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10.08.16

Sheffield facing legal action over ‘flawed and unlawful’ devolution consultation

Derbyshire County Council has decided to launch legal action against Sheffield City Region (SCR) Combined Authority over proposals to put some county council services in the hands of the city-region’s new mayor. 

The county council’s leader, Cllr Anne Western, said the authority is seeking permission from the High Court for a judicial review of these proposals, outlined in a SCR public consultation exercise that Derbyshire has branded “misleading, flawed and insufficient” – and therefore unlawful.

Cllr Western acknowledged that the council might be criticised for the decision, but stressed it is important to “act now and send out a strong message to help put a stop to these proposals, or risk Chesterfield spending the next 30 years living in South Yorkshire's shadow”. 

SCR’s consultation, which closes on 12 August, could transfer responsibility over some of the county council's services to the Sheffield mayor, including decisions over major roads, funding for maintenance and road safety on all roads in the borough, public transport and travel concessions, skills for employment and major planning and investment projects.

“If these proposals go ahead, it will affect the people of Chesterfield and Derbyshire for generations to come and yet the consultation doesn't tell the full story or ask the right questions − so how can people give an informed view?” Cllr Western said. 

“The county council has a responsibility to act in the best interests of all its residents and we could not sit idly by and watch South Yorkshire break up Derbyshire without a proper consultation.

“The fact is that if Chesterfield becomes a full member of SCR it will undoubtedly be at a huge financial cost to Derbyshire County Council − and therefore Derbyshire taxpayers − in making our services fit in with new arrangements for Chesterfield, not to mention around £1m in business rates from Markham Vale which would all be transferred to SCR.”

She stressed that if the plans - which the county council is asking to be legally quashed - go ahead, it would be a “big decision with no easy way back” should Chesterfield join the SCR Combined Authority. This would be despite the county council’s own online poll, which received 4,000 responses, showing that 92% of residents reject proposals to join the city-region’s authority. 

As well as being a “leap in the dark” given no other council in the country has joined a combined authority outside their county border, which Derbyshire would be forced to do, plans are raising concerns of representation. 

The county council said that because Chesterfield is better off than most of Sheffield and South Yorkshire, the new mayor could push its needs to the back of the queue. The mayor could also end up having “little regard” for residents in neighbouring Derbyshire districts, resulting in a potential change to transport services and therefore general borough connectivity. 

It also criticised the fact that Derbyshire and Chesterfield councils would only have one vote each in joint decisions, while Sheffield, Barnsley, Rotherham and Doncaster - the members of SCR - would have two each. 

The future of Chesterfield would also inevitably be tied to SCR’s 30-year devolution plan, despite only the first few years of investment in the borough having been outlined so far. 

“We've got a moral duty to fight for our residents and protect them against things we believe will put them at a disadvantage,” Cllr Western continued.

“Chesterfield is Derbyshire's biggest town, most people who live there also work in Derbyshire and they don't want to become a suburb of Sheffield − which is effectively what will happen if these plans go ahead.”

According to SCR’S Twitter, the combined authority has received over 2,200 responses to the consultation so far. 

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