MP proposes three unitary authorities for Somerset
MP has this week proposed that the county should be split into three
unitary authorities if a reorganisation of how Somerset is run goes
Heappey has made several radical, thought-provoking suggestions
after Somerset County Council suggested
last week that it is time to re-explore a unitary authority.
MP says: "It could be time for Somerset to undo 44 years of
separation and delete the boundary that has run from Brean Down
in the west to Farleigh Hungerford in the east. Whatever the pros
and cons of splitting Somerset to form the county of Avon in 1974,
our communities and our economy have changed immeasurably since
this week when Somerset County Council proposed that we re-look
at forming a unitary authority, my first instinct wasnt a
single unitary authority based on Somerset County Council but three
unitaries covering the whole of the pre-1974 county. This would
mean Sedgemoor merging with North Somerset, Mendip merging with
Bath & North East Somerset and the southern part of the county
forming a unitary incorporating South Somerset, Taunton Deane and
real merit in this for all sorts of reasons but the main attraction
to me is that this division reflects the way that the Somerset economy
and many of our public services really work. I serve as the MP for
communities along three quarters of Somersets northern border
and I know that thousands of my constituents have chosen to live
in Somerset but they work in Bath and Bristol. The majority of my
constituents go to Weston Hospital, Southmead, the BRI or the RUH.
A significant number of young people wishing to study at college
choose to go to Weston, Bath or Norton Radstock."
in my constituency are often in the supply chains of larger businesses
based to our north. When I recently visited an engineering company
in Cheddar, the hinges for the lock doors at Bristol Port were there
for refurbishment. There are many small IT and digital businesses
around Wells that have spun off from the booming digital marketing
industry in Bristol and Bath. And there are huge tie ups between
Sedgemoor, Bristol University and EDFs HQ in Bristol as our
area becomes a world leader in clean energy engineering."
the reality is that other parts of the county feel the pull of Bristol
and Bath much less. There are fewer commuters, fewer businesses
connected to those economies and less use of their public services
too. It makes sense for the southern part of the county to form
a unitary authority that more neatly meets the needs of Yeovil,
Taunton and the surrounding areas."
important for me is that this division also allows a much more sensible
approach to devolution. Somerset has been seeking a deal with Devon,
Plymouth and Torbay that Ive always struggled to understand.
Devolution is supposed to bring power closer to the people not further
away and yet Farleigh Hungerford in the north-eastern most corner
of Somerset is 15 miles closer to London than it is to Plymouth.
In my own constituency, Ston Easton is just 11 miles from Bristol
and 13 miles from Bath whilst being 70 miles from Exeter and 110
miles from Plymouth."
cant quite decide whether were part of the far South
West or whether were part of the West of England. The reality
is that half the county looks north and the other half of the county
looks south. My concern is that a county-wide unitary setting our
priorities in a devolution deal with Devon, Plymouth and Torbay
means the centre of decision making mass is pulled southwards to
the disadvantage of the communities I represent along the countys
northern boundary. In unitary authority terms, one size cannot fit
the months ahead we shouldnt fall back on the result of a
referendum done 10 years ago. Somerset has changed a great deal
since and the devolution agenda has provided another important angle
too. With open minds we can seize this opportunity to look at how
we give taxpayers the best value for money, deliver the best possible
public services, and how we embrace devolution in a way that recognises
that Somerset looks both north and south."
importantly though, we could get to delete that line thats
split our county for nearly five decades and bring Somerset back
together again administered by three equally sized unitary authorities
each capable of understanding and representing the differing needs
of all parts of our wonderful county. The three authorities would
be able to work with the areas to our north or south depending on
what is in the strategic interests of that part of the county whilst,
crucially, combining whenever needed to give Somerset a loud voice
on the national stage with three councils and nine MPs representing
nearly a million people."