Gummer backs county break-up: Ngaio Crequer looks at plans to replace Cleveland with four unitary authorities

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Indy Politics
PLANS TO abolish Cleveland County Council and replace it with four unitary authorities were accepted by the Government yesterday.

John Gummer, Secretary of State for the Environment, accepted the final recommendations of the Local Government Commission, headed by Sir John Banham.

Outside of the Isle of Wight - where there was all-party agreement for a single council - this is the first commission decision to be accepted by the Government. Cleveland council has applied for leave to seek a judicial review of the way the commission made its decisions.

Mr Gummer has accepted in principle the commission's view that Cleveland County Council should be abolished, but has said that this must be subject to decisions still to be made on County Durham and North Yorkshire. He has accepted the case for four new unitary authorities based on the boundaries of existing district councils: Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Stockton-on-Tees and Langbaurgh-on-Tees (to be renamed Redcar and Cleveland).

Last night, Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat councillors on Cleveland County Council issued a joint statement in which they urged the people of Teesside to 'rise up in protest' against the decision, which they said heralded an 'impending disaster'. They said the commission's original decision had been met with overwhelming hostility by all sections of the community. A petition signed by 25,000 people called for a united Teesside.

In disclosing the decision, Mr Gummer said: 'This will bring the benefits of unitary local authorities to Cleveland: better services delivery, more efficient and effective local government and - most importantly - one door to knock on, making the council as accountable as possible to local people.'

The decision will be seen as a success for the commission. Last year Sir John wrote to Mr Gummer saying: 'It will . . . be important that the commission and the Government, jointly, have some 'early wins' in the difficult initial stages of the review.'

He added: 'There is likely to be general acceptance of our recommendations for Avon, Cleveland and Humberside; and it would be good to have these accepted while you sort out those areas in which (so far) support for particular unitary structures is limited and there is substantial opposition to change.'

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