Westmorland And Furness Council Sets Out Vision For Growth And Climate Challenge

A new authority covering an area larger than Greater London, Greater Manchester and the West Midlands combined is laying out its ambitious vision for its area.

Westmorland and Furness Council will be England’s third largest unitary authority by area when it comes into effect next year.

It will provide services to approximately 225,000 residents who are currently served by Barrow Borough, Eden District, South Lakeland District and Cumbria County councils, which are being abolished.

The shadow authority’s leader, Councillor Jonathan Brook said: “Our vision is one that guides the council to ensure that transition and transformation over the next five years enables Westmorland and Furness to be a great place to live, work and thrive now and in the future.

“Westmorland and Furness is unique, and we value the differences in our towns, villages and communities, and recognise their needs and aspirations are different.

“We will empower local communities and shape our services to recognise and embrace these differences by being innovative and flexible.”

Ahead of taking on services from April 1, 2023, the ‘shadow’ authority for Westmorland and Furness is drawing up a Council Plan to set out its vision, values and priorities.

The Council Plan will show how the council intends to realise the benefits offered by local government re-organisation by doing things differently and how it will prioritise its activities and services to achieve its strategic aims, along with the values and principles that will underpin how it works.

Priorities being discussed include addressing health and social inequalities, measures to tackle climate change, highways and transport, empowering and working with communities, children’s care, the economy and housing. 

The draft Council Plan was noted by a meeting of the shadow council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee this week (Wednesday), with comments from the committee forming part of initial feedback – along with views from conversations with stakeholders over the coming month – that will be considered by the shadow authority’s Cabinet in October.

Once a ‘high level’ strategic direction is agreed in the Autumn, there will follow a period of engagement with residents, businesses and organisations during the first full year of the new council after ‘Vesting Day’ on 1 April 2023.

This will help to inform the detail of the strategies needed to deliver key priorities.

The authority area is predominantly rural and a major centre of farming and food production.

It is also home to a world leading visitor economy centred on the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales national parks and is a hub for creative industries and excellent education opportunities.

Westmorland and Furness can also lay claim to world-class advanced manufacturing. In the Furness area, a highly skilled workforce manufactures some of the most complex and advanced technology in existence.

A report on preparation of the Council Plan to yesterday’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee said: “The area is at the heart of a manufacturing and marine technology cluster which includes undersea lighting and electronics and offshore energy as well as a thriving port.”

It also points to the near 12,000 businesses in the new authority’s area which add £5.7 billion of gross value to the national economy every year.

The report acknowledges some of the challenges faced by the new authority, including an ageing population, areas with high levels of deprivation and changes to farm subsidies following the end of the Common Agricultural Policy. 

To counter this, the shadow council has said it wants to grow the economy, provide housing and employment opportunities to encourage young people to stay and live and work in the area, also attracting more young families, skilled workers and wealth creators to relocate to the new authority area.

Climate change initiatives are also set to be at the forefront of council priorities with the ambition to be carbon neutral by 2030. Areas being targeted in proposals include promoting a low carbon economy, adapting to flood risk, promoting carbon sequestration and biodiversity through efficient land use and promoting zero carbon energy generation.

The report on the draft plan says it will be important to empower local communities to use their knowledge to develop solutions to their issues and to ensure areas evolve in ways which reflect their distinctive identities and priorities.

Westmorland and Furness Council will act in ‘shadow’ form for the next eight months, as its councillors engage in the planning and preparation for Vesting Day on 1 April 2023.

1 April 2023 is the point where Westmorland and Furness Council and its councillors will officially take over responsibility for all services across the Barrow, Eden and South Lakeland areas and the existing Barrow Borough, Eden District and South Lakeland District councils, along with Cumbria County Council, will be dissolved.

Until April 2023 all current services will continue to be delivered by the existing councils, overseen by the councillors on those councils.

In the meantime, councillors on the Shadow Authority for Westmorland and Furness Council will be working with the Local Government Reorganisation programme planning for the new council to ‘go live’ in 2023.