvanatage of their own residents as well as everyone else in Lancashire."
This week, Ribble Valley Borough Council became the first council in the county to call for a referendum before any reorganisation could go ahead.
Last year, Blackburn with Darwen Council leader Mohammed Khan wrote to the government proposing a Pennine Lancashire authority consisting of his own council, along with Burnley, Rossendale, Hyndburn and Pendle.
Last week, Wyre Council floated the idea of joining up with Blackpool, Fylde, Lancaster and Ribble Valley – although has not proposed a formal bid to the government as yet.
The Lancashire County Council proposal matches those so far put on the table by other authorities.