“The Leader of Lincolnshire County Council, Cllr Martin Hill, has accepted that its proposal for a poll of residents on the creation of a unitary authority for the area cannot go ahead after some districts refused to be involved.
Earlier this month it was revealed that the districts had received legal advice from Timothy Straker QC of 4-5 Gray’s Inn Square suggesting that any attempt by the county council to combine their elections with such a referendum would be unlawful.
According to the City of Lincoln Council, Straker’s opinion said the plans were “contrary to the Election Rules and fraught with danger of litigation.”
Lincoln argued that this meant, in effect, “the referendum would need to be held completely separately or on a different day, incurring costs to Lincolnshire taxpayers of around £1m”.
Cllr Hill, Leader of the county council, had sought to argue that holding a poll on 4 May, when many residents would already be going out to vote in county council elections, would have kept administrative costs to a minimum and encouraged a high turnout.
“Unfortunately, it won’t now be possible to hold a poll on 4 May, which is deeply disappointing,” he said.
“For various reasons, some of the county’s seven district councils – the bodies responsible for conducting the elections – are not prepared to co-operate. Although I don’t personally agree with their legal and other objections, the county council can’t require them to help with the holding of a poll.”
At a meeting of Lincolnshire County Council last week councillors voted to seek the views of residents on the principle of moving to a unitary system of local government.
After receipt of the legal advice earlier this month, Cllr Ric Metcalfe, Leader of City of Lincoln, said (on 17 February): “If the county council had consulted on this proposal [for a poll on local government reorganisation] with any of the district councils prior to their announcement, we could have raised our concerns then. Sadly, they did not.”
He added: “I and my district colleagues are in favour of a collective debate on the future of local government in Lincolnshire, but to hold a referendum at such an early stage in discussions is ludicrous, especially at such massive cost.”
Describing the proposal for a unitary council for the whole of Lincolnshire as “ridiculous”, Cllr Metcalfe said: “We are one of the largest counties in the UK and contain a diverse range of areas with significantly differing challenges and needs….
“A county unitary would be too remote a tier of government – district councils are best placed to deliver services that meet the needs of all their residents and businesses and we want to protect these services. This will not happen under a county unitary.”