Brokenshire confirms creation of Northamptonshire unitary authorities

Eight two-tier local authorities in Northamptonshire are to be scrapped and replaced with two unitary authorities covering the county, the government has announced, which the councils concerned claim should result in improved planning services.

Brokenshire: Plans for Northamptonshire unitary authorities to go ahead.
Brokenshire: Plans for Northamptonshire unitary authorities to go ahead.

Communities secretary James Brokenshire confirmed the creation of unitary authorities for North Northamptonshire, covering the existing districts of Kettering, Corby, East Northamptonshire and Wellingborough, and West Northamptonshire, covering Daventry, Northampton and South Northamptonshire. The plan was supported by all the councils except Corby.

The affected councils have been working closely together on planning matters for several years. The three West Northamptonshire authorities adopted a joint local plan in December 2014 and continue to operate a ‘joint planning unit’, which is working on a new strategic plan and facilitates collaboration on evidence base preparation and infrastructure planning.

Likewise, the four North Northamptonshire councils adopted a joint local plan in July 2016 and maintain a joint planning unit and joint planning committee, which makes decisions on joint planning work. Development management powers have remained with the individual councils.

A PwC report, commissioned by the authorities and published in August last year, suggested the ability to build on this collaboration was expected to be a key benefit of the unitary proposals.

"In both the West and North areas, the local planning authorities and Northamptonshire County Council have well-established joint planning and delivery arrangements to support an ambitious growth agenda, which can easily be translated into a new organisation with the minimum of disruption," the report said.

PwC predicted that the unitary councils may be well placed to maximise benefits from planned major infrastructure and a proposed growth deals with central government for West and North Northamptonshire.

"It could give a stronger voice to the existing West and North groupings in the county, and help them to benefit from the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford Corridor," it said. "The two new unitary areas could offer two coherent geographic units to engage with the economic growth agenda and thus maximise the potential of the target Housing and Growth Deals."

A proposal submitted to the government by the seven supporting Northamptonshire local authorities in 2018 predicted benefits including improved planning services.

"The unitary authorities would provide a better scale for strategic planning for services that have an impact on demand for high cost provision and improved wellbeing. For instance, by connecting planning and housing services more closely to public health and social care services," the proposal said.

"Leaders will be able to take decisions with more understanding and influence over the full range of contributory factors, and over a larger geography. This would be particularly significant, for example, in relation to planning, housing and highways decisions."

In a written statement to Parliament yesterday, Brokenshire said: "I am satisfied that the proposal would improve local government and service delivery in the area, has a good deal of local support and the area of each new unitary represents a credible local geography."

The new unitary councils are expected to be established on 1 April 2021. Brokenshire said shadow authorities will be created in the transition period, with members of the authorities to be decided at the May 2020 local elections.

In a joint statement, the leaders of the county’s eight councils said the new unitary authorities would be "major players in delivering the housing and jobs growth that Northamptonshire and the Cambridge to Oxford arc so badly need".

The councils have been asked for further details on potential planning implications but they had yet to respond at time of publication. 

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