Communities across Morecambe Bay have sent a strong signal to Government on proposals for local government reorganisation.
A Government minister confirmed that there had been a significant number of responses on The Bay proposal during a recent consultation, which closed on 19 April.
He also indicated that the majority of email responses received in the Government’s consultation had been from people backing the idea of joining up Barrow, Lancaster and South Lakeland councils and forming a new Bay unitary authority.
The comments from Luke Hall MP, Minister for Regional Growth and Local Government, came during a House of Commons debate on the Bay unitary proposal secured by Lancaster and Fleetwood MP Cat Smith.
Mr Hall said that he had checked that morning on the number of responses received on the four proposals put forward for Cumbria and said that: “…well over four fifths of email responses alone are about the Bay proposal, and nearly two thirds of the total emails for Cumbria are from the “Back the Bay” campaign.’’
The confirmation of strong support for the Bay proposal has been welcomed by Leaders of the three councils proposing the new authority.
In a joint statement, Councillor Ann Thomson from Barrow Borough Council, Councillor Dr Erica Lewis from Lancaster City Council and Councillor Giles Archibald from South Lakeland District Council, said: “This is confirmation from a Government minister of what we have been hearing ourselves in our communities and what we found when we conducted our own surveys and consultation events late last year – that there is strong backing for the idea of a Bay authority.
“The Bay is the most ambitious, forward-thinking and rational plan for our areas, based on strong existing community and economic links and a credible geography.
“It shows how we can work together with a range of organisations in the Bay area to drive positive change on shared priorities including building community power and engagement, reducing inequality and inequity, improving wellbeing, building community wealth and tackling the climate emergency and loss of biodiversity.
“We have been delighted with the positive reaction to our proposal and we really believe it has captured the imagination of everyone who wants to see our combined area develop and thrive.
“We made a powerful case to Government and demonstrated strong local support for The Bay. It seems from the minister’s comments in the House of Commons debate that Government has also heard that support loud and clear through its own consultation process.
“We would like to thank everyone who took the time to respond to the Government’s consultation on this crucially important decision, a decision that will shape the future for our communities for many years to come. Government has always insisted this is a ‘locally led’ process and that they will listen to the views of affected communities. We just hope and expect that Government now listen to those voices and that it supports the creation of a Bay unitary.’’
The recent Government consultation was open to businesses, community and voluntary sector organisations and members of the public.
Respondents were able to email or complete an online survey, indicating their views on four proposals put forward for local government reorganisation in Cumbria:
- Barrow, South Lakeland and Lancaster jointly submitted a proposal for two unitary councils: 'The Bay' comprising the area covered by Barrow Borough, South Lakeland District and Lancaster City Councils and ‘North Cumbria’, comprising the area covered by Allerdale Borough, Carlisle City, Copeland Borough and Eden District Councils.
- Allerdale and Copeland jointly submitted a proposal for two unitary councils: ‘West Cumbria’ comprising the area covered by Allerdale Borough, Carlisle City and Copeland Borough Councils and ‘East Cumbria’ comprising the area covered by Barrow Borough, Eden District and South Lakeland District Councils.
- Carlisle and Eden jointly submitted a proposal for two unitary councils: ‘North Cumbria’ comprising the area covered by Allerdale Borough, Carlisle City and Eden District Councils and ‘South Cumbria’ comprising the area covered by Barrow Borough, Copeland Borough and South Lakeland District Councils.
- Cumbria County Council submitted a proposal for a single unitary council covering the county area of Cumbria County ‘One Cumbria’.
The joint proposal for a new Bay authority received strong support locally when it was unveiled late last year, in response to a letter from Government in October sent to councils in Cumbria, North Yorkshire and Somerset inviting submissions on ‘locally-led proposals for unitary government’ in those areas.
To gauge local opinion on the idea and to inform the submission of the final proposal to Government in December, Barrow, Lancaster and South Lakeland councils conducted a joint online survey, commissioned an independent opinion poll and staged a number of well-attended virtual engagement events with community groups, businesses, parish and town councils and young people. Feedback from more than 4,000 respondents demonstrated overwhelming backing for a Bay unitary.
Under the plan, the district councils of Barrow, Lancaster and South Lakeland and county council in Cumbria would be replaced with a newly created, single tier ‘unitary’ local authority for the area. The new authority would deliver the services currently provided by both the district and county councils such as waste and recycling collections, public realm, planning, highways and transport and adult and children’s social care.
Full Council meetings of all three councils in December agreed the business case for a Bay unitary should be submitted to Government.
Editor’s note: The full Hansard transcript of the House of Commons debate on the Bay unitary proposal is at: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2021-04-13/debates/F7757672-3848-436A-8142-937F334C3D16/BayLocalAuthorityInNorthLancashireAndSouthCumbria