Proposals for a new unitary authority around Morecambe Bay have been accepted by Government for a further round of consultation.
Government has confirmed that it will formally consult on The Bay option, after considering a joint submission by South Lakeland District Council, Barrow Borough Council and Lancaster City Council.
The consultation is open to businesses, community and voluntary sector organisations and members of the public who live, work or study in South Lakeland, Barrow and Lancaster, and will close on April 19.
This means Government will now be getting in touch with key stakeholders and organisations to gather views on the proposal.
- Read our news story on the Government consultation
- Read our news story on the decision made by Full Council
- Read the full proposal document
- Read the submission letter to Government (PDF, 105KB)
- Document library
Frequently Asked Questions
The Government committed to introducing a Devolution White Paper this year, encouraging local government reform, also referred to as Local Government Reorganisation (LGR).
On 9 October Government sent a letter to local authorities in Cumbria inviting them to submit proposals for new unitary authorities.
The Government has invited proposals that would replace the current two-tier system of county and district councils in Cumbria, with a single tier of local government.
The councils around the Bay area believe a unitary that merges Barrow Borough Council, Lancaster City Council and South Lakeland would be the best solution for the communities in those areas and this has been approved by Full Council meetings of each council. An initial proposal to this effect has now been submitted to Government.
A unitary council means a single local authority responsible for providing ALL local government services.
Currently, residents here are governed by a two-tier system, where local services are provided by ourselves and the county council. In our district there are also Town or Parish Councils in rural areas.
Unitary status would bring all the different services currently offered by all these organisations under ‘one roof’.
The proposed unitary authority, The Bay, consists of: Barrow-in-Furness Borough Council, Lancaster City Council and South Lakeland District Council areas.
Barrow-in-Furness BC and South Lakeland DC are two of the six district and borough councils that make up Cumbria County Council, based 50 miles away. Lancaster City Council is one of 12 district and borough councils that currently make up Lancashire.
There are some key things which residents rightfully expect from local government:
- Good quality services provided at a reasonable cost
- A council that is open and accountable to local residents
- A listening council, which is responsive to the wishes and priorities of the communities it serves
Under the current two-tier arrangements, this isn’t always what people experience. Working arrangements can be confusing, wasteful and inefficient.
For example, at the moment we are responsible for waste collection but the county council is responsible for waste disposal. We are responsible for the majority of off-street parking, but the county council is responsible for on-street parking. We provide leisure services, but the county council provide libraries and youth services. The list could go on…
In a unitary authority, all these services and more would be provided by one single, new organisation, making sure all these areas are joined-up and with the flexibility and efficiency to provide better services for our communities.
But why now? Surely councils should be concentrating on the Covid-19 response, not looking to reorganise?
The Leaders of the three councils have repeatedly said that, while they welcome the opportunity to talk about opportunities to improve local government, they do not consider that this is the right time. They have said that all our efforts at present should be focused on supporting our communities through the pandemic.
However, now that the Government has sent the invitation letter, the Leaders have said they owe it to those same communities to propose a solution they believe is in the area’s best interests.
The Government has received four proposals from councils in Cumbria and is consulting on them all. They are:
- Barrow, South Lakeland and Lancaster have jointly submitted a proposal for two unitary councils: 'The Bay' comprising the area covered by Barrow Borough, South Lakeland District and Lancaster City Councils and ‘North Cumbria’, comprising the area covered by Allerdale Borough, Carlisle City, Copeland Borough and Eden District Councils.
- Allerdale and Copeland have jointly submitted a proposal for two unitary councils: ‘West Cumbria’ comprising the area covered by Allerdale Borough, Carlisle City and Copeland Borough Councils and ‘East Cumbria’ comprising the area covered by Barrow Borough, Eden District and South Lakeland District Councils.
- Carlisle and Eden have jointly submitted a proposal for two unitary councils: ‘North Cumbria’ comprising the area covered by Allerdale Borough, Carlisle City and Eden District Councils and ‘South Cumbria’ comprising the area covered by Barrow Borough, Copeland Borough and South Lakeland District Councils.
- Cumbria County Council has submitted a proposal for a single unitary council covering the county area of Cumbria County ‘One Cumbria’.
