NEW authorities in Cumbria will pick-up the bill on ageing council assets after the county's system of governments is overhauled.

A decision from the Secretary of State to reform Local Government in Cumbria has set the wheels in motion on a process which will abolish the existing seven councils and replace them with two new unitary authorities by 2023.

And a recent briefing for town and parish councils in the south revealed that Cumberland Council and Westmorland and Furness Council will take on the assets owned by the existing authorities such as town halls and play parks.

Concerns have been raised that the new councils will have to bare a heavy financial load as a result.

Penrith Town Councillor for Putting Cumbria First, Jonathan Davies believes many historic town hall buildings could be sold off by the two new unitary councils.

He said: "The tourist information station right now in Penrith is in the museum."

Penrith Town Council won their bid in May to register the town hall as an asset of community value, meaning that before it is sold-off, the community has six months to muster the funds to save it."

But Cllr Davies said: "I envisage with the new unitaries there's going to be a lot of what the community sees as vital assets being sold off."

"Covid has shown we don't need to all be in the same place to operate a business. We're going to have a need for a lot less."

He added that some public assets which will be taken over by the new authorities are in need of improvement and retro-fitting to make them environmentally friendly.

Cllr Davies said that smaller community hubs in each council's patch are the way to go.

"We're going to have councillors have to travel potentially from Alston down to Barrow-in-Furness for meetings."

But Leader of Allerdale Borough Council Mike Johnson said: "That's if they're retained, who says they're going to be retained? They're already in Local Government whether it be Eden, Allerdale or Copeland. They'll transfer to the new councils because the councils we know today will cease to exist.

"They're not taking on anything that isn't already there. If there's an asset that's a liability today it'll still be one. It just transfers to the new authority.

Cllr Johnson said: "The new authority can then rationalise their assets, if they need to."

Cllr Davies pointed out that some councils are in a stronger financial situation than others.

"I'm sure people in Carlisle and Allerdale will be pleased to find out they're going to be footing the bill for the financial losses of places like Copeland."

Copeland Borough Council has been the subject of a UK Government commissioned report on its financial situation. The report urged the council to take urgent action to prevent bankruptcy.

But Cllr Johnson said: "This is getting blown out of proportion, for Copeland it's only the revenue finances they've got some challenges with, they've got plenty of captial funding. They've got the lowest level of borrowing out of all the Cumbrian councils."