Plans for the carve-up of Lancashire County Council seem to be coming thick and fast.
Preston City Council proposed a merger with South Ribble, Chorley and West Lancashire. A day later Preston was left out of a new South Ribble, Chorley and West Lancashire merger plan.
West Lancashire leader Ian Moran set out his fundamental opposition to being drawn into any tie-up with Preston. “We have no links with Preston, whereas we do share some links with Chorley and South Ribble. A Preston-based council would just become a mini-county council, in which West Lancashire is ignored just as we are now.
“It would be to the detriment of the towns, villages and hamlets of the borough” Cllr Moran warned.
The leaders of the trio have written to the government to request a formal invitation to develop their plan for a standalone council covering the three districts and their collective 340,000 population. The move is part of fast-moving negotiations over attempts to secure a devolution deal for the county, which will require a wholesale shake-up of the existing council structure.
In their letter, they state that the proposed patch represents “a functioning economic area” and features “communities with many commonalities”. South Ribble Borough Council leader Paul Foster told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) that the distinction in tone was because of the different approaches taken by the city and county council.
“There is a lot of politics going on at the moment, but the fact is that we were left blind to County Cllr Driver’s proposal. Why didn’t he come and speak to us if he thinks that his option is the best? Preston City Council speaks to us [South Ribble, Chorley, and West Lancashire] about these things on a regular basis.
“Ultimately, ministers may make this decision for us, but the integrity of local government in this region and the needs of the residents we serve are paramount” said Cllr Foster, adding that he hoped to move forward to have a “constructive discussion” with all parties.
Chorley Council leader Alistair Bradley said that his authority had been working with neighbouring councils to develop “a consistent and joined-up view of where Chorley’s interests may be best placed in any changes to local government”.
“Position documents have been drafted by various councils, but unfortunately, we were unable to achieve any unanimity of view. Given that the county council has moved forward with their intention to present their proposal which has no consensus with Lancashire leaders it is prudent for us to voice the opinion of Chorley Council to ensure that the voices of our council, our residents and beloved communities are heard”.
Neither Cllr Foster nor Cllr Bradley commented on whether there were any circumstances in which they would ultimately accept a merger which involved Preston.
Preston City Council leader Matthew Brown moved to reassure all three of his fellow Labour colleagues who have come together to make their own pitch for so-called “unitary” status, telling the LDRS that they would be “equal partners in any new arrangement”.
“All of four of us have had extensive discussions and there was openness to new structures, but disagreements over the precise footprint. I feel the motivation behind our proposal is very different to Driver’s, as we believe it is the best way to achieve our radical ambitions to build an inclusive economy and society in Central Lancashire, in which wealth is shared around more evenly” said Cllr Brown, adding that he was confident of having further “constructive” talks on his proposal.