HC Deb 22 June 1995 vol 262 cc353-4W
Sir John Hannam

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment for which districts he will direct the Local Government Commission to carry out new reviews, and if he will make a statement. [30933]

Mr. Gummer

In my statements of 2 and 21 March I said that I would be directing a newly constituted commission to carry out new structure reviews of a small number of individual districts.

I named 20 districts which I had in mind to refer to the commission. I said that nine of these would definitely be referred; for the remaining 11 we would hold meetings with the district councils and their county councils before coming to a view. That programme of meetings is now complete. I have considered all the arguments and decided that all 20 districts should be referred to the Commission for new reviews. They are: Basildon, Blackburn, Blackpool, Broxtowe, Dartford, Exeter, Gedling, Gillingham, Gloucester, Gravesham, Halton, Huntingdonshire, Northampton, Norwich, Peterborough, Rochester upon Medway, Rushcliffe, Thurrock, Warrington, and the Wrekin.

I also said that, while I would consider requests from other districts to be reviewed, it was very unlikely that I should want to add significantly to the number of referrals to the commission. I have carefully considered all the requests which I have received, and in the light of those representations I have concluded that the district of Spelthorne in Surrey should be added to the list of reviews. Spelthorne is in many ways similar to the Berkshire districts which are to be given unitary status, and the proximity of Heathrow airport creates unusual and specific problems for the authority. Against that background I judge that the district's case for unitary status deserves to be considered.

We have concluded that in these cases the arguments are substantial enough to warrant further consideration. It will be for the commission to recommend whether or not it should have unitary status. It will then be for me to accept, modify or reject the proposals and Parliament ultimately to decide. I have not been convinced by the representations from other districts and have therefore concluded that no others should be referred to the commission for review.

The commission will be directed to carry out these reviews with effect from the beginning of July. All of them will be carried out under new guidance to the commission. We have consulted on a draft and I shall publish the final version in the next few days, in time for the commission to start work promptly.

I have also considered further the case of Rutland, in particular the implications for costs and service delivery, following my statement of 21 March. Rutland has a very clear sense of local identity and I am now satisfied that a unitary authority in Rutland would best reflect the identities and interests of the local community and secure effective and convenient local government. I have therefore decided to accept the commission's recommendation for Rutland to be given unitary status. We shall be consulting in due course on a draft order to give effect to that decision.