Eden Council has refused to suspend the purchase of Voreda House, Penrith, despite formal discussions taking place over the potential merger of authorities within the county to form a unitary authority.
The move was revealed at a meeting of the council’s executive online earlier this week, after a question by councillor Kevin Beaty (Con, Skelton).
Mr Beaty wanted to know why the people of Eden had not been kept abreast of discussions about the potential scrapping of Eden Council in favour of a unitary authority before now.
However, council leader Virginia Taylor said the council was only formally consulted upon the proposals by central government on 9th July.
Mrs Taylor said she had expressed a preference for a merger of Eden, Carlisle and Allerdale councils to form a unitary authority for North Cumbria, however, no decision had been taken.
Mr Beaty said it was his understanding that such changes could take place within months and could also involve the splitting up of Eden, by having places such as Appleby and Kirkby Stephen administered from Kendal. However, Mr Taylor said this was not part of any proposal the council had supported.
Mr Beaty asked if the council would suspend the purchase of Voreda House as part of its single site plans and reorganisation within the council, to prevent unnecessary spending of public funds at a time when the authority could soon be abolished, she refused to give such an undertaking.
Mrs Taylor also asked Mr Beaty to use any influence he had within his own party to lobby against the idea of splitting up the district.
Councillor Karen Greenwood, portfolio holder for resources, confirmed the purchase of Voreda House is expected to be completed within a month’s time.
She added: “With the support of the One Public Estate programme, potential partners with whom we could co-locate to create a model for integrated public services in the area have been contacted to determine their views and requirements and are coming together in August to discuss putting this into practice.”
Speaking to the Herald this week, Mr Beaty said the central government preference is to have councils covering a population of 300,000. He said with Cumbria having only 500,000, it would make sense to split this and potentially create unitary authorities for North and South Cumbria.
But this would see Appleby and Kirkby Stephen made part of the southern unit, harking back to the days when Appleby was part of Westmorland.
He added that a unitary authority for Cumbria could see more money given to the county by central government to be spent on services. He added that it would also remove residents’ confusion over which services are the responsibility of which council.
Appleby mayor Gareth Hayes said he personally would welcome the move to a unitary authority, but would have to hold strategic meetings with councillors to look at the benefits and disadvantages it may imply for the town.
“It will please many people in terms of getting Westmorland back, but that was a previous generation. If it happens, it’s down to us to make it work and the concern will always be that it doesn’t become an excuse to slow or halt projects that are underway.
“Geographically, the A66 has tended to be our artery for council work and we will have to navigate it differently and hopefully piggyback on some of the South Lakes opportunities, such as funding streams.”
At a meeting of Appleby Town Council on Wednesday, Eden Council representative Andy Connell said a white paper on the proposals was due to be issued by central government within days.
He said the change is only at a preliminary stage, but it could see more services which are now delivered by the district council put in the hands of parish and town councils like Appleby.