The Bay proposal brings together three local authorities with shared geography and history, from which arise shared opportunities and challenges for our communities.
The Bay puts right the artificial boundary between historically linked areas, sitting alongside a new unitary authority for the four northern and western districts of Cumbria and viable arrangements for the rest of Lancashire to the south.
We are home to advanced manufacturing of strategic UK importance, a hub for clean energy generation, two universities and a world heritage site, which extends across new proposed boundaries. We are:
- A strong, closely-linked community and exceptional joint working across the three councils, and wider public services, covering the Bay area
- A functional economic geography, with 96% of the workforce both living and working in the area;
- Focused on the Bay – 76% of business and 90% of the population are within 7km (4 miles) of the Bay.
- Well-connected and local – direct public transport links to the Bay, compared to 50-mile drive to County Hall in Carlisle.
- The Bay is served by a single NHS Trust, is in the same postal and broadcast area and the three councils work closely through the Lancaster and South Cumbria Joint Committee, whose purpose it is to promote low carbon and socially inclusive and economic prosperity around The Bay.
We can be guided by previous reorganisations in local government that have led to the creation of unitary councils elsewhere.
In these cases, the vast majority of employees simply transfer to the newly created body. This is to be expected because the work will need to continue as seamlessly as possible. Everyone would have the usual protection.
There will be opportunities for efficiencies in how services operate in the new organisation, but the clear intention is that would be achieved through better ways of working, not through significant staff reductions.
Barrow and South Lakeland are in Cumbria, Lancaster is in Lancashire - will the Government allow you to create a new council across county boundaries?
In the invitation letter from Government, it was made clear that the Government would consider proposals from ‘one or more districts in a county and one or more relevant adjoining areas’.
A cross-boundary authority around Morecambe Bay fits that criteria and we believe it is the best way forward for our three areas.
We should not be constrained by lines on a map. We should be looking to a solution that offers the most positive benefits for our communities, one that builds on existing relationships and connections, one that is ambitious and supports innovation and growth.
Barrow, Lancaster and South Lakeland already work together on economic initiatives through the Joint Committee and we believe there are opportunities to develop and build on that existing successful relationship.
The Lancaster and South Cumbria Joint Committee is a partnership between the three Bay local authorities and demonstrates that the councils already have a strong track record of collaborative working.
The three councils have been working together on economic initiatives since 2017 and formed the Joint Committee earlier this year to further develop that work.
The economic partnership has already achieved notable success when a joint submission to the Arts Council was accepted as one of only two “rural” bids in the UK to develop a pioneering ‘Cultural Compact’ around Morecambe Bay, harnessing cultural and creative opportunities to boost the local economy.
The Joint Committee has also developed the Bay Prosperity and Resilience Strategy, which is seeking Government funding over the next two years to jointly develop plans and projects to further unlock the Bay area’s economic potential.
Independent polling of more than 1,000 adults by polling company Survation showed 60% of people believe the area would be best served by a unitary council for Morecambe Bay, compared to just 30% favouring a county-wide unitary for Cumbria and separate arrangements for Lancashire.
A joint survey by the three councils that gathered nearly 3,000 responses showed 85% of people in the area favoured a Bay authority over a county-wide unitary.
Meetings also took place with the business community, the public, parish councils and young people to gauge their reaction to the proposals.
While we are looking to change the council boundaries, this wouldn’t abolish or take Lancaster out of the ceremonial county of Lancashire. Both Blackburn and Blackpool have been outside of Lancashire County Council, but within ceremonial Lancashire, for several decades now.
It is also highly likely that Lancashire County Council will cease to exist in coming years. This is because government policy leans strongly towards the formation of unitary councils, that bring together district and county responsibilities, and there is an existing proposal to break Lancashire into three unitary councils. None of these new authorities would be called Lancashire, but the ceremonial county would remain. In putting together our proposal we have spoken with the Lord Lieutenant and Deptuy Lord Lieutenant, as well as providing a briefing for the Duke via the Duchy.
We are aware that for some residents retaining the title of the City of Lancaster is important, and as has been done when other councils have been restructured, we would look for form a parish council covering from appropriate unparished areas of Lancaster district and to have them take on the title.
Last updated: 10 March 2021