I am announcing today that having carefully considered all the material and representations I have received, I am ‘minded to’ implement two locally-led proposals for merging district councils in Somerset and Suffolk.
The first of these is a proposal Taunton Deane Borough Council and West Somerset District Council submitted to me in March 2017 to merge into a new, single district council. The second is a proposal Forest Heath District Council and St Edmundsbury Borough Council submitted in September 2017 similarly to merge into a new, single district council.
I am satisfied, on the basis of the information currently available to me, that each of these proposals fully meets the criteria that I told the House on 7 November 2017 (Official Report, 7 November 2017, col 48WS) I would use for assessing proposals for merging district councils, namely that:
the proposal is likely to improve local government in the area concerned;
the proposal commands local support, in particular that the merger is proposed by all councils which are to be merged and there is evidence of a good deal of local support; and
that the proposed merged area is a credible geography, consisting of two or more existing local government areas that are adjacent, and which, if established, would not pose an obstacle to locally-led proposals for authorities to combine to serve their communities better and would facilitate joint working between local authorities.
Before I take my final decisions on these proposed mergers there will now be a period until 19 January 2018 during which those interested may make further representations to me, including that if a proposal is implemented it is with suggested modifications. The final decisions would also be subject to Parliamentary approval.
This statement has also been made in the House of Lords: