Councillor Paul Foster South Ribble
Foster, leader of South Ribble Council, and two other leaders from Chorley and West Lancashire, have proposed a unitary alternative

Lancashire leaders hit out at combined authority plans

Sarah Townsend

The leaders of South Ribble, Chorley and West Lancashire councils have said there is insufficient consensus across the county for a combined authority, and proposed the trio form a separate unitary authority instead.

Councillors from the 15 Lancashire local authorities met on 10 June and unanimously agreed to investigate the possibility of greater devolution from central Government – through the formation of a combined authority – as a way of driving the county’s future economic growth.

Talks between the councils have taken place over the ensuing weeks and Lancashire County Council has written to communities secretary Robert Jenrick to progress the plans.

However, Chorley, South Ribble and West Lancashire councils say they have not yet lent their backing to the combined authority proposals and have written to Jenrick with an alternative suggestion for a Central Lancashire unitary authority comprising the three councils.

Their letter states: “There is a widely held belief that the current structure of local government in Lancashire is not fit for purpose. It means that local government across the county is unable to fulfil the role it should in providing clear and accountable leadership to our residents, nor does it support the development of sustainable public services.

“Having considered this position…we have come to believe that the challenges faced by public services are such that local government needs to radically change to ensure that Lancashire is served by clear structures that promote accountability and quality public services…

“With all of this in mind and while we remain open to constructive conversations with our partners within Lancashire and central government, we believe that the combination of West Lancashire, South Ribble and Chorley boroughs could provide a coherent basis for a single council.”

Such an authority would serve a population of more than 340,000 people and not entail breaking up borough areas or crossing county boundaries, the letter states.

“This would represent a functioning economic area and serve communities with many commonalities. Importantly, it would fit with a wider reorganisation of the rest of Lancashire.” For example, the number of directors of children’s services and adult social care across Lancashire would not need to increase, it said.

The letter asks Jenrick for the opportunity to work with Government to develop the outline proposal into a fully worked business case.

Under Lancashire County Council’s plan, three councils would be responsible for the delivery of services to the people of Lancashire. This would pave the way for the election of a mayor for the whole county and the creation of a Lancashire Combined Authority.

However, Cllr Ian Moran, leader of West Lancashire Council, said: “For [the county council] to push forward with its agenda without consensus of the other leaders is disappointing, and I fear sets an environment of disjointed communications and mistrust across the region on what is a fundamental decision to be made.

“I am pleased that I can stand alongside my colleagues at South Ribble and Chorley who share the same view as to what is best for our boroughs and residents.”

Cllr Paul Foster, leader of South Ribble Borough Council, added: “I am deeply disappointed with the county council’s decision to press forward and request dialogue with the Secretary of State on this matter without our consensus.

“I look forward to moving forward in constructive discussions with all partners, including County Council in the hope of finding a resolution we are all comfortable with.”

And Chorley Council leader Cllr Alistair Bradley said: “Discussions amongst Lancashire leaders on this matter have been ongoing for an extremely long time and I echo my fellow leaders’ disappointment.

“Over the past weeks and months, we have collectively tried to work with our neighbours 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 however, unfortunately, we were unable to achieve any unanimity of view.

“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.”

Lancashire County Council has been contacted for comment.

Your Comments

Read our comments policy here

This is why Lancashire consistently misses out on investment, even from Transport for the North and Powerhouse. Too many councils, too much politics. The council structure does need to be made more simple. The Lancashire County plan of a three-way split makes more sense.

By Katie

Sounds like they don’t want to give up their power or their jobs.

By Suman

Ormskirk and Skem are intrinsically more linked to Liverpool than to Preston.

By Red Squirrel

The districts in Lancashire will never agree to large unitary structures..to much self interest individually and politically …it will need to be imposed …..notably unitary council in Blackburn with Darwen and the county unusually agree . I think this proposal will happen …it must otherwise Lancashire with fall further and further behind

By George

Councils unable to come to a consensus. Classic Lancashire.

The County Council model is very outdated. For the sake of their residents South Ribble, Chorley and West Lancs should merge and become a unitary authority as soon as possible.

By x

the idea that Blackpool absorbs Lancaster is ridiculous.

By Sceptic

I think possibly the power is desired more by Preston Council and jobs there. Leave us as we are please. Imposing things on people… not really a good way to run a County.

By Carole

West Lancs should be forced by government into LCR and Chorley to Preston or GM.

They in no way form a functioning urban or economic areas.

By WooltonCity

A little absurd for the three to join forces… where would be the admin centre? Ormskirk or Chorley? As great as they are, I wouldn’t have thought they hold the same gravitas as Preston for example. Parts of South Ribble are effectively Preston suburbia anyway!

Lancs is a great county, its just a shame the various towns and districts cant make a joint decision! If there’s anything which puts off investment; its indecisiveness and the unwillingness to work together.

Put aside your differences and make the future Lancashire better for all!

By Proud of Lancs

My guess is that there will be a number of other different unitary proposals emerging in the coming weeks. The West Lancs/Chorley/South Ribble one is generally a good case. LCC’s proposal of an authority covering Fylde Coast/Lancaster District and Ribble Valley is genuinely bizarre in my opinion. Lancaster District I understand are working with Barrow and South Lakeland (the latter two authorities have considerable tracts which were once in historic Lancashire).
Any new proposed unitaries must not exceed 600,000 persons is what I’ve heard though I think any new councils will generally have 300,000-400,000 persons. Easy solutions in other parts of the country like Gloucestershire and Worcestershire county councils (two way splits in both cases is my hunch) but more trickier in a very big entity like LCC.
There will also, as proposed, be a further souping up of civil parish/town level government powers along, no doubt, with new town councils. Good for local democracy and services.

By SW

What would be more ideal is that Preston absorbs South Ribble council as these are cultural more connected (see City deal). Thos become Preston City council maybe Preston city council absorbs some area of the surronding councils redraw some of these boundaries people say they live Preston eventhough they live in Wyre, Flyde, South Ribble and Ribble Valley. The surronding councils become metropoltian boroughs of the Lancashire combine authority (Preston City region). Now maybe decide whether it is worth including Blackburn, Blackpool and Lancaster in this or keeping them as unitary councils (What watford is to Greater London or instead what Croydon is to Greater London ). West Lancashire is economical linked to wigan and liverpool maybe this should borough of merseyside or Wigan if they decide to leave Greater Manchester (Split could be based on PR and L postcode). Also old historical boundary of Lancashire should be reintroduced for cermonial purpose signs across the North West. The City of Preston is in prime position in terms of intercity transport (HS2, Large bus station) and a large university(UCLAN is slowly improving) to bring benefits to the surrounding councils. Preston City Region will encourage to people to investement in IKEA, Big Technology companies etc.

By Aditya