by Alan Dean on 24 August, 2020
The Government is expected to publish plans next month to re-organise councils in Essex. In my opinion, the time is not right for such an upheaval whilst local councils are still dealing the consequences of the current COVID-19 pandemic and the emerging economic recession.
Reorganisation would be extremely resource intensive and an unwelcome distraction at a time when we should be completely focused on responding to the recovery our communities in Uttlesford.
The Government is believed to favour the abolition of Essex County Council, the existing Southend-on-Sea and Thurrock Unitary Councils and the twelve district councils, including Uttlesford. They want to create up to four new unitary councils with populations between 300,000 to 700,00 people. Uttlesford presently has a population of around 90,000 residents.
Following the creation of the new unitary councils the Government also wishes to see a directly elected Mayor who would lead a new “Essex” Combined Authority comprising the Mayor and all the leaders of the new Unitary Authorities. The Government says that it will devolve powers and funding for infrastructure and economic development to the Combined Authority.
My colleague Cllr Melvin Caton, who is the Lib Dem spokesman on the Uttlesford Local Plan, has concerns. He told me: “If a West Essex unitary authority is created comprising the three existing Essex districts along the M11 corridor – Epping Forest, Harlow and Uttlesford – then there is an even greater danger than now that Uttlesford will become a target for developers, as both Epping Forest and Harlow are constrained from development growth by the Metropolitan Green Belt”.
Cllr Janice Loughlin, who represents Stort Valley, is concerned about the loss of local representation. She told me at the weekend: “This proposal will take power and decision making further away from people. Councillors will lose contact with their parishes. The Government says it wants to devolve responsibility and funding, but in reality, it amounts to greater centralisation by taking power away from local people, who would have fewer representatives. It’s a hostile Tory takeover bid”.
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