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West Somerset district councils discuss preparation for unitary future

14 July 2021 : Council news

Leaders, Executive members and Chief Executives of Somerset West and Taunton Council and Sedgemoor District Council have come together to discuss next steps in the preparations for a Western Somerset unitary council.

It is now almost one month since the clear preference of Somerset voters was revealed in the result of the local poll, with voters choosing Stronger Somerset over One Somerset by 65% to 35%.

While the Local Government Secretary, Robert Jenrick MP, is yet to announce his decision on the future of local government in Somerset, it is evident he will need to take account of the expressed views of local people.

With that decision expected by 22 July at the latest district council leadership teams are keen to have things in place to move quickly to begin the necessary arrangements for transition to the new unitary councils.

Leader of Sedgemoor District Council Cllr Duncan McGinty said: “The voters of Somerset have decisively backed our proposal for two unitary councils for Somerset – one for Eastern Somerset and one for Western Somerset.

"The Local Government Secretary wants unitary local government in Somerset and ours is a proposal that has public support. All he needs to do is make the decision to green light our proposal and we are ready to crack on and make it work for the people of Western Somerset.”

Cllr Mike Rigby, Somerset West and Taunton Council Executive Member for Planning and Transportation, said: “We talked about the ways our district councils have demonstrated creativity and vision as well as the local knowledge and links we have that are improving our places and communities now and that can be built on by a new unitary council in Western Somerset.

"For example - working in partnership with local businesses, heritage, arts and culture organisations to help the High Street bounce back from the impact of Covid-19, securing Future High Streets funding towards regeneration projects and active travel links, and our own ambitious development of new zero carbon homes for social rent.”

Meeting together for the first time since the vote, Executive Members, Leaders, Chief Executives and senior officers of Sedgemoor District Council and Somerset West and Taunton Council discussed a number of issues of pressing concern that will be crucial for a new Western Somerset unitary council to address.

These included:

  • Levelling up across the economies of Western Somerset: maximising the opportunities from Hinkley Point, the M5 corridor and coastal tourism and shared ambitions around supporting innovation and research
  • Housing delivery: protecting the strong track record of the western Somerset districts as housing providers and investing to continue the regeneration of existing stock and building affordable housing for purchase and rent to meet the needs of local people.
  • Covid-19 recovery plans: supporting local businesses individually and collectively through grants and funding bids and helping adjustment post-pandemic
  • how the new council will work with NHS leaders and organisations in Integrated Care Systems: addressing the need to strengthen preventative measures that stem the demand for crisis services, through local activities that support improved health and wellbeing
  • working in partnership with neighbouring councils in the historic Somerset area to deliver a regional devolution deal from Government.

Following the Local Government Secretary’s decision, the joint leadership teams will next invite partners, including the county council, to an inaugural meeting to begin formal transition planning.