Ministers 'will listen' to council concerns: Curry responds to fears of 'monster' local authorites

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THE Government is prepared to listen to councils if there is a 'clear view' that proposed changes in local authorities would be detrimental, a minister said yesterday.

Commenting on the review being carried out by the Commission for Local Government in England, David Curry, the Minister for Local Government and Planning, told district councillors: 'There seems to be a clear feeling from the commission, and others, that they do not just want things to carry on as they are. If that is the case, one of our options is to change the guidelines.'

Mr Curry, who was addressing the Association of District Councils in Bournemouth, said there was a real head of steam building up over the commission's proposals.

The commission has just completed the first tranche of its review, and has proposed the creation of many large all-purpose authorities. The districts say these will be 'monster' authorities, too remote from local people.

Mr Curry said it would not be realistic to abandon the review, but one option was to draw a line after the first tranche, and another was to make it voluntary, with councils deciding whether they wanted to join a new organisation.

'If there is a general and widespread feeling about the review, then the Government has no religious attachment to a particular methodology. If there is a clear view that we should look at how the commission works, and what is good for local people, I will listen to it.'

He was also prepared to look at ways of accelerating the timetable. At present, some of the proposed changes would not be implemented until 1997.

He said there was 'quite a strong chance' that the final recommendations would, after consultation, be some distance from the original ones.

Asked about the most controversial proposal, to create two unitary authorities in Derbyshire, one for Derby and one for the rest of the county, he replied: 'I am speculating but if it were to be the case that there was a very strong local mood for five or six districts, and if it was persuasively argued, it is unlikely that Sir John Banham (chairman of the commission) and his team would ignore this.'

He said that everything the commission had so far proposed had been legitimate, although people had been surprised about the difference in options for areas that appeared to be similar in make-up.

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