P&TGRS arranged the PUBLIC MEETING on THURSDAY 3rd MAY 2018, on the subject of the PROPOSED UNITARY AUTHORITY FOR BUCKINGHAMSHIRE
P&TGRS hosted a public meeting on this critical issue that will affect us all for the foreseeable future.
The Leaders of our two local District Councils and of Buckinghamshire County Council attended and were invited to explain their very different views:
MARTIN TETT, LEADER OF BUCKS COUNTY COUNCIL
KATRINA WOOD, LEADER OF WYCOMBE DISTRICT COUNCIL
ISOBEL DARBY, LEADER OF CHILTERN DISTRICT COUNCIL
A show of hands from all the attendees ( approx 70 residents) was 50/50 for the different 2 proposals, so no clear direction from our audience. However, it was agreed to submit a report to the new Secretary of State asking him to survey parishes across Buckinghamshire because it was felt there had been a serious lack of consultation with residents and a parish survey would be a cost-effective solution. Please see the following letter that was subsequently sent.
Dear Secretary of State,
Unitary Authority for Buckinghamshire
Your predecessor’s written ministerial statement of 12 March 2018 on the rival proposals for future unitary authorities for Buckinghamshire invited further representations before 25 May. We write as a well-established Residents Society covering parts of both Chiltern and Wycombe Districts, to take issue with two aspects of the statement and to offer what seems to us to be a practical and sensible way forward.
The ministerial statement asserted that the single council proposal represented a credible geography whereas the two council proposal did not. Actually, the reverse is much closer to the mark. The south and north are two very different areas. The 57 parishes in the three districts in the south, many very large, have an average population of 6,000 and look towards London and the Thames Valley for work and leisure, whereas the 112 parishes in the north, often tiny, have an average population of 1,700 and are focussed on Aylesbury and Milton Keynes. This difference goes back for many centuries when Buckinghamshire was a late formation as a county because the south was directed to defending a fort on the Thames and the north defending a fort on the Ouse.
The ministerial statement also asserts that there is a good deal of local support for a single council but significantly less for two councils. There is no clear evidence for this assertion and an ONS survey in Spring 2017 showed that some two-thirds of their 1,000 respondents were in favour of the two council proposal. This survey was commissioned by the County but was not published until a year later.
We were disturbed to find that whilst there were several briefings for parish, district and county councillors, there had been no meetings arranged by either side for the general public and certainly no occasion at which the public could hear the two proposals being argued. We realised that we are being invited to comment on a reorganisation which very few understand. We, therefore, arranged a meeting at which both sides did argue their case and responded to questions. A show of hands after the meeting revealed opinion evenly divided.
Your predecessor’s ministerial statement said that further steps are needed to secure local consent and that you hoped the necessary discussions would deliver local agreement. Both sides presented a reasonable case, but we can report that there has been no meeting of minds and the two sides are irrevocably divided. Before a change of this magnitude is agreed there must surely be a more effective and democratic attempt to gauge public opinion to provide a reasonable basis for your eventual decision and consensual implementation thereafter? A comparatively short delay would help ensure that there is wider awareness and acceptance amongst the public.
We accept that a county-wide referendum would be an expensive proposition, but a consultation of parishes would be a very useful indicator. The advantage of parish councils is that they are closest to their parishioners and have no axe to grind since their role survives or could be enhanced by either of the proposals. They have had the opportunity to be briefed and anyway better understand the pros and cons of any change. A survey of this kind could be done in a very short time and we urge you to give it serious consideration.
I am copying this letter to Earl Howe, our President, and to our two MPs, Steve Baker and Cheryl Gillan