National and Devolved Politics

12.06.18

Somerset should form three unitary authorities, MP suggests

Bath and North East Somerset Council leader, Tim Warren, has revealed that he would be open to a council merger, backing MP James Heappey’s recent suggestion of forming three new councils.

Writing for the Western Daily Press recently, Heappey suggested that it is time to remove the boundary that runs from Brean Down in the west to Farleigh Hungerford in the east, arguing that the communities and economy of Somerset have changed “immeasurably” since the Somerset was split to form the county of Avon in 1974.

When Somerset County Council proposed forming a unitary authority, Heappey proposed forming three unitary authorities covering the whole of the pre-1974 county.

This would see Sedgemoor merging with North Somerset, Mendip merging with Bath & North East Somerset, and the southern part of the county forming a unitary incorporating South Somerset, Taunton Deane and West Somerset.

Last month, the government gave its seal of approval to the merger of Taunton Deane and West Somerset councils.

The MP said that there is “real merit” to this proposal for many reasons, highlighting that it reflects the way the Somerset economy of many of its public services work.

He argued that while there are “huge tie ups” between Sedgemoor, Bristol University and EDF’s headquarters in Bristol, as the area becomes a leader in clean energy engineering, other part of the county feel the pull of Bristol much less, with fewer businesses connected to those economies and less use of their public service.

Instead, he suggested that it makes sense for the southern part of the county to form a unitary authority that meets the needs of Yeovil, Taunton and the surrounding areas.

Heappey said that this division would allow a “much more sensible approach to devolution” than the deal Somerset has been seeking with Devon, Plymouth and Torbay that he “struggled to understand.”

He continued: “Somerset can’t quite decide whether we’re part of the far South West or whether we’re part of the West of England.

“The reality is that half the county looks north and the other half of the county looks south. My concern is that a county-wide unitary setting our priorities in a devolution deal with Devon, Plymouth and Torbay means the centre of decision making mass is pulled southwards to the disadvantage of the communities I represent along the county’s northern boundary.

“In unitary authority terms, one size cannot fit all.”

Top image: George Clerk

 

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