Are you in or out of the 'new' Norwich?

SHAUN LOWTHORPE This is the first glimpse of how the new map of an expanded greater Norwich could look if City Hall gets the green light for home rule.

SHAUN LOWTHORPE

This is the first glimpse of how the new map of an expanded greater Norwich could look if City Hall gets the green light for home rule.

Absorbing 22 parishes around the current city limits, including Taverham, Rackheath and Cringleford, the blueprint sets out a boundary expanded to the south broadly as far as the A47 and northwards to the edge of the proposed Norwich northern bypass.

Norwich City Council's executive last night discussed the map, following talks between council officers and the Boundary Committee yesterday afternoon.

But council chiefs stressed it was very much a first draft and could change - with the likelihood that the boundary could be even more tightly drawn. Any proposal must also fit in with plans for new councils in other parts of Norfolk.

The Labour-run executive signalled that its preferred options were for either the so-called “doughnut” of a greater Norwich authority surrounded by a new council for the rest of Norfolk, or the “nutcracker” of a greater Norwich surrounded by two unitary authorities running from the west to the coast, one north of the city and one south.

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But the hung council may also vote to add a four-unitary option after pressure from the Lib Dems and Greens, who favour four councils because of the predicted growth in the county's population from 800,000 to more than 1.2 million in the next 20 years.

And this week the Tory group said it would support a single Norfolk super council being proposed as part of a rival County Hall bid.

City council leader Steve Morphew said the map was very much a work in progress and would help allay fears the city was trying to “annexe” half of Norfolk.

“What this represents would be the absolute extremes of where the boundaries should go,” he said.

“From the Labour Party's point of view this would be the extreme and we would like the boundaries to be rather tighter.”

Meanwhile, council chiefs from West Norfolk, Broadland and the county council have this week held a series of one-to-one talks with local government minister John Healey in Westminster as it emerged that the Boundary Committee, charged with overseeing the review of local government in Norfolk, was not expected to be handed its terms of reference until the Christmas or New Year period - more than a month after councils are expected to come up with their first drafts of how new councils should look.

Broadland District Council leader Simon Woodbridge, whose authority is looking at merging Broadland, South Norfolk and Norwich councils, urged ministers to allow the option of keeping the status quo.

“The way Norwich is behaving is as if a greater Norwich council is a given - I get the impression that these terms of reference are already written,” he said. “I think the Boundary Committee are in a pretty embarrassing situation and I feel they have jumped the gun. The minister doesn't feel comfortable about releasing them until the end of December.”

County council leader Daniel Cox, who met Mr Healey on Tuesday, said party politics may be behind the delay, but his authority was still in a position to work up options without them.

“It wouldn't surprise me as it is well known that the MPs Bob Blizzard and Tony Wright are keen for a 'Yartoft' solution and it wouldn't surprise me if Norwich MPs are trying to get [a greater Norwich] into the terms of reference as well,” he said.

Today also sees a meeting in Dereham of senior Tories, including MPs and senior councillors and party deputy chairman and shadow minister for communities and local government Alistair Burt.

Previously, after a similar meeting in August, the party rallied behind a no-surrender banner. But with Tory councils threatening to break ranks as they draw up their own home-rule plans, it may no longer be possible to hold that line.

Meanwhile, one anti-unitary protester has created a Downing Street petition urging the government to keep the existing city boundaries. The petition set up by Sprowston vicar the Rev John Bennett has so far attracted 362 signatures including councillors.

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Tories in west Norfolk came under fire last night after it emerged they had discussed their unitary authority game plan as early as August, while the party line was to keep fighting to keep the status quo.

West Norfolk Council's Tory-led cabinet was accused by the Lib Dem group leader of coming up with a secret plan for an east/west unitary authority in an informal August meeting.

Ian Mack made the accusations after asking to see notes of a meeting held by the cabinet on August 8 earlier this year using the Freedom of Information Act.

It outlined a discussion of possible west and east Norfolk unitary authorities with King's Lynn being the headquarters for a new unit.

However, last night council leader Nick Daubney played down the issue.

He said that the cabinet often had informal meetings, many not even minuted, and that the document was just notes.

No decisions could be made at that meeting and any decisions would have to go through the cabinet first before going to full council, he said.

He added: “I asked for the chief executive to give me the different scenarios for how a unitary county might work.

“No decision can be made on this until it is put to full council on November 29.”

The council is working frantically to put its case forward to the Boundary Committee by November 30, along with the other borough and district councils in Norfolk.

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