West Oxfordshire and Cotswold merger abandoned

A proposal for West Oxfordshire to form a new council by merging with a neighbouring local authority has been abandoned due to a lack of support.

The news comes as councils across Oxfordshire are jockeying for position as local government in the county is expected to go through a major restructuring in the coming years.

Among the proposals put forward, one would have seen West Oxfordshire District Council merge with Cotswold District Council, but the latter announced last Thursday that it had stepped back from the idea.

The county’s four district councils, Oxford City Council, and Cotswold and South Northamptonshire district councils commissioned a £105,000 study to find the most effective new council system.

But Cotswold announced last week that finance giants PwC, who were carrying out the study, said the plans would not be possible due to major law changes.

The new WODC leader James Mills, who was elected to the post last Wednesday, said: “As a cross-county unitary proposal is not feasible, I am pleased it has been ruled out at a very early stage so that the study can focus on other options.

“It is imperative that we achieve the best possible solution for West Oxfordshire residents that provides them with an efficient, well-managed local authority that listens and responds to their local needs.”

The West Oxfordshire and Cotswold merger would have been just part of a much larger countywide reorganisation of local authorities.

The proposals would have seen four new councils serving the county, with Oxfordshire County Council being abolished.

Cherwell and South Northamptonshire district councils would have also merged along with South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse district councils. Oxford City Council would have remained but become a unitary authority.

As well as Cotswold, the South Northants also pulled out of the cross-county unitary authority plan because the process would have been too complicated.

Cotswold leader Lynden Stowe said: “We are very frustrated that current legislation has not yet caught up with some of the most innovative joint working arrangements in the country.

“We have, therefore, reluctantly decided to withdraw the proposal, which will clear the way for an Oxfordshire-only solution to be submitted to Government in the autumn.”

The news was welcomed by the county council, which would prefer to see a single Oxfordshire unitary authority within the county boundary.

Nick Carter, the county’s cabinet member for business and customer services, said: “Losing one district could be considered unlucky but losing two on the same day looks like a shambles.

“They have hastily carved up the county again with no thought about the best way to deliver good council services.”

The county and district councils have been in a war of words over the best way forward.

London-based PwC is still looking at four options: a three-council system covering north Oxfordshire, South Oxfordshire and Oxford City; a ‘donut’ system with Oxford city forming a council surrounded by an Oxfordshire council; a single council covering the entire county; and four unitary authorities of South Oxfordshire and Vale, Cherwell, West Oxfordshire and Oxford City.