Four decades on, it’s time to put right county boundaries

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From: Geoffrey Bayley, Saddleworth, Yorkshire.

THIS APRIL is the 40th anniversary of the implantation of the Local Government Act of 1972. Local government boundary changes were imposed, and many of the communities involved were vehemently opposed to the reorganisation.

Yorkshire was particularly affected. The West Riding County Council was abolished together with many local district councils. In their place, a new metropolitan county was created together with new metropolitan boroughs designed to cover much larger areas than the old urban and rural districts. With the demise of the West Yorkshire Metropolitan County in 1986, these metropolitan boroughs became unitary authorities.

In Yorkshire, part of districts such as Craven and Bowland changed from being administered by the West Riding County Council to Lancashire County Council – a bitter pill to swallow in terms of old county loyalties. More significant though were those rural areas destined to become part of a new urban-based unitary authority. Saddleworth is a case in point. As well as losing its ties with the old West Riding County Council, it also lost its own urban district council. Its destiny was to be administered by the new Greater Manchester County Council and Oldham Metropolitan Council.

The problem with the 1974 arrangements is the size of the metropolitan boroughs and that they all have a densely populated “core town”. The surrounding countryside of small towns and villages becomes a rural hinterland, and a hinterland that gets scant attention in comparison to the large urban population centres. What can be done?

Well, first (though unlikely) would be to repeal the 1972 Act and return to the pre-1974 status quo. The old system was not perfect but it was more popular and more accountable.

The second possibility would be to further amend the Act, re-introducing something akin to the old urban and rural districts with their own planning powers and control of highways and infrastructure.

Thirdly would be to reorganise the territories covered by the present metropolitan districts, removing the rural areas of the South Pennines from their control and creating a new “South Pennines Unitary Authority”.

A fourth proposal would be to go further and create a new National Park, linking the Peak District and Yorkshire Dales. With the 40th anniversary of the 1974 changes, perhaps its time has now come.