Buckinghamshire councils to be merged into single unitary as Brokenshire backs bid

The five existing local authorities in Buckinghamshire will be abolished in favour of a unitary council that will come into effect in April 2020, the communities secretary has announced.

The current two-tier structure of Buckinghamshire County Council, and the district councils of Aylesbury Vale, Chiltern, South Bucks and Wycombe, will cease to exist with a single unitary council being favoured over a potential two separate unitary bodies – a proposal which has been mulled over by the government over recent months.

In James Brokenshire’s announcement today, the communities secretary argued that the government “will not seek to impose top-down solutions on local government,” adding that where there is a desire and a thrust for more change and innovation, the Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government (MHCLG) will “look to support those involved.”

In March, then-secretary of state for MHCLG Sajid Javid announced that he was ‘minded to’ approve unitary plans for Buckinghamshire.

“Given the desire and thrust for change and innovation in Buckinghamshire, that the five councils agree that the current structures are not sustainable, and that the locally-led proposal for a single unitary is the only proposal that meets the three criteria, I am persuaded that the right course of action is to establish a new single unitary district council for Buckinghamshire,” Brokenshire wrote.

“I am clear that there is broad consent for change in Buckinghamshire. Both proposals made it clear that retaining the status quo is not an option.

“I have concluded that whilst both proposals meet the criterion for a ‘good deal of local support,’ only the proposal for a single unitary council satisfies the criteria for ‘improving local government’ and for ‘being a credible geography,’ and that in any event the proposal for a single unitary council is better able to meet the criteria overall.”

Brokenshire will now prepare and lay before Parliament drafts of the necessary secondary legislation, and, if Parliament approves this legislation, the council will be established on 1 April 2020 with the first elections to the council held on 7 May 2020.

“I intend to explore with the district councils whether they would like me to make and lay before Parliament an Order to delay for one year the May 2019 local elections in Aylesbury Vale, Chiltern, South Bucks and Wycombe, so as to avoid councillors being elected for only one year if Parliament approves the legislation establishing the new council.

“From March 2019 the sunset clause means that the consent provisions in the process we are currently using for reorganisations fall away. In future, any proposal considered under the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act process will require unanimous consent from all councils.”

Buckinghamshire County Council leader Martin Tett said the announcement made yesterday a “truly historic day” for the county.  

“The announcement paves the way for a brand-new council, fit for the future, created by combining the best of both county and district councils. This new council will be simpler, better value and more local to our residents.

“Now a decision has been made it is the time to put the past behind us and work together, to build the better future Buckinghamshire’s residents deserve.”

Director of the CCN Simon Edwards said: “In this unprecedented period of financial pressures facing local authorities, Buckinghamshire’s ambitious plans will allow them to better adapt to the significant challenges facing councils, as well as ensuring that frontline services are protected, with a strong platform for promoting growth and wider public service reform.”

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Image credit: PA


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