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Gloucestershire Business News

City’s future under threat from unitary council plan

Two thousand years of history should be protected, if the government pushes ahead with plans to reorganise local government, according to the Liberal Democrats.

The government is expected to publish a White Paper on scrapping the two tier system of local government in September.

Were the proposals to get the go-ahead it would mean Gloucestershire's six district councils would be scrapped and replaced with a single unitary council for Gloucestershire or possibly two unitary authorities - splitting the county in half.

Cllr Jeremy Hilton, leader of Gloucester Liberal Democrats, said: "The city of Gloucester was founded in AD97 by the Romans and granted its first charter in 1155 by Henry II. The Mayor of Gloucester dates back to 1228 and the post of Sheriff is even older. Now nearly 2,000 years later the future of the city council is under threat from the Conservative government, who may well be proposing to abolish it.

"The city and the country are at the very early stages of the recovery from the coronavirus lockdown and we think there are more important things to be focusing on than reorganising local government at this time."

While the White Paper hasn't yet been published, political parties are already planning how they will react. As a White Paper is draft legislation, it can be changed by public consultation, including consultation with local councils and councillors. Should the White Paper propose scrapping Gloucester City Council, the Liberal Democrats believe the best option for the city would be to extend the existing boundaries to take in those areas around the city, which are part of greater Gloucester.

Cllr Hilton said: "There is a big threat that we will lose the city of Gloucester council forever.

"The Liberal Democrats will be guided by the basic principle of 'What is best for Gloucester?'. Gloucester has a very strong identity, with diverse communities that give it a unique character, and this must be protected.

"We want to see a new local unitary council based on our existing interconnected residential and business communities that form part of greater Gloucester. What we absolutely do not want to see is the creation of unitary councils for party political advantage, whether that is red, blue or yellow."

While the White Paper is still to be published, Gloucester Liberal Democrats will work to secure the best form of local government for the city.

Cllr Declan Wilson, deputy Lib Dem group leader, said: "Our preference is for a single unitary authority based on greater Gloucester. This should include those wards that currently surround the city, especially those that are projected to meet Gloucester's housing needs as identified in the Joint Core Strategy.

"If that is not possible, then we suggest merging the Gloucester, Cheltenham and Tewkesbury district councils, as they already work together as part of the Joint Core Strategy area.

"We are utterly opposed to Labour's plan of cutting Gloucestershire in half down the middle and creating an east-west split. An east-west split would remove large areas of greater Gloucester from the new unitary council, which have been identified as key sites to serve the city's housing and business needs."

Cllr Richard Cook, leader of Gloucester City Council, said: "Cllrs Hilton and Wilson make valid points about the history of the city of Gloucester and I agree that the loss of focus on the heritage and history of the city by a larger unitary authority would be very much a shame.

"I note that Cllr Hilton mentions that we are in the early stages of recovery from the coronavirus lockdown, yet still spends time speculating about a devolution White Paper two months away.

"I prefer not to speculate about things that have not yet happened and concentrate on the job in hand, which is to work as hard as possible promoting the recovery of businesses and the economy in general in the city, so that as many jobs as possible can be protected."

Proposals will become clearer when the White Paper is published in September.

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