Abolition threat to nine councils in Derbyshire: Review seeks switch to two authorities

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IN A DECISION that was clearly not unanimous, the Local Government Commission for England yesterday recommended that Derbyshire should in future be ruled by two authorities and that nine district councils should be abolished.

The commission said its preferred option was one council for Derby city and one for the rest of Derbyshire. But it hedged its bets by outlining three other alternatives for: three councils; five councils; and eight councils based on the existing districts.

Sir John Banham, chairman of the commission, said the arguments were 'finely balanced'. What happens to Derbyshire is crucial to many other councils. It is a typical county, with a large county council served by a second tier of districts.

Sir John was given a rough ride by the districts when he announced his draft proposals. South Derbyshire district council called on residents to act as a 'jury' to protect democracy. Phil Richardson, Labour leader of the council, said: 'Local people have made it very plain that they would rather have a locally controlled community.'

Since a leaked report in March said that the commission was moving against district councils, more than 2,500 residents had supported a bid for South Derbyshire to run itself.

Lewis Rose, Conservative leader of Derbyshire Dales, supported by his Labour and Liberal Democrat colleagues, said the preferred option of only two councils was 'the worst possible scenario for the people of Derbyshire. They have ignored local opinion and we will fight for our own unitary authority.'

However, Martin Doughty, Labour leader of the county council, warned against the Government going against the commission's advice. In this he got to the nub. Local Tories hoped that the commission, established by Michael Heseltine when he was Secretary of State for the Environment, would undermine the power base of the Labour county council, then led by David Bookbinder.

Tory councillors, led by Edwina Currie, the South Derbyshire MP, want to see smaller authorities replacing the county council. Parliamentary boundaries are largely the same as those of the districts.

Ultimately, Michael Howard, the present Secretary of State for the Environment, will put final recommendations to Parliament and he could advise that the Government overturns the commission's proposals.

Mr Doughty said: 'Because of the shrill voices of Tory MPs we are concerned that this independent process will be turned over for political purposes.'

Sir John warned: 'If the commission found their recommendations being turned over for reasons that the commission did not find acceptable then we would consider our collective position.' However, he dodged a question as to whether the commission had been unanimous and would only say a vote had been taken.

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