THE threat of Pembrokeshire County Council being forced into an unwanted merger with neighbouring local authorities has been withdrawn.

Following widespread opposition, the Welsh Government has pulled plans to force local councils to join together.

Pembrokeshire was originally staring down the barrel of a forced return to the old Dyfed - a combined Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire authority.

That had sparked fears of a loss of identity for the county and potential damage to tourism and other important industries.

But last week Welsh Cabinet Secretary for Local Government, Mark Drakeford, said the way forward would remain with the 22 existing local councils in Wales.

But councils will be expected to work much more closely together and there will be the option of voluntary mergers.

Mr Drakeford said: “Where such proposals come forward which improve the resilience of these authorities we will offer positive support to them and work closely to help bring about change.”

Mr Drakeford acknowledged that the previous discussions around mandatory mergers had hit morale among local authorities and their staff.

“I am conscious local government has been through a period of extended uncertainty about its future and the corrosive impact this has on morale. It has been part of my aim in taking on responsibility for local government to resolve this uncertainty as soon as possible.”

Mr Drakeford confirmed that council elections will take place in 2017 and 2022.

Cllr Jamie Adams, Leader of Pembrokeshire County Council, said: “I welcome the certainty provided by Mark Drakeford. There is no question that the recent period of uncertainty has had a negative effect on the running of all local authorities.

“I will take the opportunity to engage in shaping sustainable services for the people of Pembrokeshire and ensuring that they are underpinned by local democratic accountability.

He added: “We look forward to the opportunity of building on the excellent services provided by Pembrokeshire County Council for the people of Pembrokeshire, as evidenced recently by the Local Government Performance report for Wales 2015-16".