The Bay

The Bay proposal

Proposals for a new unitary authority around Morecambe Bay have been accepted by Government for a further round of consultation.

The Bay authority could merge three district councils; Barrow Borough Council, South Lakeland District Council and Lancaster City Council, and draw down certain powers from the county councils, to create a new single tier authority for the area. 

The consultation will end on April 19, 2021.

You can read our full proposal for a Bay unitary authority here

How to have your say

The Government is open to businesses, community and voluntary sector organisations and members of the public who live, work or study in Barrow, South Lakeland and Lancaster. 

This means the Government will now be getting in touch with key stakeholders and organisations to gather views on The Bay proposal.

The Government also received three other proposals for Cumbria which also form part of the consultation. 

Members of the public can offer their views by emailing and by taking part via an online survey here 

Other documents:

Read our submission letter here 

Read details of our Fire & Police Authority impact assessment here

Read the outline proposal for a new Morecambe Bay unitary authority here


MHCLG letter to Chief Executives December 21, 2020 here

The Bay Chief Executives letter to MHCLG December 23, 2020 here

MHCLG letter to Chief Executives December 24, 2020 here

The Bay Chief Executives letter to MHCLG January 12, 2021 here

MHCLG letter to Chief Executives January 13, 2021 here

The Bay Chief Executives letter to MHCLG January 14, 2021 here

MHCLG letter to Chief Executives February 22, 2021 here

MHCLG letter to Council Leaders February 22, 2021 here

The Bay Proposal

 The Bay proposal was agreed by extraordinary meetings of the Full Councils of Barrow Borough Council, Lancaster City Council and South Lakeland District Council on December 8, 2020.

A formal submission has now been sent to Government.

In total, the Government has received four proposals from councils in Cumbria and is consulting on them all. They are:

1. Barrow, South Lakeland and Lancaster have jointly submitted a proposal for two unitary councils; The Bay, comprising the area covered by Barrow Borough, South Lakeland District and Lancaster City Councils, and 'North Cumbria' comprising the area covered by Allerdale and Copeland borough councils, Carlisle City Council and Eden District Council. 

2. Allerdale and Copeland have jointly submitted a proposal for two unitary councils; 'West Cumbria' comprising the area covered by Allerdale and Copeland borough councils and Carlisle City Council, and 'East Cumbria' comprising the area covered by Barrow Borough and Eden and South Lakeland district councils.

3. Carlisle and Eden have jointly submitted a proposal for two unitary councils; 'North Cumbria' comprising the area covered by Allerdale Borough, Carlisle City and Eden District councils, and 'South Cumbria' comprising the area covered by Barrow and Copeland borough councils and South Lakeland District Council.

4. Cumbria County Council has submitted a proposal for a single unitary council covering the county area of Cumbria; 'One Cumbria'.

A new Bay authority could merge the three district councils and draw down powers from the county councils to create a single tier authority for the area responsible for local government functions.

In October 2020, Government sent letters to councils in Cumbria inviting submissions on 'locally-led proposals for unitary government'.

The formal invitation from Government was the first step in the legal process towards restructuring. A final, more detailed case, had to be submitted to Government by December 9. After that, Government will decide which proposal to take forward.

The leaders of the three councils have worked together to develop a proposal that demonstrates the benefits of The Bay authority.

Throughout we have been committed to consulting key stakeholders and most importantly the views of local residents on how we can make sure a new unitary works for the 320,000 local residents and 13,000 businesses that are at the heart of The Bay.

As part of our submission we conducted engagement with residents, businesses and organisations on our proposal for local government structures in the Bay area.

We ran an online survey, commissioned an independent opinion poll and staged virtual engagement events for hundreds of key stakeholders, businesses, community and youth groups and parish and town councils.

Around 4,000 people responded during the a three-week consultation and businesses and organisations sent in letters of endorsement.

