Leader quizzed on unitary proposal

Chorley MP, Lindsay Hoyle, and the leader of Chorley Council, Alistair Bradley
Chorley MP, Lindsay Hoyle, and the leader of Chorley Council, Alistair Bradley

Since the Guardian revealed last week that Chorley Council could pull out of Lancashire County Council, plenty of questions have been asked.

Council leader, Coun Alistair Bradley, answered our questions about the proposal.

He said: “The majority of comments we have had have been supportive of the idea in principle, but with questions about how the logistics of it will work.

“There has also been a lot of people supportive of the idea because they are keen to see decisions taken in Chorley for Chorley people.

“There have been those against it, as you would expect, and we welcome all the different opinions and comments because we want to do what’s best for Chorley.”

One of the questions asked has been how much it would cost to have the referendum.

He said: “A referendum will cost around £120,000 if it’s held at the same time as other elections.

“Chorley Council will need to fund it, but it would be a one-off cost with the possibility of making financial savings that would far outweigh that.

“There would also be a cost of developing a business case to make sure the plans are robust, but as we are in the very early stages we don’t know what that would be.

“If we do press ahead, it would all be contained in the council’s budget and not require residents to pay any more to cover the cost.

“Given that Chorley is a net contributor to the county any changes would financially benefit the borough.”

As for council tax?

Coun Bradley said: “It shouldn’t be affected – it’s just that it would stay in Chorley, rather than circa 75 per cent of what people pay to us going to LCC. That would mean the money paid by residents would stay local and be spent by people making decisions in the borough.”

Concerns have been raised about possible job losses within Lancashire County Council.

Coun Bradley said: “It is very early days so no plans have been made yet, but we would obviously need additional people to take on the responsibilities, if we did become a unitary authority.

“There are likely to be job losses at the county council regardless of this proposal as they have said they have a £330m budget gap to fill.”

He dismissed claims Chorley is too small to go it alone.

Coun Bradley said: “The population is 110,505. There are other similar-sized unitaries, such as Hartlepool. Part of doing the business case will be to see if it’s viable.

“Chorley is predicted to be the fastest growing borough in Lancashire with a population of 125,000 by 2037 – that is larger than several other unitary authorities.”

A key reason for the growing population is the development of Buckshaw Village.

It is split between Chorley and South Ribble councils and calls have been made for it to become part of one authority.

Coun Bradley said: “It would be something slightly different because it would involve a boundary review.

“However, we have long held the view that the position where two different councils are responsible for Buckshaw Village is confusing to residents and results in differences of service.

“We have always advocated that the responsibility should fall under one council and discussions have taken place to that effect, but while development continues to take place we are unable to resolve the issue.”

And Coun Bradley said the final decision would lie with residents.

He said: “We’re only saying we would hold a referendum, so if there is a ‘no’ vote the two councils would continue as they are.

“However, in the next few years local government and the rest of the public sector are going to have to undergo massive change. We think it is important to investigate options that are open to us, rather than waiting and waiting and have something forced upon us by central Government rather than local people having a say in our future.”