Eight new councils proposed: Authorities would replace existing structure in Avon, Gloucestershire and Somerset

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EIGHT new all-purpose authorities should replace the existing two-tier structure of 20 district and county councils in Avon, Gloucestershire and Somerset, the Local Government Commission for England proposed yesterday.

Under draft plans, Avon County Council would be abolished, Bristol would become an authority in its own right and the pre-1974 boundaries of Somerset and Gloucestershire would be revived.

Sir John Banham, the chairman of the commission, said the proposals would mean savings of pounds 19m a year - equivalent to pounds 28 per household. He also gave the strongest warning yet to the Government about the importance of his commission's work. He said that if proposals made in the first reviews, including Derbyshire, and Cleveland and Durham, were ignored by the Government, 'the whole commission will want to consider its position. I would consider mine.'

The proposed new authorities are: the City of Bristol, based on existing city council boundaries; South Gloucestershire, based on Kingswood and Northavon; Mid Gloucestershire, based on Gloucester City and Stroud; East Gloucestershire (or The Cotswolds), based on Cheltenham, Cotswold and Tewkesbury; The Forest of Dean, based on the present Forest of Dean; North West Somerset, based on Woodspring; North East Somerset (or Bath and North East Somerset), based on Bath Wansdyke and parts of North Mendip, including Frome; South and West Somerset, based on Somerset County Council, less parts of North Mendip. But Sir John said there were alternative proposals which local people might prefer, and there was the possibility of making no change at all. 'We are putting forward proposals for local people. It's not a flak-free undertaking.'

So far, 6,000 people from Avon, Gloucestershire and Somerset had expressed opinions. Many had seen the abolition of Avon as 'inevitable', although it was the structure of local government rather than the performance of the county council that had provoked the antipathy, Sir John said.

According to a specially commissioned opinion poll, people in Gloucestershire identified more with district councils. But in Somerset, the county council had as strong an identification as the districts.

Frank Thompson, chairman of Gloucestershire council, said: 'This is a recipe for disaster, a step backwards, not forwards. It's a far worse arrangement than the councils we have now, and has little or no support from local people. I just can't believe that the commission wants to impose a whole series of mini-Avons across Gloucestershire.'

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