PLANS to shake-up the system of local government in South Cheshire look doomed after a drive to bring in UK regional assemblies was defeated at the first step.
The two-layer county council and borough council system was set to be replaced by a single-tier unitary authority if a planned referendum on a North West regional assembly had received support.
But that vote is now unlikely to take place and devolution plans look set to be scrapped after residents in the North East overwhelmingly rejected plans for the first regional assembly to be introduced there.
The Government hoped the region would have backed the scheme, adding vital momentum to ballots in the North West and Yorkshire and the Humber which would follow.
But the overwhelming North East result of 696,519 votes to 197,310 against leaves almost no prospect for the plans for regional devolution in the UK to be taken any further.
That means a proposal to restructure the council system in Cheshire, which had been linked into plans for a North West assembly would also not go ahead.
But Crewe and Nantwich Borough Council leader Peter Kent (Labour) insists the local government restruc-turing plans should still go ahead no matter how people view regional assemblies.
He said: 'There's a common agreement that it's a mistake to link regional government with unitary local government. I think the local government reform is an important issue that stands up on its own and should still go ahead.'
Cllr Kent said the borough council will now be urging Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott to put local government reform on the next Labour manifesto with the hope it would be introduced following the next election.
He said: 'It is correct to say the result from the North East referendum has delayed it. If there had been a referendum on the North West assembly and it had been supported we would have seen reform in a year or two.
'What we are looking for now is action following the next General Election, so we probably won't see any change now for five or six years. But this issue won't go away.'
Cllr Kent said the current two levels of local government in South Cheshire cause a degree of overlap, and moving down to the unitary system, already introduced in Halton and Warrington, would bring a string of benefits.
The council has said it favours the formation of three all-purpose councils in Cheshire which would see Crewe and Nantwich merge with Vale Royal to form a council for Mid Cheshire serving 233,000 residents.
But Conservative group leader Brian Silvester said he was pleased both plans for a North West assembly and local government reform looked to be derailed following the North East referendum on Thursday.
'I'm delighted that the people in the North East have been sensible enough to overwhelmingly throw out the idea of regional government,' he said.
'They have quite rightly realised they don't want to pay for an expensive white elephant. I'm sure the result in the North West would have been the same. The idea for a regional assembly in the North West is dead in the water.'
Veteran Crewe and Nantwich MP Gwyneth Dunwoody, who has previously spoken out against her party's plans for devolution, said she was not surprised by the result.
'I would imagine that the idea of assemblies will now be junked. I just hope we now concentrate on bringing in new jobs and new investment to the region', she said.