Cumbria County Council has been told the Government needs more time to respond to a potential legal challenge to its plans to split the county into two unitary authorities.
Cumbria County Council had written to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government seeking permission to challenge the Government’s decision to create two unitaries in Cumbria. The county council claims the decision taken was “unlawful”.
The authority’s reasons for this were outlined in the letter to Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick calling for a judicial review.
The deadline for response was originally set for August 23. However, the Ministry wrote to Cumbria County Council asking for more time to respond.
A new deadline of Monday, September 6, is now in place for the government department to respond to the pre-action protocol letter and requests made by the county council for information.
In addition, a Penrith man has launched a Parliamentary petition in an effort to overturn the Government’s proposals for local government reorganisation in Cumbria.
Miles MacInnes, of Pooley Bridge, said: “The principle of unitary local government is a good one and makes strong economic sense.
“However, the Government’s proposals for us here in Cumbria will be nothing short of disastrous.
“Despite acknowledging that a single council for the whole county ‘met all necessary criteria’, the proposal for two east and west authorities is both illogical and unworkable.
“What does the rural population of Alston or Kirkby Stephen have in common with Barrow in Furness which is actually in the west of the county? Barrow is 87 miles from Alston and nearly two hours by road.
“If a single authority is unacceptable, a north and south split is a much better practical and logical choice — Penrith is the obvious location for the north’s headquarters.
“Furthermore, to expect a Parliamentary decision at the ‘turn of the year’ followed by-elections the following May is clearly impractical and unachievable.
“Single unitary authorities are proposed for North Yorkshire and Somerset which have similar populations to Cumbria.
“I, therefore, cannot understand why Mr Jenrick has opted for two authorities and can’t help thinking that this is a political decision which is why local Conservative MPs appear to support it”, adds Mr MacInnes.
“Only 3,200 responses were received in the consultation process which is hardly representative of a population of around 500,000.
“Virtually everyone I speak to opposes the idea of ‘east and west’ authorities, so I urge everyone who agrees with me to sign my petition.” A total of 10,000 signatures will require a response from Government; if 100,000 are achieved the matter will go before Parliament.
Mr MacInnes’ petition can be found at petition.parliament.uk/petitions/594596.
Meanwhile, county councillors last week agreed to oppose the authority’s leader’s bid to launch a judicial review.
The motion to oppose the bid, which is non-binding, was put to council by Conservative member Stephen Haralsden at a special meeting at Carlisle Racecourse.
It set out to make the leader of Cumbria County Council, Stewart Young, aware that councillors did not support the judicial review and that it would be “a waste of public money and time”.
It was passed 30 to 18 with eight councillors abstaining.
Labour members supported the leader’s right to object. They feel that the public should have been properly consulted on the model of local government in Cumbria.
Mr Haralsden said: “I welcome the opportunity finally to hear the myriad views on local government reform that we’ve not had the opportunity over the last several years.”
He said he regretted having to call the special meeting, which had proved controversial, but stressed that it was not unnecessary.
“This meeting was called to protect, or try to protect, the prize of local government reform, from the wrecking ambitions of the leader and the Labour group,” said Mr Haralsden.