The High Court Judge’s decision related to the Judicial Review of the Secretary of State’s decision to grant unitary status to Exeter and Norwich, has led to calls for the county council to deliver a new deal for the city. The Judicial Review case was brought by Devon County Council (jointly with Norfolk County Council who opposed the Norwich unitary).
The judgement by Mr Justice Ouseley in the High Court declared the Secretary of State’s decision in February as unlawful. The judge has refused leave to appeal against his ruling. He will make a decision on how his judgement should be implemented some time next week after considering further submissions from the parties involved.
Council Leader, Adrian Fullam, said: “We will continue to work within the two-tier system. However, we believe that there needs to be a fundamental renegotiation of our relationship with the county council. We believe that this new relationship should properly reflect the special position of the city in driving economic growth for Devon and the unique challenges we face as the major urban centre.”
Chair of the Local Government review Committee, Cllr Pete Edwards, added: “We accept that the process that kept us hanging on for nearly four years was far from ideal but we still feel unitary is the right decision. There is a real need to focus on the special and different challenges the city has compared with rural Devon. Devon County Council fought us all the way to hold onto the city, now they need to deliver a new deal for local people with better services, proper investment in facilities and improved democratic accountability.”
Derek Philips, chair of the Exeter Chamber of Commerce backed the call saying: “The business community firmly believed that a unitary council would be better for the economy by having a clear focus on the urban needs of Exeter. If we don’t have a unitary we certainly need the county council to properly recognise the key strategic importance of the city and give it appropriate status in its structures.”
Although the judgement itself is final Mr Justice Ouseley has allowed more time to see if a solution can be found to the predicament faced by the councillors who would have been up for election in May 2010 but who had their year of office extended until next May by the Order that created a unitary council for Exeter. The parties concerned will be making urgent representations to the judge on this issue over the next week or so. If the judge is unable or unwilling to do anything other than totally quash the Exeter Unitary Order then the councillors concerned will find themselves out of office pending the holding of urgent elections during the summer.
(from a press release)