Nearly 60 per cent ‘strongly oppose’ unitary plans by Hertfordshire County Council

PUBLISHED: 17:20 13 October 2020 | UPDATED: 17:36 13 October 2020

Leaders left to right: St Albans' Cllr Chris White, Stevenage's Cllr Sharon Taylor, North Herts' Cllr Martin Stears-Handscomb and Welwyn Hatfield's Cllr Tony Kingsbury. Picture: SADC/SBC/NHDC/WHBC

Leaders left to right: St Albans' Cllr Chris White, Stevenage's Cllr Sharon Taylor, North Herts' Cllr Martin Stears-Handscomb and Welwyn Hatfield's Cllr Tony Kingsbury. Picture: SADC/SBC/NHDC/WHBC


Most Hertfordshire residents strongly oppose the creation of a single unitary council, a Survation poll has found.

In a telephone survey, carried out between September 22 and October 3, the UK polling company sampled 2,030 Herts residents on proposals to create a single unitary council after being commissioned by local district and borough councils – which oppose HCC’s unitary ambitions.

The polling shows that 80 per cent of residents in Herts believe the county’s unitary proposal is the wrong approach at the wrong time, while 59 per cent of residents strongly opposed the creation of a single unitary council across the county and only 12 per cent say it was something they would support.

Most residents – 76 per cent – were concerned that their voice may not be heard by a single council and 75 per cent felt local services like rubbish would be better delivered by their local council than one county-wide unitary.

The survey used a minimum sample size of 200 in each district or borough area in Herts – including St Albans, Stevenage, North Herts and Welwyn Hatfield.

In a joint statement, the 10 leaders of the district and borough councils said: “The poll confirms the strong feedback we have been receiving locally that people do not believe that a single unitary authority for 1.2 million people is right for Hertfordshire, our residents, our businesses and our towns and communities.

“COVID-19 has shown us that localised solutions are often the most effective, and the spirit of devolution is that democratic decisions affecting people’s lives should be made where they are most effective and have the greatest impact, rather than in potentially unwieldy and arbitrary super councils.

“Our view is, and particularly in time of a global health crisis, to continue to work together through our established and respected Herts Growth Board, comprising all the districts and boroughs of Hertfordshire, along with the county council and the Local Enterprise Partnership, to move forward collectively in the interests of all our communities.

“By listening to our people and continuing to support our communities through the COVID pandemic, we will achieve economic recovery and stability for our residents and businesses far quicker.”

Echoing these words, the Conservative leaders of Welwyn Hatfield and Hertsmere, explained the cooperation being done between lower-tier councils and the county through the Herts Growth Board, which could soon be a statutory joint committee under new plans with public meetings held this December, is already going well.

Welwyn Hatfield Cllr Tony Kingsbury said: “The county’s proposals have the potential to fundamentally change how people are represented at a local level. We felt very strongly that discussions should only continue when we could consider the views of residents – a step absent from county council plans.

“The message from our communities is clear. But what’s most important right now is for local government across Hertfordshire to continue working together – as we are doing so successfully through Herts Growth Board, and in tackling coronavirus – to keep our communities safe, support economic recovery and make a positive difference in the lives of local people.”

Cllr Morris Bright MBE, leader of Hertsmere Borough Council, added: “Here in Hertsmere, we’ve seen very clearly in recent months the immense value that local partnerships can bring, which simply could not have been delivered in the same way by a very large unitary authority for the county’s 1.2 million residents.”

Cllr Sharon Taylor, leader of Stevenage Borough Council and Cllr Martin Stears-Handscomb, leader of North Herts District Council, both Labour, emphasised the democratic loss of this decision.

Cllr Stears-Handscomb added: “Rest assured, we will continue to work collaboratively with our colleagues across Hertfordshire, to ensure we can continue to support our communities and are best placed to ensure rapid economic recovery.”

Cllr Taylor said: “Now more than ever we need to focus all our efforts on supporting our communities through the COVID pandemic. We are doing all we can to support economic recovery for local businesses and people.

“Now is not the time to be looking to create mega-councils. We are committed to working closely with all other councils to support economic recovery and deliver vital regeneration projects.”

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