Anger rises at council letter

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

SIR JOHN BANHAM, chairman of the independent Local Government Commission for England, admitted yesterday that he was asked by ministers to write a letter keeping open options for the future of Derbyshire, it emerged yesterday.

Sir John tried to forestall questions and criticisms of his move at the annual meeting of county councils in Windermere. But he said in a throwaway remark: 'It is not for me to comment on why ministers would ask me to write a letter.'

The letter throws into confusion the direction of the local government review, which has been going on for more than a year. It means district councils could come up with new proposals, more inclined to Tory minds, that could overturn the commission's decisions.

Sir John hand-delivered the letter only hours after announcing the commission's final recommendations for Derbyshire. These were that there should be single authorities for Derby and North-East Derbyshire and a two-tier structure for the rest of the county.

In the letter, Sir John said the commission was disappointed not to be able to recommend unitary structures for rural Derbyshire, and would be willing to consider such structures if they were proposed.

The Government has been under pressure from Tory MPs to create unitary authorities based on the district councils in rural Derbyshire.

Sir John was pressed about the letter yesterday. Martin Doughty, leader of Derbyshire County Council, said that his area had been in a debilitating process for the past 18 months. 'Rural commissioners told us that your report had the backing of the whole commission. On the very same day you have written a letter inviting ministers to send you back into Derbyshire. It makes the whole process a shambles.'

Sir John said his letter said nothing of the sort. He was not retracting a single word of the report's final recommendations.

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