Independent polling of more than 1,000 adults by polling company Survation showed 60 per cent of people believe the area would be best served by a unitary council for Morecambe Bay. Only 30 per cent favoured a county-wide unitary for Cumbria and separate arrangements for Lancashire.

A joint survey by the three councils gathered nearly 3,000 responses. It showed 85 per cent of people in the area favoured a bay authority over a county-wide unitary.

We are still happy to receive your views and comments. You can email or write to us:


Post: The Bay Proposal, Barrow Borough Council, Town Hall, Duke Street, Barrow, LA14 2LD

What is The Bay? Read our frequently asked questions for all you need to know...

What is a unitary council?

A unitary council means a single local authority responsible for providing ALL local government services.

Currently, residents here are governed by a two-tier system, where local services are provided by ourselves and the county council. In our district there are also Town or Parish Councils in rural areas.

 Unitary status would bring all the different services currently offered by all these organisations under ‘one roof’.

What are the benefits of becoming unitary?

There are some key things which residents rightfully expect from local government:

  • Good quality services provided at a reasonable cost
  • A council that is open and accountable to local residents
  • A listening council, which is responsive to the wishes and priorities of the communities it serves

Under the current two-tier arrangements, this isn’t always what people experience.  Working arrangements can be confusing, wasteful and inefficient.

For example, at the moment we are responsible for waste collection but the county council is responsible for waste disposal. We are responsible for the majority of off-street parking, but the county council is responsible for on-street parking. We provide leisure services, but the county council provide libraries and youth services.  The list could go on…

In a unitary authority, all these services and more would be provided by one single, new organisation, making sure all these areas are joined-up and with the flexibility and efficiency to provide better services for our communities. 

What do you mean by The Bay?

The proposed unitary authority, The Bay, consists of: Barrow Borough Council, Lancaster City Council and South Lakeland District Council areas. 

Barrow BC and South Lakeland DC are two of the six district and borough councils that make up Cumbria County Council, based 50 miles away. Lancaster CC is one of 12 district and borough councils that currently make up Lancashire. 

What are you asking for?

The Leaders of the three councils are working together to develop a proposal that demonstrates the benefits of The Bay unitary authority when compared to the alternatives.

We are committed to consulting key stakeholders and most importantly the views of local residents on how we can make sure a new unitary works for its 320,000 local residents and 13,000 businesses that are the heart of The Bay.

Why do you think The Bay is the best option?

The Bay proposal brings together three local authorities with shared geography and history, from which arise shared opportunities and challenges for our communities. 

The Bay puts right the artificial boundary between historically linked areas, sitting alongside a new unitary authority for the four northern and western districts of Cumbria and viable arrangements for the rest of Lancashire to the south.

We are home to advanced manufacturing of strategic UK importance, a hub for clean energy generation, two universities and a world heritage site, which extends across new proposed boundaries. We are:

  • A strong, closely-linked community and exceptional joint working across the three councils, and wider public services, covering the Bay area
  • A functional economic geography, with 96% of the workforce both living and working in the area;
  • Focused on the Bay – 76% of business and 90% of the population are within 7km (4 miles) of the Bay.
  • Well-connected and local – direct public transport links to the Bay, compared to 50-mile drive to County Hall in Carlisle.
  • The Bay is served by a single NHS Trust, is in the same postal and broadcast area and the three councils work closely through the Lancaster and South Cumbria Joint Committee, whose purpose it is to promote low carbon and socially inclusive and economic prosperity around The Bay.

Why not a single council for the whole of Cumbria - wouldn't that just be the simplest idea?

There is a proposal for a single unitary authority for Cumbria, which is being developed by the county council.

However, we believe it would not represent the best option for our local communities.

It also does not meet the Government’s criteria for Cumbria, as it would create a remote unitary authority, well above the recommended upper limit on population that the Government has set.

It would be one of the largest unitary authorities by area in the country, cumbersome and detached from local communities leading to a democratic deficit. Independent research shows a drop in respect, engagement and voter turnout for large local authority units. 

