WOKING is joining the 10 other borough and district councils in Surrey in paying for research into alternatives to a single unitary authority for the whole county.

The borough council’s executive committee has agreed to contribute £30,000 to a joint project which will explore other options, including splitting Surrey into two or three authorities.

Councils are banding together to challenge Surrey County Council’s proposal for a single unitary serving 1.2 million people – which would be the biggest authority of its kind in the country.

The county initiative was prompted by a Government white paper promoting the creation of unitaries, due to be published in the autumn.

Woking council leader David Bittleston told the executive at its meeting last Thursday that the Government proposal had come at a time when local councils were “in the middle of trying to sort out a pandemic”.

Districts and boroughs had played a most important role in dealing with the fallout of the coronavirus, he added.

A single authority for Surrey might not be the best option and the council should look at the alternatives, including doing nothing. “But I don’t think we will have a choice to do nothing” he said.

The county council is also proposing a greater role for parish and town councils should any form of unitary authorities be introduced.

As Woking does not have this first tier of local government, the executive has asked council officers to prepare a report on the feasibility of creating a core town council, or a combination of one town and several parish councils, for the area covered by borough.

At the start of this week, more than 2,000 people had signed a petition started by a new campaign group, Residents Against Surrey Single Unitary (RASSU).

“The messages we are receiving are that people do not support the proposal, or believe that on Surrey County Council’s track record, a single council serving Surrey’s 1.2 million residents can ever be a success,” said a spokesman.