Government plans which could recommend that Berkshire councils be merged have been labelled “absolute nonsense” by Reading Borough Council’s (RBC) leader.

The government is planning a reorganisation of local government in England, with more directly-elected mayors, more unitary authorities, and stronger town and parish councils – which it says will devolve power to local people.

Minister for local government Simon Clarke has stated the government’s ideal council model would be unitary councils with populations in excess of 300,000 to 400,000.

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Bracknell leader Paul Bettison raised concerns that this would mean the six unitary authorities in Reading would be merged either into one authority or into two authorities consisting of:

  • Bracknell, Slough, and Windsor & Maidenhead
  • Reading, Wokingham, and West Berkshire

If combined, Reading, Wokingham, and West Berskhire would cover a total population of around 490,000 people currently, while a combined Bracknell, Slough, and W&M unitary authority would have a population of around 440,000.

But Councillor Jason Brock said a Berkshire West-wide council “would be an absolute nonsense and not in the best interests of people in Reading, West Berkshire, and Wokingham”.

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The RBC leader added: “It sounds like an absolute flight of fancy.

“The government have delayed the devolution white paper twice. I think there is no sensible prospect of there being a Berkshire West-wide council.

“Someone’s interests in Newbury are very different from someone in Reading.”

A Berkshire-wide authority, bringing back the days of Berkshire County Council but in unitary form, would cover a population of more than 900,000 people.

However, a spokesman for the Department of Housing, Communities and Local Government said merging would only happen if the councils themselves request it, which seems very unlikely given the response from Reading and Bracknell leaders.

He said: “We’re very clear that any change to council structures should be led by councils and local people, not imposed by Whitehall.

“Our long-standing policy is that we consider locally-led proposals for mergers between councils if they are requested.”