THE House of Lords has set the final seal of Parliamentary approval on the scheme to split Cheshire in two.
A Government order to create two all-purpose unitary authorities in the west and east of Cheshire went through the House by 83 votes to 72 – a majority of just 11 – on Tuesday last week.
Baroness Andrews, a local government minister, stressed the economic case for change and the danger of delay, with elections to the new authorities just 15 months away.
Warning against delay, she insisted: “We are not steamrollering this through. We are being urged by local leaders to allow them to get on with the job after a period of unhappiness.”
Under the shake-up, Cheshire County Council and the county’s six borough councils will disappear in April 2009.
Chester, Vale Royal and Ellesmere Port & Neston will make up the new West Cheshire authority.
Opposition in the upper house was led by Lord Wade of Chorlton who said: “We are going to destroy the organisation that all of the people of Cheshire look to as their central body. They are Cheshire people.”
Lord Harrison of Chester, a Labour peer, claimed critics of the plan included Cheshire police, fire, ambulance and probation services, as well as the headteachers’ association.
Baroness Andrews angered peers by refusing to release the financial analysis, carried out by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, backing up the Government’s case for the two-unitary option.
She insisted it was a vital principle that policy advice given to ministers was protected, an accepted exemption under the Freedom of Information Act.
Cllr Les Ford, chairman of the Cheshire West and Chester Joint Committee, said: “This final decision is great news for Cheshire residents and means we can now get on with the job of creating a new council that will enable public services to be shaped around the residents and communities that will use them.
“The new authority will also be big enough to have regional significance – to attract funding and investment – yet local enough to add real value to people’s lives.”
Borough MP Andrew Miller said: “Although this has been a controversial process, it must be remembered that it had the support of all three political parties in Ellesmere Port and Neston.
“I am confident it will, in time, bring about improvements in the delivery of services throughout the new authority of West Cheshire.
“I now urge local politicians to come together to ensure the new authority establishes best practice in all areas.”
Cheshire chief executive Jeremy Taylor said: “However great our genuine concerns for the future and disappointment at a decision opposed by so many, we recognise this authority’s first responsibility must always be to those it has served for the last 118 years.
“Accordingly, we will work with colleagues in the district councils to do our best to maintain and protect the excellent services so prized by the residents of this county.”
Elections for the new Cheshire West and Chester Council will take place on Thursday, May 1.