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Legal challenge throws Chesterfield devolution deal into doubt

Chesterfield Town Hall
Chesterfield Town Hall

Chesterfield Borough Council will hold a second meeting to consider its devolution options after a threatened legal challenge by Derbyshire County Council called into question the original decision.

The county council say that the original decision was not valid as it did not take into account a legally required assessment which looks at the impact certain decisions have on groups protected by anti-discrimination legislation.

Chesterfield BC Leader John Burrows

Chesterfield BC Leader John Burrows

The meeting, which will take place at 5pm on Wednesday, April 6, will look at a report produced to include the assessment before a second vote on the deal is taken.

Councillor John Burrows, leader of Chesterfield Borough Council, said: “The only people who benefit from judicial reviews are the barristers presenting the cases.

“We could have opposed this legal challenge but that would have cost Derbyshire’s tax payers a lot of money and wasted a huge amount of time and effort.

“So we have decided to look afresh at our March 3 decision but this time taking into account the full equality impact assessment that we have now developed and other developments that have happened since the original decision was taken, including the decisions taken by other councils across Derbyshire.

Derbyshire County Council Leader Anne Western.

Derbyshire County Council Leader Anne Western.

“The council will then make a fresh decision on what delivers the best outcomes for both Chesterfield and Derbyshire’s residents and businesses. This will then go to public consultation before the Government makes a final decision.”

The borough council is also keen to stress that their original report followed a similar format to every other district and borough council in Derbyshire.

They believe that the fact that the county council has only issued the legal challenge against Chesterfield Borough Council is evidence they are being singled out by the bigger body.

If agreed, devolution would see powers and funding on issues like skills, training, housing and transport transferred from national government decision makers to a local level.

Chesterfield is being asked to choose between a devolution deal already agreed with the government for the Sheffield City Region, which would include an additional £900 million of funding to the city region over 30 years or a potential North Midlands deal, yet to be agreed with the government, seeking similar powers.

Under government proposals these authorities would be led by an elected mayor but would only cover issues such as housing, skills and training, business support and transport.

As required by the government, local councils are asked to make a decision on where to apply before the issue goes out to public consultation, with a final decision due in the autumn.

DCC’s response: “We don’t consider legal challenges lightly”

Following the announcement of the second meeting, a spokesman for Derbyshire County Council said: “We don’t consider making legal challenges lightly.

“But we have a duty to act in the best interests of everyone living in Derbyshire and we’re pleased Chesterfield Borough Council has chosen to review its earlier decision and take a fresh look.

“The decision was unique in Derbyshire because the borough council voted to apply for full membership of a combined authority outside the county.

“This could impact massively on local people in the longer term and the borough council should have done an equality impact assessment to look at the potential impact of its decision on protected people such as the vulnerable and disadvantaged.”