CHESTER’S status as the county town could be undermined after it emerged the leader of Vale Royal Council will have a big influence on the shape of a new council governing the city.
Cllr Les Ford, the Conservative leader of Vale Royal, is to chair the joint committee which will put in place some of the structures behind the new Cheshire West and Chester Council.
The authority, which will replace the county council plus Chester, Ellesmere Port and Vale Royal councils, will be elected in May and take full control from April 1, 2009.
City Lib Dems fear Chester is in danger of missing out on the chance to be the “capital” of the new council.
Asked where he thought the headquarters ought to be, Cllr Ford, who represents Helsby, told The Chronicle: “I don’t have a preference at this point in time.”
But he pointed out there were constraints in having a headquarters in Chester because it was not central, being “near the Welsh border”, there were parking problems and the impasse over the Northgate Development, including plans for new council offices in Chester, only “adds to the confusion”.
Cllr Ford said the government had been intent on changing the system and all parties on his authority decided to act pragmatically in supporting the bid to govern the county through two councils covering East and West Cheshire.
In contrast, the Conservative-controlled city council decided to back off from supporting the bid, even though the application originated from the city council when it was controlled by the Lib Dems and Labour.
Lib Dem leader Cllr Paul Roberts said the Tories’ decision to distance themselves from the bid meant Chester could become a “ghost town”.
He added: “Chester is the natural administrative centre of the new council but this cannot be taken for granted. The Tories have put us in a weak position, not only because of their opposition to local government reorganisation, but also as, following the shelving of the Northgate Development deal, we cannot guarantee sufficient office space to entice the new council to base itself in Chester.
“The current offices, due for demolition in the Northgate scheme, are well past their use-by date. The impact of the Tories tinkering with the Northgate deal just as it was about to go unconditional in July last year is immense.We have to put the people of Chester above party politics.”