Three Gloucs districts bid to form two new unitaries covering the county

Three Gloucestershire district councils have launched a bid to merge the county's seven local authorities into two unitaries, with the promise that it would "help provide a more strategic overview of planning".

Cirencester in Gloucestershire, where Cotswold District Council is based (Pic: Getty)
Cirencester in Gloucestershire, where Cotswold District Council is based (Pic: Getty)

Cotswold District Council, Cheltenham Borough Council and Stroud District Council have jointly announed a plan to create one new unitary authority covering the eastern part of the county and a second unitary for the western section. 

The exact boundaries of the proposed areas have yet to be agreed while the move has yet to gain support from the four other Gloucestershire councils – Forest of Dean District Council, Gloucester City Council, Tewkesbury Borough Council, or Gloucestershire County Council. 

According to a Cotswold Council cabinet report, to be considered at a meeting next Monday, the proposal comes in light of the government's impending 'Devolution and Recovery White Paper', which it expects "possibly as soon as September". 

The document states: "It is widely expected that this White Paper will contain proposals for wide-ranging local government reorganisation, with proposals for establishing unitary councils and combined authorities across large parts of England and possibly in all of those areas which remain two-tier, i.e. county and district councils."

It goes on to say that in Gloucestershire, it is "anticipated that there will be strong arguments made for the creation of a single unitary council for the county, based on the fact that many, if not all, of the public sector organisations – police, health, local enterprise partnerships etc. - have coterminous boundaries with the County Council".

But "from a district council perspective", it says this would represent a "less than ideal solution", creating an authority that would be "remote form large swathes of its population".

In contrast. it adds, a two unitary authority solution "would be far more proportionate" and would keep  services "closer to our residents and businesses, and ensuring that investment in infrastructure, housing, the economy and climate change is not simply focussed on the central urban core of Cheltenham and Gloucester and the M5 corridor".

In addition, “two authorities will be closer and more connected to the people they serve, will be better placed to create inclusive growth, tackle climate change and deliver the homes and services we need".

Awaiting the publication of the white paper "risks a solution being imposed upon Gloucestershire which is not the best for our area", the report states.

Currently, Cotswold and Stroud councils have their own local plans, which were adopted in 2018 and 2015 respectively, while Cheltenham's joint local plan is shared with Gloucester and Tewkesbury councils.

Cotswold Council's Lib Dem leader Joe Harris told Planning said he expected any new unitary authority to pursue its own local plan once it was established. 

“All of the existing local plans look well into the future and deal with the specific circumstances of the individual districts," he said.

“Clearly there is a lot of work to be done in terms of detail and this will be done as we progress our proposals, but I would expect any new authority to look to prepare its own local plan in the future."

He added: “It will be important that this is set in the strategic context of the wider area in which the council will sit, whether that is the county, the south-west, or beyond. A two unitary solution could help provide a more strategic overview of planning that helps drive economic growth and investment into our areas.”

The Cotswold District Local Plan plans for the delivery of 8,400 homes up to 2031, while Stroud’s new draft local plan commits to delivering 12,800 homes and 50 hectares of employment land up to 2040.

The Gloucester, Cheltenham and Tewkesbury joint core strategy, which was adopted in 2017, plans for 31,824 homes across all three areas up to 2031.

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