I WAS interested to read Cllr Tom Harvey’s comments regarding Cumbria County Council (Gazette, January 2, 'Let's have one lead council') and also Mr Whittaker’s subsequent letter (Letters, January 9, 'That's a bit rich, Cllr').

Back in 2007, following a significant expenditure by the county council on management consultancy fees, the council submitted a proposal to the government for a unitary authority for Cumbria. In July 2007 the council received a response from the government as follows:

"I am now writing to inform you that, in the Secretary of State’s judgement, there is not a reasonable likelihood that, if implemented, the proposal would meet the outcomes specified by all the criteria set out in the Invitation. Consequently, she is minded not to implement your proposal."

So, the question is, what has changed since 2007 that makes a fresh attempt for a unitary authority a sensible proposition? I would argue Cumbria is too geographically diverse to make such an authority a realistic proposition. A rather better solution would be two separate unitary authorities, one for the north based in Carlisle and one in the south with lead centres in both Kendal and Barrow. The southern authority would be the existing districts of South Lakeland and Barrow together with a section of Copeland including Millom and surrounding communities.

Interestingly, this is very much in line with the original proposal by Redcliffe-Maud back in 1969, although that proposal included northern Lancashire roughly down to the River Wyre including Lancaster itself. At the time of Redcliffe-Maud, the maxim was very much "big is Best" and the committee reckoned 500,000 citizens was the minimum population required for a viable council.

With the more recent introduction of unitary councils with much lower populations (Herefordshire, Rutland, division of Cheshire into two separate authorities, etc) it seems the previous recommended minimum no longer holds.

Just to restate, the existing county of Cumbria was not a recommendation of the Redcliffe-Maud report. A recent study of the size of population contained in administrative districts across the world shows the UK has amongst the largest.

Can I suggest that, rather than yet another failed attempt to create a Cumbria-wide unitary authority, a two-authority solution is infinitely more preferable.

Bob Henson