Old counties to return as Welsh map is redrawn

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THE MAP of Wales was redrawn yesterday with a St David's Day announcement that local government in the principality is to be organised into 21 unitary councils. The change will see the return from April 1995 of old counties and the erasure of the more recent creations Clywd, Dyfed, Gwynedd and Gwent.

David Hunt, Secretary of State for Wales, told the Commons that removing duplication of services would achieve greater efficiency and better value for money for the taxpayer. There could be savings in local government running costs of up to pounds 17m a year, but transition costs could range from pounds 65m to pounds 150m over 15 years. Mr Hunt said he was confident that the reorganisation would pay for itself in that time.

The 21 unitary authorities will replace 37 district councils and eight county councils. Cardiff, Swansea, Newport and Wrexham will be served by unitary councils, as will the traditional counties. Back come Monmouthshire, Carmarthenshire, Cardiganshire, Flintshire and Denbighshire.

According to a White Paper setting out the proposals, the Government believes the present system - the product of a 1974 Conservative reorganisation - is not widely understood and does not sufficiently reflect people's identification with their localities. The replacement of 400-year-old counties had not secured 'wholehearted public support'.

But the name Powys survives for a vast swathe of mid-Wales. Alex Carlile, the Liberal Democrat spokesman for Wales, whose constituency will be within it, warned that Mr Hunt would be known as 'the man who abolished the ancient county of Montgomeryshire'. Jonathan Evans, Conservative MP for Brecon and Radnor, urged Mr Hunt to reconsider the proposal for Powys.

Mr Hunt said he would be pressing the new authority to establish a committee for each of the historic counties of Montgomeryshire, Breconshire and Radnorshire, 'and so maintain the political identity of the traditional counties within Powys'.

Ron Davies, Labour's spokesman on Wales, said the Conservatives were alone in believing that unitary authorities were acceptable except in the context of a Welsh assembly. He said some 20 per cent of local authority jobs could be shed under the switch. 'The loss of some 30,000 jobs, if that figure is correct, would be devastating,' he said.