The reorganisation of Cheshire councils for next April’s unitary authority faces a new controversy. NAOMI DUNNING reports
The proposed Area Programme Boards for Cheshire West and Chester Unitary Authority have been branded unnecessary, expensive and too big by councillors.
The consultation exercise has also been widely criticised with parish councillors noting that few people know or fully understand the proposed boards.
The consultation ended on September 30, in readiness for new council which comes into power in April 2009 but many feel the process has not been fully explained.
The new boards are set to replace the current Area Committees in Chester City, and establish new boards in the Vale Royal and Ellesmere Port areas. These boards are expected to see parish councillors, councillors, police and other agencies meet regularly to discuss local issues. The consultation included a choice of two maps showing the proposed boundaries of the boards and a series of questions asking who they would like to see on the boards and what they would like them to do.
Chairman of Blacon Area Committee Cllr Reggie Jones commented: “A number of grave concerns were raised by Blacon Councillors and members of the public who are angry at proposals, that are viewed as a backward step in developing the localism agenda across the new authority and more seriously, fail to build on the excellent role played by the Area Committee in Blacon.”
Gill Kendall, Broxton Parish Councillor said: “We were all a little puzzled. We have been to several meetings on the subject and we are still very much unsure what it all means.”
At a Parish Council meeting Tarporley Parish Councillor Ernest Boynes said: “We don’t know whether they are going to have any additional powers or responsibilities to the Parish Council and we don’t know what Parish Councillors would need to know and what administrative support they are going to have.”
Malpas Parish Councillor Keith Ebben said: “The problem with area boards is that unless real powers are given they have little point.
“I don't think the choice is very good either. We found neither of the areas would be practical for a rural area.”
“The question needs to be asked, are the Area Boards necessary, what extra power will they have, will it just be another layer of government that we will pay for.”
The proposed boundaries for the boards were also highly criticised.
Tattenhall Parish Councillor Pat Black said: “Either choice wouldn’t really be right. We would prefer something more ward sized and much more locally focused.”
Mickle Trafford Parish Councillor Roger Parkin said: “The area programme boards will have all the big hitters, the NHS, police, fire, education and social services representatives which will mean they are going to have a majority rather than parish councillors causing legitimacy issues. They will also be similar to the Local Strategic Partnerships already ion existence..”
Leader of Cheshire West and Chester, Councillor Mike Jones said the shadow authority will look into concerns expressed.
He said: “I understand the consultation document was worded badly.”
He added: “There is a choice. It was a very open consultation, we were all about gaining people’s ideas.”
“Once the officers have gathered all the information together will be sending a letter to all those who responded, telling them what we have come up with.”