Local Government Reorganisation

Communities and Local Government written statement – made on 6th July 2010.

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Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

On Monday 5 July, the High Court decided to quash, in their entirety, the Structural Change Orders creating unitary councils for the cities of Exeter and Norwich. As a result the terms of office of one third of the members of Exeter and Norwich city councils, which had been extended by the orders, ended on the 5 July and there will be by-elections to fill these vacancies within 35 days as required by statute. Moreover, the decisions taken in March to implement the unitary proposals for Norwich and Exeter by the then Secretary of State, are now overturned.

I am today announcing to the House how I propose to respond to this situation, which quashing the orders has created.

I recognise that there will now be elections for one third of councillors in Norwich and Exeter within the next five weeks, and that this will involve the councils in additional costs. This is an unfortunate consequence of the previous Government's reckless move to drive through unnecessary unitary proposals which did not comply with their own criteria, and have now been found to be unlawful by the courts.

As to the future of the unitary proposals, on which decisions can now be taken afresh, the Secretary of State does not intend to take any such decisions. If Parliament enacts the Local Government Bill, which received its Second Reading in the other place on Wednesday 30 June, all uncompleted plans for unitary restructuring in Devon, Norfolk and Suffolk will end. The Bill provides that no order may be made for implementing a unitary proposal received by the Secretary of State before the commencement of the Act.

As a result of quashing the orders certain provisions currently in the Bill are no longer needed. These are clause 1(3) of the Bill, which currently revokes the Structural Change Orders for Exeter and Norwich quashed by the Court, and clause 2 of the Bill which made consequential electoral arrangements on the revocations of those orders. Accordingly we are considering on how to appropriately amend the Bill in the other place.

The Government welcome the Court's confirmation that the orders are unlawful. This decision along with the Local Government Bill currently before the other place will put an end to all the remaining costly and disruptive unitary proposals.