Five councils in Bucks have now merged into just one.

April 1 was the first day of Buckinghamshire Council - the unitary authority that has replaced the four district and one county council.

From today, Wycombe, South Bucks, Chiltern and Aylesbury Vale and Buckinghamshire County Council officially no longer exist.

How will the new council affect you?

The new Buckinghamshire Council says there will be no immediate changes to services - bins will still be collected as normal, libraries will stay the same, the streets will still be cleaned and everything residents rely on every day will still carry on.

But every service that used to be carried out by county and district councils will now be transferred to the Buckinghamshire Council.

What are the benefits of a new unitary council?

Buckinghamshire Council says one council in the entire county will be "more efficient" and will save cash for the taxpayer.

Before, different aspects of daily life were dealt with by different authorities - for example, bins were collected by district councils, but if there was a pothole in the road, that had to be reported to Bucks County Council.

The new council means there is just one single point of contact - one council responsible for all services.

Buckinghamshire Council also says there will be less duplication and therefore reduced costs for the taxpayer and clearer accountability because just one council is responsible for everything.

What are the concerns about a new unitary council?

Some councillors and members of the public have been concerned about how communities will be represented on a local level.

The unitary process has prompted calls from some areas of the county to have their own town council - including High Wycombe.

While that matter is still yet to be decided, the Buckinghamshire Council announced that 16 community boards would be set up in a bid to bring together the councillors and the community to help solve local issues.

Community boards - how will they work?

The 16 community boards are:

  • High Wycombe
  • South West Chilterns (incorporating Marlow, Lane End, Cadmore End, parts of Flackwell Heath, Hambleden and surrounding areas)
  • Beaconsfield and Chepping Wye (including Hazlemere and Tylers Green)
  • Beeches (the Stoke Poges, Burnham and Taplow areas)
  • Wexham and Ivers
  • Denham, Gerrards Cross and the Chalfonts
  • Amersham
  • Missendens
  • Chesham and Villages
  • North West Chilterns (including Princes Risborough, Little Kimble, Stokenchurch, West Wycombe and Great Kingshill)
  • Wendover
  • Aylesbury
  • Haddenham and Waddesdon
  • Winslow and Villages
  • Wing and Ivinghoe
  • Buckingham and Villages

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Buckinghamshire Council councillors will automatically be expected to attend and get involved in their community board and a chairman will be appointed for a two-year term.

Buckinghamshire Council will allocate £3.9 million to community boards to support local projects.

Each community board will be expected to meet five times a year - but separate action groups (a maximum of three at any one time) can be set up to focus on specific issues and projects.

The community board meetings will be open to the public.

The objectives of the community boards are:

  • Local Issues: Enable Buckinghamshire Council councillors to make recommendations on local issues, alongside community organisations, such as town and parish councils.
  • Influence: Empower Buckinghamshire Council councillors and communities to influence service design and delivery on local issues.
  • Partnership: Facilitate communities to come together with Buckinghamshire Council Councillors and partners to find solutions to local issues.

How will I be able to contact the new council for help and advice?

You will still be able to call, email, go in person (once coronavirus restrictions are lifted) or go online for help, but there will also be Council Access Points (CAPs) in different parts of the county for you to get help.

How do CAPs work?

There will be 12 CAPs and five Council Access Points Plus. The main offices for the five former councils will all become 'access plus' points to handle more complex enquiries. CAPs are places for people to get information or support they need. Residents can get face-to-face help on the spot from council staff in the following locations. Staff will be able to guide, signpost services and support them with online services.

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The CAPs will be drop-in centres with self-service options, meeting spaces for individual support, with staff and volunteers able to answer common questions or concerns.

They will also be a drop-in space for things like planning, housing advice or councillor surgeries.

All of the CAPs:

  • Amersham (King George V House, King George V Road) - Access Plus
  • Aylesbury (Walton Street) - Access Plus
  • Aylesbury (The Gateway, Gatehouse Road) - Access Plus
  • Beacon Villages (Library, High Street, Ivinghoe)
  • Beaconsfield (Library, Reynolds Road)
  • Buckingham (Library, Verney Close)
  • Chesham (Library, Elgiva Lane)
  • Denham (Oxford Road) - Access Plus
  • Great Missenden (Library, High Street)
  • Haddenham (Library, Banks Road)
  • High Wycombe (Queen Victoria Road) - Access Plus
  • Iver (Parish Council office, High Street)
  • Marlow (Library, Institute Road)
  • Princes Risborough (Library, Bell Street)
  • Wendover (Library, High Street)
  • Winslow (Library, Park Road)

The history

This process has been years in the making.

The argument for a single unitary council that looks after all services for Bucks residents was reignited in 2016 when outgoing county council chief executive Chris Williams called for “wholesale shake-up” of the “prehistoric” two-tier local government system.

Nine years before that, he had tried to implement the changes, but at the "eleventh hour", councillors decided not to back the plans.

However, his passionate speech before he retired seemed to convince everyone that it was the right decision - and the journey towards abolishing all five councils got underway.

But it has not always been a smooth ride.

Bucks County Council - which was in favour of one council replacing all five - and three district councils - who thought two councils, one for the south of the county and one for the north was the better idea - went head-to-head, with both sides writing detailed proposals to the government about why their preferred option should be chosen.

On November 1, 2018, the Secretary of State for Housing Communities and Local Government picked a side - and announced a single unitary authority for Buckinghamshire.

Wycombe, Chiltern and South Bucks decided to launch a legal challenge against the decision, saying they were "disappointed" with the government's view.

That legal challenge was declined by a judge - and so preparations for the new single unitary council began properly.

A temporary shadow authority was set up to oversee the creation of the new Buckinghamshire Council and ensure a "safe, legal transition" for all the existing councils.

The shadow authority - made up of all councillors serving on all five councils - held their first meeting on June 3 last year.

The shadow authority was only supposed to exist until May 7 this year, when the first ever unitary elections were planned.

Sadly, the coronavirus outbreak meant that the elections have been postponed until May 2021 instead - but Cllr Martin Tett was adamant the new council would launch as planned at the beginning of April.

It means that all 202 current shadow authority councillors are now councillors on the new Buckinghamshire Council, until the postponed elections can finally take place.

The existing Shadow Executive members will form Buckinghamshire Council’s new cabinet until the elections in May 2021.

Buckinghamshire Council's new constitution - outlining its operating rules and procedures - has come into force today (April 1) and new committees will be established.

Once elections can take place next year, there will be 147 elected councillors - which works out at three per current county ward.

After the first elections, there will be ones held every four years.