Cumbria leader: Judge misunderstood judicial review application

The judge who dismissed Cumbria CC’s application for judicial review ‘misunderstood some of the fundamental points’ of its argument, the head of council has said.

Speaking to LGC, Stewart Young (Lab), explained that council would continue with the oral stage of its application for judicial review despite High Court Judge Stephen Davies QC having told council that it was not “reasonably defensible”.

“We believe the judge misunderstood some of the fundamental points [of our application]said Cllr Young.

The council’s application will now proceed to a hearing at which solicitors representing both Cumbria and the Department for Levels, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) will appear before a High Court judge.

Cllr Young reiterated his criticism that the decision to split Cumbria into two unitary councils, one representing the eastern half of the county and the other the western half, was politically motivated.

Last year Cumbria councils were asked to come up with models for reorganization in the county. Four were proposed, however, only two met the criteria set by the Ministry of Housing, Government and Local Government (MHCLG) at the time.

It was a county-wide unitary unit, which was proposed by the county council and the east-west split, which was proposed by Allerdale BC and Copeland BC.

After government consultation, then-Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick accepted the East-West proposal.

A draft structural ordinance, seen by LGC, which has now been tabled in Parliament, states that the western council, covering Allerdale, Copeland and Carlisle City Council, will be named Cumberland Council. The eastern council, which will cover South Lakeland DC, Barrow BC and Eden DC, will be named Westmorland in Furness.

However, Cllr Young said the way the two proposals “met the criteria was entirely different”.

“The evidence suggests to me as if the officials had been informed, this is the result [the department] want and they changed their conclusions,” Cllr Young said.

“Now we can’t prove that, but when you read the criteria, it’s very obvious that the only offer that made sense was the [county wide unitary],” he said.

“I don’t believe they have demonstrated that these two authorities are viable.”

“The Western authority…has a population of approximately 275,000 and the Eastern authority has approximately 250,000. Even if you were in a narrow urban area, you would struggle with such a small tax base and population,” Cllr Young said.

LGC analysis previously found that the average size of a single tier council was 272,000. Within this, metropolitan districts tend to be slightly larger at 334,000 and London boroughs slightly smaller to about 270,000 on average. Within the class described as unitary authority, into which all the councils created since 1974 are embedded, there are huge variations, ranging from Hartlepool BC, which, with a population of 93,000, is smaller than many districts , to about 500,000 in Cornwall and Wiltshire and Durham councils. CC, all created during the last major reorganization in 2009.

Cllr Young told LGC he believed the decision to split Cumbria in two was taken in order to lay the foundations for a combined authority in Cumbria.

He said what proponents of the East-West model, Copeland and Allerdale, want is “to split everything in two and bring it together into one combined authority with an elected mayor”.

However, Cllr Young said that despite this the chances of combined authority in the county in the future are “practically nil” as the Liberal Democrats have a good chance of taking control of Westmorland and Furness.

“What is going to happen over time is that these authorities are going to diverge more and more. South Lakeland and Barrow will look towards Lancashire and the West will look more towards the North East,” said Cllr Young .

LGC has contacted DLUHC for comment.