Bid to reform Cumbrian councils fails in court for second time

How Cumbria will be divided following local government reforms. ITV pic
The areas the two new councils will cover. Credit: ITV Border

A legal bid to halt the Government's plans to reorganise Cumbria into two local authority areas has failed for the second time, following High Court proceedings.

The Government revealed its plans to reorganise how Cumbria is governed in 2021, which involve abolishing the existing county council and six district authorities.

Cumbria's existing councils will be replaced by two new unitary authorities by 2023. Cumberland Council will cover Carlisle, Allerdale and Copeland. Westmorland and Furness Council will cover Eden, South Lakeland and Barrow-in-Furness.

But the Labour leadership of Cumbria County Council believe that the reorganisation is a ploy from the Government to consolidate its power in the North West.

A Judicial Review, or legal challenge, was launched by the county council last year, calling the decision "unlawful" and expressing concerns about the level of public consultation involved in the move.

The Liberal Democrat group, one half of the ruling coalition, did not support the legal challenge but abstained on the vote to take the conflict to court as they did not want to break off their allegiance with Labour.

The county council was told by a High Court Judge in January that their case was "not reasonably arguable" but they decided to press on with the fight.

High Court proceedings took place this week after the county council applied for the right to make verbal representations to the judge but the authority's legal challenge has again been refused.

A spokesperson for Cumbria County Council said: "Yesterday there was an oral hearing in the High Court to consider Cumbria County Council's application for permission to proceed with the Judicial Review (JR) .

"The JR means that the Council has pursued legal challenge against the Government's proposals to create two new unitary authorities/councils in Cumbria.

"At this hearing His Honour Justice Fordham refused Cumbria County Council's application for permission to proceed with its JR.

"Cumbria County Council does have the right to appeal to the court of appeal and any such appeal must be submitted within seven days of the High Court's decision.

"Cumbria County Council is now considering its next steps."

Liberal Democrat group leader Peter Thornton said: "I welcome the fact that this matter now seems to be resolved and I hope we can now get on with work to create two viable and successful councils for Cumbria."

Cllr Thornton said that Judge Fordham has given "clarity" on the issue and hopes the political groups can now work collaboratively on the transition.

Cllr Chris Whiteside, Conservative member for Egremont and St Bees, said: "The vast majority of our group and the position we took through the motion put on at the last full council was that there should be no further pursuits of the Judicial Review which was a waste of time and money."

When His Honour Stephen Davies refused the council's application for a legal challenge in January, he asked the authority to pay the court costs of the Secretary of State and each district council.

Cllr Whiteside said: "Obviously we already know before the most recent decision that the county council would pay £60,000 in costs to other local authorities and the Government. That amount of taxpayers' money would have been down the drain whether a cost award was made or not."