Watford councillors have agreed on a motion rejecting any plan for a single unitary authority in Hertfordshire.

The motion by the town’s Mayor Peter Taylor was proposed at a virtual Watford Borough Council meeting last night (October 13) and said that it is the “wrong time” to be focusing on local government reorganisation.

At a Hertfordshire County Council meeting in July, Conservative council leader David Williams said the county has "strong foundations" to respond to the government's intention to "level up the country", which became "all the more pressing" because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Watford Observer:

Cllr David Williams

But in a statement released today, the council said it has not put forward any formal proposal and is focussed on dealing with local outbreaks of COVID-19 and supporting Hertfordshire’s communities and residents.

Mayor Taylor's motion, which was seconded by Labour group leader Nigel Bell, read: “We are opposed to any plan to create a single unitary council for the whole of Hertfordshire.

“This is the wrong time to be focusing on local government reorganisation and would take decision making away from local residents, and result in one council trying to serve a large area with 1.2 million people. “

The motion was unanimously passed by councillors across all parties.

It comes following the publication of a poll by national polling company Survation, which showed that 80 per cent of 2,030 residents in Hertfordshire are opposed to a single unitary authority.

Of 203 people in Watford, a total of 83 per cent of residents prefer having a local council, while 74 per cent felt now is not the right time to make changes to local government.

Some 77 per cent think borough councils like Watford are best at delivering services such as refuse collection and housing, with 80 per cent thinking their voice may not be heard in the event of a single county-wide unitary authority.

After the motion was passed last night, Mayor of Watford Peter Taylor said: “I am glad the motion was agreed by all at Full Council. It is important that as councillors we remain accountable to our electorate.

Watford Observer:

Mayor Peter Taylor

“The overwhelming view of local residents is that they are opposed to a single unitary authority for the whole of Hertfordshire. This is a bad idea at a bad time.

“I will continue to focus all of my efforts on the huge health and economic challenges we face in Watford.

“We should not be wasting time on this unpopular plan which would give residents less power to shape the town’s future. These plans must now be dropped so we can get on with serving our residents.”

Watford Labour leader and deputy leader of the Hertfordshire Labour Group, Nigel Bell, said "It's very significant that a majority of our Hertfordshire residents have seen through the agenda being pushed by the Conservative leader of the county council.

"As the Covid second wave sadly gets worse, the last thing residents from Watford to Stevenage need is our district councils wasting time and money on unnecessary local government reorganisation.

"Our residents need the reassurance that their nearest local councils have the money and resources to properly deal with the worsening Covid crisis again.

"We need to work together locally and not be dangerously distracted by the council leader trying to push on with his change agenda with his friends in high places in the Government. Even the money saving claims he suggests are clearly not proven."

Watford Observer:

Cllr Nigel Bell

A spokesperson for Hertfordshire County Council said: "Hertfordshire County Council has not put forward any formal proposal to Central Government regarding Local Government Reform.

"Hertfordshire County Council, alongside the District and Borough Councils, is focussed on dealing with local outbreaks of COVID 19 and supporting Hertfordshire’s communities and residents."