A leading Eden representative at the county council has lent tentative support to new top-down reorganisation plans for Cumbria councils.

Under the proposed shake-up, local authorities across Cumbria would be stripped back to just two unitary councils and an elected county mayor.

The model emerged as the preferred option in any future devolution deal when then-Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry met with community leaders at a February summit in Penrith.

Hillary Crick, county councillor for Penrith North and Deputy Leader of the Conservative Group at the county level, said: "I think there is an appetite for change - I'm not sure if right now there is any clarity on what that change might look like.

"There are criteria we've been given by ministers on things like population size - but even based on that guidance, it's not yet clear what the reorganisation would look like.

"There would be massive potential if whatever proposals came forward did manage to simplify local authorities.

"Quite often - and this is very understandable - there is a large degree of misunderstanding as to the various tiers of the councils and what each one does.

"So I think having a single point of contact would certainly have some merit. My understanding is that it's something that's actively being looked at.

"There are advantages and disadvantages to all the proposals being considered currently. The key thing would be how to reconcile local [cultural and identity] differences within these larger reorganisations.

"How you look at it and what you want to achieve could determine the entire direction you end up going down."

Cllr Crick also lent her support to the proposal of there being just one mayor serving the entirety of Cumbria.

"I think a Cumbria-wide mayor would be a very challenging role because of the huge differences in the county," she said.

"Do I think it could work? Yes, I actually do.

"But I think there are a number of other options that could work well going forward too."

Her position contrasts with that of the MP for the South Lakes.

Speaking during a recent debate on the easing of lockdown restrictions, Tim Farron said: “The Government is making a very foolish move in deciding in the midst of this battle to fight back against Coronavirus and the economic damage that it has brought with it, they’ve decided that the thing we desperately need is to have a completely pointless top-down reorganisation of local government in Cumbria.

“That’s exactly what we need isn’t it when we’re trying to fight back against the Coronavirus and the economic damage that it has wrought?

“To set institution against institution, to waste money, to paralyse social care and education and to make local leaders completely and totally contemplate their navels for their next two years. What a complete waste of time taking our eye off the ball.”

In the south of the county, Barrow MP Simon Fell has expressed his support for the proposed overhaul of local authorities, arguing a top-down reorganisation would lend his Furness constituency a 'stronger voice' in county affairs.

“The opportunity with reforming local government in Cumbria is huge,” he said.

“We’re over-governed here, with six district councils and one county council, alongside numerous town and parish councils. Reforming that would save huge amounts of money for taxpayers while also allowing a local government to better serve their constituents.

“Looking at areas like Tees Valley and you can see what a dynamic mayor with a strong local authority beneath them can achieve.

"But more than that, if we moved to two authorities for Cumbria it would give Furness a stronger voice – rather than decisions being taken in Carlisle, our voice would be louder with the second largest town in the county.”