In contrast, a new unitary authority, focused on the needs of local people and businesses in The Bay area, would be better placed to engage with its residents, easier to understand for electors, with joined-up decision-making, clearer accountability and improved and closer relationships with the CVS, town and parish councils.

A Bay unitary can make efficiency savings targeted by central government whilst retaining essential local engagement capacity, improving both local democracy and local service provision.

 Are there other alternatives?

The status quo: We don’t think this is a suitable option as county services can appear to be remote for our residents and the current arrangements do not best enable service transformation through partnership working aligned with the functional economic area and health services footprint. 

Given Government announcements, is unlikely to enable optimal devolution of powers and resources.

Unitaries within county boundaries: This would not improve local government and service delivery and would artificially divide The Bay community, concentrating power in remote and less flexible county halls; it would move decision-making and service delivery further from local people and would create a democratic deficit and harm existing arrangements for local community engagement. 

Cumbria also does not have the population to sustain two unitary authorities within the reorganisation criteria.

How does this affect existing council staff? Will there be job losses?

We can be guided by previous reorganisations in local government that have led to the creation of unitary councils elsewhere.

In these cases, the vast majority of employees simply transfer to the newly created body.  This is to be expected because the work will need to continue as seamlessly as possible.  Everyone would have the usual protection.

There will be opportunities for efficiencies in how services operate in the new organisation, but the clear intention is that would be achieved through better ways of working, not through significant staff reductions.  

Barrow and South Lakeland are in Cumbria, Lancaster is in Lancashire - will the government allow you to create a new council across county boundaries?

In the invitation letter from Government, it was made clear that the Government would consider proposals from ‘one or more districts in a county and one or more relevant adjoining areas’.

A cross-boundary authority around Morecambe Bay fits that criteria and we believe it is the best way forward for our three areas.

We should not 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 growth.

Barrow, Lancaster and South Lakeland already work together on economic initiatives through the Joint Committee and we believe there are opportunities to develop and build on that existing successful relationship.

What is the joint committee?

The Lancaster and South Cumbria Joint Committee a partnership between the three Bay local authorities and demonstrates that the councils already have a strong track record of collaborative working.

The three councils have been working together on economic initiatives since 2017 and formed the Joint Committee earlier this year to further develop that work.

The economic partnership has already achieved notable success when a joint submission to the Arts Council was accepted as one of only two “rural” bids in the UK to develop a pioneering ‘Cultural Compact’ around Morecambe Bay, harnessing cultural and creative opportunities to boost the local economy.

The Joint Committee has also developed the Bay Prosperity and Resilience Strategy, which is seeking Government funding over the next two years to jointly develop plans and projects to further unlock the Bay area’s economic potential.

Why are we talking about local government reorganisation?

The Government committed to introducing a Devolution White Paper this year, encouraging local government reform, also referred to as Local Government Reorganisation (LGR). 

On 9 October Government sent a letter to local authorities in Cumbria inviting them to submit proposals for new unitary authorities. 

The Government has invited proposals that would replace the current two-tier system of county and district councils in Cumbria, with a single tier of local government.

The Government has requested initial proposal by 9 November 2020, and a full proposal by 9 December 2020.  

The councils around the Bay area believe a unitary that merges Barrow Borough Council, Lancaster City Council and South Lakeland would be the best solution for the communities in those areas and this has been approved by Full Council meetings of each council. An initial proposal to this effect has now been submitted to Government.

But why now? Surely councils should be concentrating on the Covid-19 response, not looking to reorganise?

The Leaders of the three councils have repeatedly said that, while they welcome the opportunity to talk about opportunities to improve local government, they do not consider that this is the right time. They have said that all our efforts at present should be focused on supporting our communities through the pandemic. 

However, now that the Government has sent the invitation letter, the Leaders have said they owe it to those same communities to propose a solution they believe is in the area’s best interests, so the three councils carried out the necessary work to present a full proposal for a Bay unitary by the deadline of 9 December 2020.