Hope is mounting that the creation of a first-of-its-kind constituency across the Lancashire and Cumbria borders could be the match to ignite grand plans for a breakaway Morecambe Bay council.
Since late 2020, plans have formalised to create The Bay unitary authority encompassing all major towns and cities in the Morecambe Bay area under one administrative roof, including Lancaster, Morecambe, Barrow-in-Furness, and Kendal.
It would bring together all local services and finances currently given to Lancaster City Council, Barrow-in-Furness Borough Council and South Lakeland District Council, with all three councils backing the plan.
It would also take over matters such as education and highways; currently managed by town hall bosses at Lancashire and Cumbria county councils.
With an outcome for the huge shake-up in local politics currently in the hands of Government officials, there are growing hopes that a ‘yes’ will be given following the recent Boundary Commission review of England’s constituencies.
This week, the Boundary Commission review of England’s constituencies ahead of the 2023 general election created the Morecambe and South Lakeland seat, stretching from Heysham near Morecambe to the banks of Windermere in the Lake District.
If approved, it would be the first constituency to cross the two historic county boundaries – a move that resonates positively with those pushing for The Bay authority.
Caroline Jackson, the new leader of Lancaster City Council following the May 6 local elections, said it is a “very interesting development and one that a lot of people are excited to see”.
Councillor Jackson’s predecessor, Dr Erica Lewis, echoed those comments, saying the proposed constituency is a “positive sign” for The Bay plans.
Councillor Lewis praised the commission for “trying to bring together communities with shared ideas, something The Bay proposal also wants”.
“It looks like it’s a positive step for The Bay authority but we have to wait for what Government decides and who is in favour,” Councillor Jackson said, adding that she welcomed the commission looking to create “more efficient borders in terms of responsibilities for MPs” so “MPs are working in a less disparate way”.
She said: “Cat Smith for example, there are elements of Fleetwood and Lancaster that are similar but on the whole is the connection really there?
“Support for The Bay as a unitary authority is there. We’re all on tenterhooks right now and hoping for some good news.”
It is now understood a decision on The Bay authority could now come by the end of June.
Regardless of the outcome, one thing Coun Jackson wants to avoid is a delay.
She said: “One thing we are really hoping wont happen is Government put this on ice and say lets come back to it after the Boundary Commission review. We continue to work together in terms of economic development but clearly that’s not going to get truly under way until after the result.”
Coun Jackson’s affirmation that Lancaster City Council remains committed to The Bay authority proposal comes after Lancashire County Council rejected the plan in April under the direction of former leader Geoff Driver.
Speaking following her appointment as leader and the appointment of new county council leader Phillippa Williamson, Coun Jackson said she was more positive about the outlook going forward.
“County council rejecting the idea will impact in some ways going forward in that it doesn’t make things the easiest but I think the new leader of the county council is a very reasonable and understanding leader who herself used to be a city councillor in Lancaster.
“She has more of an understanding. But that doesn’t mean county council will welcome it especially with Lancaster as the ceremonial home of Lancashire.”
Just last week the three leaders of Lancaster, Barrow and South Lakeland councils sent a letter to Robert Jenrick MP, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, reaffirming their commitment to The Bay proposal.
It comes after Luke Hall MP, Minister for Regional Growth and Local Government, revealed the vast majority of emails from people responding to The Bay consultation have been from individuals backing the plan.
He told MPs that “well over four fifths of email responses alone are about The Bay proposal, and nearly two thirds of the total emails for Cumbria are from the ‘Back The Bay’ campaign”.
Officially, the Government’s response to The Bay authority proposal will come before the summer recess on July 22.
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