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Merged planning authorities back on the agenda in Wales

Words: Roger Milne
Wales / Shutterstock_164056865

Proposals that would involve Wales’s 22 councils merged to as few as 10 have been resurrected by the administration in a green paper published this week.

The plans, now out for consultation, would involve significantly more regional joint working for services like planning, transport and economic development but not the mandated regional working advocated once.

Under these latest plans the following mergers would take place: Anglesey and Gwynedd; Conwy and Denbighshire; Flintshire and Wrexham; Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire; Swansea and Neath Port Talbot; Bridgend, Rhondda Cynon Taf and Merthyr Tydfil; Vale of Glamorgan and Cardiff; Newport and Caerphilly; and Torfaen, Blaenau Gwent and Monmouthshire.

The only planning authority unchanged would be Powys. The average population of the new areas would be just over 311,000. The new authorities would be aligned with health board boundaries, with plans for Bridgend to come under the Cwm Taf health board.

Public services cabinet secretary Alun Davies insisted that radical change was needed.

“Wales needs strong, effective, empowered local authorities which can weather continued austerity and build local democratic structures fit for future generations.

“I do not believe that our local authorities, as currently constituted, can fully play this role; and I am not alone.

“Councils have been clear that services are wearing down to the point of collapse and there is a general acceptance that things cannot carry on as they are and a general acknowledgement that more money, even if it were available, would not solve the problem."

The government has proposed three options: allowing authorities to merger voluntarily, a phased approach that would allow early adopters to merge in 2022 with others doing so by 2026, or a single merger programme taking place in 2022.

The Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) is unhappy about the shake-up. In a statement it said: "Local government was already responding proactively to the previous reform programme of regional collaboration and is progressing with the City and Growth Deal agenda. Consequently, this announcement has caused disquiet and confusion.

"The proposals are yet to be fully costed and most academic analysis concludes that such reform programmes rarely deliver the savings or changes in performance that were hoped.

"In the meantime authorities will continue to work in developing city and growth deals at the regional level which has been fully supported by the government to date. Crucially, WLGA will continue to press the case for proper funding of councils.”

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