DISTRICT leaders across Somerset have spoken of how they have 'never been opposed' to a unitary system - and are preparing to release details of a two-council system for the county.

The announcement comes after Somerset County Council this week revealed the four district authorities - Somerset West and Taunton, Sedgemoor, Mendip and South Somerset - had agreed to take part in talks over the future of local government in the county.

Just two weeks ago, the county council passed a business plan detailing a scheme which would see the county adopt a unitary system - with one council replacing all five Somerset authorities.

But the districts are proposing a system that would see two councils replace the current five - one created by merging Somerset West and Taunton and Sedgemoor, the other by merging South Somerset and Mendip.

Now, they have revealed they will announce their plan in full in the coming weeks.

"The district councils have been consistent in their view that real change is needed in local government in Somerset to deliver better outcomes for our communities," a statement from all four council leaders said.

"We are also agreed that a single unitary is the wrong solution for Somerset.

"Our joint work has always been about reform, not simple reorganisation, that will enable a stronger economy, stronger communities, stronger care and stronger, sustainable services. This will include a two unitary-council solution."

The districts opposed the county council's single council plan - branded One Somerset - but have now confirmed they are not opposed to the unitary principle.

"We have never been opposed to the creation of unitary authorities and the districts’ case will be a stronger and more ambitious alternative to the One Somerset proposal," the statement went on.

"As such, we are disappointed that Somerset County Council decided to issue a press statement about our proposals which contains confusing information and describes an announcement which has not yet happened.

"It is our full intention for the districts’ proposal to be democratically debated and shaped by our residents in the coming weeks, recognising that it needs to meet the different needs of our diverse communities while also delivering reform."

READ MORE: Districts agree to talks over unitary plans for Somerset
READ MORE: LETTER: 'Unitary plans are bid to save frightened Conservatives'

The debate over the future of local government in Somerset is raging on, with all sides agreeing on the need for change.

Councillor David Fothergill, leader of the county council, has long pushed the case for a single, unitary authority to oversee the entire county, claiming it would lead to a drop in bureaucracy and bring about huge savings, while the districts have pushed back, saying savings are not guaranteed.

Revealing the plans to talk earlier this week, Cllr Fothergill said: "It is frustrating it has taken them this long to agree with our position but at least they have dropped their opposition to unitary authorities.

"I am available to meet as soon as tomorrow if it helps to move us along to get the best solution for Somerset.

"I have argued long and loud that unitary status will remove duplication, create more local opportunities for residents and businesses and deliver savings that could be invested in frontlines services and priorities like climate change.

"Let’s not get left behind and let’s get it right for Somerset."