Communities secretary says he wants to see more councils merge into unitaries

Communities secretary Robert Jenrick has said he wants to encourage more district councils to merge into new unitary authorities to help them deal strategically with housing and transport.

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick at the Institute of Economic Affairs Conservative Party Conference fringe event
Housing secretary Robert Jenrick at the Institute of Economic Affairs Conservative Party Conference fringe event

Jenrick was speaking at a fringe event yesterday afternoon organised by the free market Institute of Economic Affairs think tank.

He said: "I appreciate the fact that people want to have a sense of identity and the small scale brings with it a closer connection with local communities. But it doesn't feel to me as it that's got a long-term future. 

"I appreciate the upheaval but I do think we need to move towards a model that provides a better value for money for taxpayers, and you're able to look much more strategically at these challenges like housing and transport. 

"I will certainly be encouraging local councils to move in that direction."

Jenrick said he represents a constituency in which there are three small district councils. 

The past year has seen a number of new unitary authorities created or confirmed, with the ability to carry out planning over a larger area, particularly with regards to housing numbers and infrastructure, cited as a key reason in each case. 

In April, two new unitary authorities came into being in Dorset and a further two in Suffolk.

In May, Jenrick's predecessor James Brokenshire confirmed the creation of two new unitary authorities out of eight districts in Northamptonshire.

In November last year, Brokenshire announced that the government would support a new unitary authority for the whole of Buckinghamshire, replacing four districts.

Last year, Buckinghamshire County Council leader Martin Tett told Planning that "much of the benefit is about how the planning and growth agenda starts to come together under a unitary authority", rather than financial savings. 

Elsewhere at the event, Jenrick said he was "now very strongly in favour of elected mayors", adding: "I would strongly encourage more parts of the country to take forward the mayoral model."

Elected mayoral models, most of which have strategic plan-making powers, have been established in six city regions and sub-regions across England.

A Planning feature examining what council mergers could mean for planning can be found here.

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