PLANS to hold a 'referendum' over the future of local government in Somerset have been delayed - amid legal questions from the Government.

The county's four district councils had proposed holding a vote to decide the future of governance in Somerset as the county's structure looks set to change.

Currently, there are two proposals which aim to revamp the system in Somerset.

One, from Somerset County Council, would see all four districts and the county council itself abolished in favour of a single, unitary authority.

Meanwhile, a proposal from the four district councils - Somerset West and Taunton, Sedgemoor, Mendip and South Somerset - would see the current five-council system replaced with two bodies - one representing the west of the county, the other the east.

This is known as the Stronger Somerset plan.

The Government has been holding a consultation over the proposals, which runs until April 19.

However, the district councils had proposed holding a referendum of Somerset residents asking them to select a preferred option.

The vote - by email or post - would be held independently and run between May 7 and May 28, meaning a result was established ahead of any decision, which is set to come in June or July.

The districts had notified the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government - Robert Kenrick MP - of their intention.

Now though, the Minister has responded, raising concerns over a 'number of specific and detailed legal issues'.

District councillors had been set to vote on running the referendum at meetings this week, but have now deferred any decision while the issues are addressed.


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A spokesperson for Stronger Somerset said: "The councils advised the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government of their intention to consider the referendum proposal.

"In response, the Secretary of State raised a number of specific and detailed legal issues.

"As a result, the district councils are now considering a short deferral of any decision to proceed with a local poll on the future of local government in Somerset in the light of the Secretary of State’s letter.

"They will be seeking leading counsel’s opinion on the specific and detailed legal issues the letter raises.

"This will ensure that all councillors have full and thorough legal advice when reaching their decision on such a significant issue."

Bridgwater and West Somerset MP Ian Liddell-Grainger, who supports the Stronger Somerset proposal, reacted angrily to the response from Mr Jenrick.

Yeovil Express: RESPONSE: Bridgwater and West Somerset MP, Ian Liddell-Grainger, speaking in Parliament on Wednesday
RESPONSE: Bridgwater and West Somerset MP, Ian Liddell-Grainger, speaking in Parliament on Wednesday

Mr Liddell-Grainger attacked the Minister's response during a Parliamentary debate over lobbying on Wednesday (April 14), calling the current consultation 'pathetic' and saying Mr Jenrick has 'thrown a wobbly' over the referendum plan and accused him of 'threatening' the councils.

He said: "I have rarely read such a cold response. And I'm sorry, it's not going to wash.

"The Secretary of State has turned lobbying on its head. He appears to be using a big stick on those who have different ideas to uphold democracy and fairness.

"I will tell him straight and publicly right now that his actions should, must and will fail.

"The district councils represent all the parties and they are united against this.

"Their referendum will go ahead, and if they use the Law to stop it, then I'm afraid lobbying has got a very much more sinister and nasty feel to it ... and I would urge anyone in Somerset to lobby to make sure that we have the voice of the people and the democracy they deserve.

"I can say to the Secretary of State see you in court - or come up and sue me some time."