Northampton will almost certainly have to form a new council with ‘uneasy bedfellows’ in Daventry and South Northants after Conservatives voted to scrap their pursuit of a town-wide unitary authority... a week after signing a pledge in favour of it.
In March government inspector Max Caller recommended abolishing Northamptonshire County Council and ripping up the seven districts and boroughs to avoid the county authority slipping into bankruptcy.
In its place, he said Northamptonshire should be governed by just two super unitary authorities - one in the west and one in the east.
His recommendations jarred with the hopes of Northampton Borough Council which, a year ago, voted to pursue its own plans to draw a wider boundary around the town.
It pledged to set up its own unitary council responsible for everything from parks maintenance to pothole repairs and social services.
But the financial fallout at One Angel Square has left council chiefs until just July to decide the future of local government in the county.
Whitehall is, it has emerged, unlikely to support plans for Northampton to have its own council - even though a recent DeLoitte report found this would be a viable option.
Last night an extraordinary meeting of Northampton Borough Council saw a motion to pursue a town-wide unitary voted down by the controlling Conservative group amid accusations of them holding up a "white flag" to the communities secretary.
The borough leader had signed the cross-party motion himself just over a week ago.
Councillor Jonathan Nunn (Con, Nene Valley) said: "We do have a choice here. We can stamp our feet and cry or we can get stuck in and fight for the future of Northampton."
He said the party whip had changed since the signing of the motion last week, because he had met with the combined council chiefs last Thursday.
They said they would "not support" Northampton's hopes of going alone.
It means, within two years Northampton will almost certainly have to join forces with largely rural Daventry and South Northants.
Labour Councillor Enamul Haque (Lab, Castle) described the alliance as "less an arranged marriage than a forced one".
Speaking at the meeting, former Labour council leader John Dickie said the Conservatives should have been ashamed for going against their own motion:
He said: "I find it incredible that the Conservatives can submit a motion at the beginning of last week - and now they can't support it.
"We really need just one council for Northampton.
"The magic word here isn't 'governance', but 'local'.
"We need a local council serving the people of Northampton."
Mr Dickie said, were Northampton to be joined with Daventry and South Northants, the entire town would be represented by just 15 councillors.
The move would almost certainly scupper any chance of a Labour administration taking charge of local government in Northampton - with Daventry and South Northants currently Conservative strongholds.
Opening the motion, councillor Danielle Stone, leader of the Labour opposition, said Northampton and its neighbouring councils made "uneasy bedfellows."
"There is no geographical, cultural, or socio-economic reason who a West Northamptonshire Council would succeed, she said."
But it was clear from the outset of the meeting, that the Conservative group would be performing a policy U-turn.
Cabinet member for finance, Councillor Brandon Eldred, said a Northampton-wide unitary would need to be funded by a £750 rise on the average household council tax bill.
Councillor James Hill (Con, Rectory Farm) assured the meeting Northampton would "dominate" any new Northamptonshire West authority.
Regeneration chief, Councillor Tim Hadland, (Con, Old Duston) said: "We are not going to get someone on the outskirts of Brackley dictating planning to us in Northampton."
A recorded vote saw the cross-party motion defeated.