District Council legal action could cost tax payers "thousands" of pounds

Controversial plans to take legal action against the government over super council proposals have been slammed as a “scandalous waste of money” and “disappointing” by councillors.

Wednesday, 23rd January 2019, 2:05 pm
Updated Thursday, 7th February 2019, 5:39 pm
Wycombe and South Bucks District Council have opposed James Brokenshire's Unitary decision

Last week Chiltern and Wycombe district council leaders revealed they had sent a letter to secretary of state, James Brokenshire, as a step towards legal proceedings over the set-up of the new unitary council.

It is not clear why South Bucks and Aylesbury Vale district councils did not contribute to the letter – however a statement released yesterday says they still “have interest in the action”.

Concerns over “lack of local consent, late changes to what was proposed and the lack of reasons for making the changes” forced the districts towards the decision, however they are yet to provide any more details.

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The move comes after the four district councils rejected final unitary plans in a series of extraordinary meetings earlier this month.

However, just one council needed to give plans the green light, so Bucks County Council’s (BCC) approval meant the implementation of the unitary could move forward.

Councillors on the county and district councils have criticised the move to take legal action and raised concerns over how much money it could cost the taxpayer.

Leader of the Liberal Democrats on Chiltern District Council (CDC), Peter Jones, said: “Taking legal action would be a scandalous waste of time and money.

“I have consistently called for this to be a new council. County Tories and district Tories need to shake off their old badges and start working together.

“I really would have thought that five councils, all run by the Conservatives with large majorities, could handle this better.”

Conservative leader of BCC, Martin Tett, branded the districts’ plans “disappointing” and urged the leaders to work with him on implementing the new council by the March 2020 deadline.

He said: “We’re disappointed that Chiltern and Wycombe have taken this step. This could cost council taxpayers a large amount of money.

“Surely the most important thing is to work together with the county and other district councils to help build the brand-new Buckinghamshire Council.

“Co-designed, this will be simpler, better value, and more local, delivering the best possible services to our fellow residents and businesses.

“With just 15 months to go until the new council is due to open, there is a huge amount of work for us to do together.”

East Wycombe Independent councillor for Totteridge on Wycombe District Council and Ryemead and Micklefield councillor on BCC, Julia Wassell, asked why the taxpayer should have to pay “because the Tories are squabbling”.

She said: “Why have we, district councillors, not been consulted and advised of costs?

“They say they ‘do not want to hinder a new council but want an excellent one’.

“That is a foolish argument when they are all Conservatives together and paying for mediation would be cheaper than legal fees.

“Why should we pay because Conservatives are squabbling?

“Stop wasting the reserves of WDC when our town centre and dead underground river need money spending on them.”

Although SBDC and AVDC did not contribute to the letter sent to Mr Brokenshire, a statement was released on behalf of all four district councils this week regarding the decision.

The leaders say they are “mindful” how much legal action could cost but feel they have “been left with no alternative.”

Cllr Katrina Wood (WDC leader), Cllr Isobel Darby (CDC leader), Cllr Nick Naylor (SBDC leader) and Cllr Steve Bowles (acting leader of AVDC), said: “We still believe that unitary local government is the best way forward for Buckinghamshire and we are working with the county council on plans for the new authority.

“While we do not object to the formation of a new single unitary council for Bucks, we do strongly object to the way it is being implemented due to lack of local consent, late changes to what was proposed and the lack of reasons given for making them.

“Chiltern and Wycombe district councils have written to the Secretary of State outlining our shared concerns as a preliminary step to formal legal action.

“We have taken this action with great reluctance but feel that the government has left us no alternative. Aylesbury Vale and South Bucks district councils have an interest in the action.

“If we do proceed with formal legal action we are mindful there will be a financial cost. We do not take this lightly.

“However the implications of a bad decision will impact Bucks residents for perhaps the next 40 years, so we believe money spent now will be recouped many times over.

“In the meantime we encourage the Leader of Buckinghamshire County Council to accept our invitation to meet together with all leaders, in the only format available to us at the moment, and not to cancel further arranged meetings so we can work together to shape the plans for the new authority.”