An outline proposal to create a new unitary authority around Morecambe Bay is to be submitted to Government.

The proposal was agreed by extraordinary meetings of the full councils of Barrow Borough Council, Lancaster City Council and South Lakeland District Council.

Now leaders of the three councils are urging residents and businesses to ‘Back the Bay’ and show their support for the new-look authority proposal.

In a joint statement, the leaders of the three district councils, Councillor Ann Thomson from Barrow Borough Council, Councillor Dr Erica Lewis from Lancaster City Council and Councillor Giles Archibald from South Lakeland District Council, said: “This could mean significant changes for our areas – changes that we firmly believe have the potential to deliver the best outcomes for our communities.

“We are urging local residents, businesses and organisations to engage with this proposal. We want to understand what you want and what you think will best serve you.

“We shouldn’t be constrained by lines on a map. We should be looking to a solution that offers the most positive benefits for our communities, one that builds on existing relationships and connections, one that is ambitious and supports innovation and sustainable economic prosperity.

“We already have a shared postcode, a shared health footprint, a shared economic and social geography and shared ambitions around critical issues like meeting the climate emergency and tackling wealth and health inequalities.

"Our view has always been that discussion about local government reorganisation is not ideal at a time when all of our councils are extremely busy with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic response. We continue to ask Government to reconsider the timing of this process.

“However, once we received the letter from Government we knew we had to come up with an option we think will be in the best long-term interests of our communities."

The formal invitation from Government is the first step in the legal process towards restructuring. After initial proposals are submitted, a final more detailed case must be submitted by December 9. After that Government will decide which proposal to take forward.

The detailed case will set out the degree of local support for the proposal following a period of engagement with residents, businesses and key stakeholders. It will examine how police, fire and rescue services would be managed, opportunities for reform to health and care services and include in-depth financial modelling.

At Barrow’s meeting, Cllr Alan Pemberton, who represents Hawcoat, was concerned that there was no other choice on the ballot.

He said: “Is there not a plan ‘B’, if the Bay unitary authority is rejected?”

The committee informed him that other proposals had been put in place by northern districts of Cumbria and Barrow councillors will have an opportunity to comment on these later.

At SLDC’s meeting, Cllr Andrew Jarvis, the SLDC finance and resources portfolio holder said he was uncomfortable with the merger taking place right now.

He said: “This is an inappropriate and outrageously tight timetable imposed on us by the Conservative Government. The time and resources we have spent on this so far would be better spent dealing with this pandemic. All this requires work which comes at a cost, but I do support the funding to achieve it.”

At Barrow’s extraordinary meeting in the evening, Cllr Ben Shirley who represents Dalton North, spoke for the younger members of the area when he asked: “Where’s the actual public support for this change?

“Also, I think it’s dangerous for everyone of a certain age to say they are Lancastrians. I was born in Cumbria, I am Cumbrian.“

Cllr Ann Thomson, leader of Barrow Council said: “People don’t feel at home in Cumbria, they need to feel at home and right now they don’t feel Cumbrian.”