THE merger of two district councils has this morning (Thursday) been officially approved by a Government Minister.

Although it still needs Parliamentary approval, Taunton Deane Borough and West Somerset Councils look certain to be abolished.

A new authority called Somerset West and Taunton District Council will then be set up on April 1 next year, with an election of councillors set for May 2.

Sajid Javid, Minister for Housing, Communities and Local Government, has told the two councils of his decision which will be subject to Parliamentary approval.

RELATED: Taunton Deane and West Somerset vote in favour of council merger

In a written statement, Mr Javid said: "On November 30, 2017, I told the House (of Commons) that I was minded to implement, subject to Parliamentary approval, the locally-led proposal I had received from West Somerset District Council and Taunton Deane Borough Council to merge, and I invited representations before I took my final decision on this proposal.

“Having carefully considered all the representations I have received and all the relevant information available to me, I am today announcing that I have decided to implement, subject to Parliamentary approval, the proposal to merge West Somerset District Council and Taunton Deane Borough Council to become a new single district council named Somerset West and Taunton District Council.

Somerset County Gazette:

Taunton Deane Borough Council leader Councillor John Williams (left) and Cllr Anthony Trollope-Bellow (right), leader of West Somerset Council

“I have reached my decision having regard to the criteria for district council mergers that I announced to the House on November 7, 2017.

"I am satisfied that these criteria are met and that the new district council is likely to improve local government and service delivery in the area, commands a good deal of local support, and that the new council area is a credible geography.

“I now intend to prepare and lay before Parliament drafts of the necessary secondary legislation to give effect to my decision.

"My intention is that if Parliament approves this legislation the new council will be established on April 1, 2019, with the first election to the council held on 2 May 2019."

RELATED: On-line petition calls to halt council merger

Both existing councils voted earlier this week to give their consent to the start of the legal process, while the respective executive and cabinet agreed the name of the new authority – Somerset West and Taunton, the number of councillors and to request a boundary review.

In a joint statement, Deane leader Cllr John Williams and West Somerset leader Cllr Anthony Trollope-Bellew said: "There is much that needs to be done.

“We can now start making definitive plans to make sure that a new council can be ready for business in May 2019, following local elections.

“This is now the time for us all to work together to make sure that we can deliver a unified, modern and fit-for-purpose council to serve all our residents.”

The two councils have been working in a formal partnership since 2013, sharing a chief executive and a single set of staff – the One Team.

The partnership claims to have delivered annual savings of £1.8 million used to maintain important frontline services.

The councils are implementing new ways of working to streamline and modernise what they do and predict it will deliver some £2.6 million in savings. The new council initiative will increase the savings to £3.1 million annually.

The leaders added: “We welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement that he is approving the proposal for a single new council.

"This has been an understandably long process and the final decision gives us the ability to look forward with far more clarity, and unity.

“This new council will make sure we can continue to deliver our services in a way that’s sustainable into the future.

"We know that our residents value those services highly. It will also allow us to focus on boosting our economy, supporting the delivery of Hinkley Point C new nuclear power station and fully embracing the opportunity afforded by Garden Town status awarded to Taunton.

“We must also make the most of the great natural assets that exist – Exmoor National Park, the coastline, Quantock and Blackdown Hills and the Somerset Levels.”

Taunton Deane MP Rebecca Pow said: "I welcome the news that the Secretary of State has approved the merger of Taunton Deane Borough Council and West Somerset District Council.

"This is something both councils unanimously supported themselves, having followed due process.

"The two councils have already been successfully sharing services and merging means further savings can be made.

"I have always made the case that if a merger will benefit residents in my constituency, and if it ultimately means a more efficient council service, then it makes sense.”