A local government shake-up that would see Cumbria become a single unitary authority is “dead the water”, according to the elected mayor of Copeland.

But Mike Starkie believes political leaders are moving towards consensus on a “combined authority” made up of the district councils under an elected mayor of Cumbria – his preferred model.

He made the comments as it has emerged that several Cumbrian MPs also have reservations about the unitary proposals.

He said: “In my opinion, the single unitary option is dead in the water– the six district councils will never agree to that. But support is growing for a combined authority. District councils in Cumbria are working very closely together to come up with an alternative proposal.”

Writing to Communities Secretary James Brokenshire on behalf of the district council leaders and the elected mayor of Copeland, council leader for Allerdale Alan Smith rejected the unitary model mooted by Cumbria County Council leader Stewart Young.

He warned that the good work across Cumbria could be “sidelined” by “one-sided” and “protracted arguments over models of governance.”

District councils have also stressed that local government reform must be decided “inclusively”, amid claims the unitary case fails to take account of the “significant complexities” of delivering services to an area as “diverse” as Cumbria.

The creation of a combined authority would see the county council scrapped, with services that are currently under the top tier authority’s jurisdiction including planning, enforcement and economic regeneration devolved to the Districts.

Under the plans, highways would be handled by the Elected Mayor of Cumbria.

Health, Social Care and Housing would be integrated and taken out of local authority control alongside 'blue light services' which would fall under the remit of the Police and Crime Commissioner.

Three of Cumbria’s MPS have written to James Brokenshire to express reservations over proposals for a unitary

Trudy Harrison, MP for Copeland, has said that the benefits of a unitary had been “greatly overplayed” and that a more innovative approach needed to be investigated for large rural areas like Cumbria.

Tim Farron, MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale, also said that the benefits of single unitary for Cumbria, especially a single unitary – were outweighed by the disadvantages.

Sue Hayman, MP for Workington, has also said that she does not believe unitary government is the only option that should be considered, adding: “For the avoidance of doubt I do not support ta single unitary authority based on the current county boundary.”

Speaking to the LDR Reporting Service today (March 8), Carlisle MP John Stevenson said he believes a single unitary is “not right for Cumbria” because it is geographically “too big”, despite having a small population.

Rory Stewart, MP for Penrith and the Border, said he would ideally like to see two unitary authorities because of the size and geography of the county.

But he would also consider a single unitary or a combined authority as workable alternatives.

He added that “almost anything” would be better than the “confusing” and “inefficient” system of seven councils.

At the end of last year, county council leader Stewart Young wrote to James Brokenshire MP, Secretary of State for Local Government, asking him to open negotiations on a unitary authority to replace the present two-tier system.

But talks stalled after it emerged that all six district councils would have to be in unanimous agreement before this could happen.

The Government now looks set to issue a formal invitation to councils across Cumbria to thrash out their own proposals, potentially allowing the combined authority proposals to be brought to the table.

Proposals for local government restructuring now have to be considered under the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016 but any changes require unanimous consent.