CREATING a town council for Taunton should be “the highest priority” for any local government review in Somerset, the district council has stated.
Somerset residents are currently being consulted on two different visions for the future of local government in Somerset – dubbed One Somerset and Stronger Somerset respectively.
Both visions would see a greater role for town and parish councils – but Taunton would currently miss out on this, having no town council of its own.
Somerset West and Taunton Council is seeking to address the issue, setting processes in motion to ensure Taunton gets its own town council by the time any new unitary or unitaries are formed in 2023.
Council leader Federica Smith-Roberts addressed the issue at a virtual full council meeting on Tuesday evening (March 30).
She said: “Being a councillor representing an unparished area, there is a significant democratic deficit in Taunton, and this has been ongoing for some time.
“Whatever unitary takes place, you are removing a layer of government, and Taunton will suffer if this is not brought forward.”
The council aims to draw up draft proposals for the town council (including the area it will serve and the responsibilities it will have) ahead of two rounds of public consultation in July and October.
If all goes well, formal orders to create the town council could be made by April 2022, giving 12 months to sort out meeting premises and set a precept before the next round of local elections in May 2023.
Councillor Chris Booth, portfolio holder for communities, said: “This is a light at the end of the tunnel to finally square the circle, and hopefully we can put this to bed soon.”
Councillor Fran Smith, the current mayor of Taunton, has already written to communities secretary Robert Jenrick MP asking for the government to prioritise a town council for Taunton after the unitary consultation ends on April 19.
She said: “This should be the highest priority in relation to the government’s review, along with the impending unitary decision.
“It’s essential that this is a priority so that the people of Taunton do not continue to suffer any kind of democratic deficit.”
The One Somerset business case includes a provision for a governance review to take place which would “enable a Taunton Town Council to be created and in place by vesting day” (i.e. April 2023).
Councillor Gwilym Wren, who chairs the council’s scrutiny committee, added: “I’m delighted that this is coming forward now – particularly because if it was allowed to wait for the unitary, it will just disappear into the long grass forever.”