District and borough council leaders have opposed the proposals for one unitary Hertfordshire council.

Proposals to abolish local authorities and govern the county under one ‘super’ failed to gain the support by Watford Borough Council and Three Rivers District Council, along with other leaders.

Housing Minister, Simon Clarke, announced earlier this week that the government would be putting forward the proposals this Autumn as part of “transformative plans for economic recovery and renewal”.

Hertfordshire currently runs on a two-tier basis which splits the county into ten district and borough councils, along with one county council.

By scrapping local authorities, all responsibilities governing all areas of Hertfordshire would fall into one unified council.

Mayor of Watford Peter Taylor is among other council leaders hitting out against the proposal.

He believes that the timing of it is “poor” given the need to prioritise giving support to businesses and communities during the recovery period from Covid-19.

Mr Taylor explained that he believes local authorities have acted well during the pandemic and said: “Local knowledge and local services has been vital in supporting residents, from those suffering the effects of domestic abuse, through to looking after parks a and green spaces for people to enjoy.

“The Leaders are opposed to the proposal for a single unitary Council to serve Hertfordshire’s residents, as it would be too large and remote to support local communities and residents, and around three times larger than the size that Government are likely to consider suitable for local areas.

“The Leaders have worked together with the County Council very effectively through the Hertfordshire Growth Board for over two years to develop a comprehensive programme that will build on Hertfordshire’s potential and believe that they can continue to make progress as a group of 11 authorities representing the distinct communities of Herts.”

Mr Taylor said that during this time, councils will take account the views of residents and inform them of alternative options so that any future model for local government is “both effective and efficient” while representing resident’s needs.

What would a unified council mean?

Currently there are ten district and borough councils in Hertfordshire.

These councils are responsible for planning and parks as well as other services like bin collections and leisure.

Whereas the county council makes decisions on things like roads, education, and care.

With a unitary council, all these powers and responsibilities would be combined into one 'super' council for all of Hertfordshire.

Leader and deputy leader of Three Rivers, councillors Sarah Nelmes and Stephen Giles-Medhurst, shared a similar opposition.

They said: “Few, if anyone, in say, Rickmansworth, would agree that have much in common with Stevenage or Hertford and would not be well represented by being run by super council in Hertford.

“However, should the government require us to pursue a route of local government reorganisation, we will enter into discussions and negotiation with the county council and the other district councils to work towards the right solution for local government in Hertfordshire. We have the very clear view that a single council of the size suggested is just not the answer.

“We already have joint working with Watford and Hertsmere and others.

Local government is just that local - not a remote super council. We believe that Three Rivers does a great job representing all its towns and villages from South Oxhey to Bedmond.”

Watford Observer:

Watford, Hertsmere and Three Rivers, and St Albans are among areas which would lose their council under a unitary authority

Like Mr Taylor, the councillors emphasised that the recovery plan for Covid-19 should be prioritised before other issues like unifying councils is considered.

The councillors continued: “Any future model for local government in Hertfordshire must strike the right balance between being effective and efficient while giving proper representation to our diverse communities and places.

"It is not helpful to speculate at this stage about what that might look like as it requires a great deal of work, maybe over several years, to be done to identify the right solution. It cannot be done overnight and must not be imposed on us by Whitehall and unelected political advisors. Residents must have say.

“We restate that do not believe that a single unitary council covering an area the size of Hertfordshire with 1.2 million people, rising to 1.3 million in the next ten years is the right solution, economically, politically or will enable our residents to have a true say in what occurs in their towns or villages.”

Hertfordshire is not the only county that could become unitary.

Surrey Live reports that Surrey County Council is considering a bid to scrap its 11 district and borough councils, while the BBC reported that Somerset County Council wants to replace five local authorities - including itself - with one single council

The BBC added Somerset County Council wants to "put an end to confusion for residents, give greater powers to local communities and free up millions of pounds".

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government has said: “We have set out a clear commitment to level up all areas of the country by empowering our regions through devolving money, resources and control away from Westminster.

“We are considering a range of options and will set out our detailed plans in the White Paper that will be published this Autumn.”