Derbyshire likely to be carved up for third time: Commission reviewing council structures urged to rethink

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The Independent Online
MINISTERS are to ask the Local Government Commission for England to have a third look at proposals for reorganising the council structure in Derbyshire.

The Government is anxious to avoid the only other alternative - to reject the commission's existing recommendations, thereby throwing the whole future of the local government review into disarray.

Derbyshire is the first test for the Government and the commission. An earlier recommendation for a single unitary authority, on the Isle of Wight, was accepted by all sides.

The Government is determined to see single unitary authorities replace the two-tier structure in rural Derbyshire. But the commission is insisting on its independence and says it will not put forward proposals which do not have the support of local opinion - hence its declaration in favour of the status quo for much of the county.

Lewis Rose, Conservative leader of the Derbyshire Dales district council, which opposes two-tier councils, aid last night that he and his colleagues were hoping to meet ministers soon. 'Whether we do it through the district councils, or through the (Tory) party is not yet resolved, but things will develop very quickly. My feeling is that the Government will refer it back. I cannot think what confusion and horror exists in the minds of the public over this.'

Last Monday, the commission published its final recommendations for Derbyshire: a unitary authority for the city of Derby, one for North East Derbyshire (including Chesterfield and Bolsover), and retention of the existing two-tier structure for the rest of the area. This was a change from its draft proposals in May, which suggested two authorities: one for the city of Derby and one for the rest.

But only hours after announcing the recommendations, Sir John Banham, the commission's chairman, wrote to John Gummer, Secretary of State for the Environment, saying: 'If new joint proposals for unitary structures are now put forward in those areas where the commission has recommended that the existing arrangements should remain, you may wish to invite the commission to consider these even though our work in those areas is now complete.'

When questioned about this letter at the Association of County Councils meeting last week, Sir John said: 'It is not for me to comment on why ministers would ask me to write a letter.'