Broadland Tories consider unitary response

SHAUN LOWTHORPE The scramble for Norfolk was underway with early signs pointing towards three unitary councils - east, west and central - as the preferred successor to the county and seven district authorities.

SHAUN LOWTHORPE

The scramble for Norfolk was underway last night with early signs pointing towards three unitary councils - east, west and central - as the preferred successor to the county and seven district authorities.

Ruling Tories in Broadland are to hold a special cabinet meeting to plot tactics in the wake of ministers' wish to push through home rule for Norwich.

Last week City Hall was given a strong 'maybe' from the government in answer to its wish to create a new enlarged council taking in most of Broadland and parts of South Norfolk - despite ruling out an existing boundaries bid because the financial case did not stack up.

While no decision has been made about its replacement, all the signs are that the overhaul will see the demise of the existing two-tier structure of county council and seven districts with the early front runner to replace them likely to be a greater Norwich council and two authorities for East and West Norfolk - a structure which mirrors the current set up for Norfolk Constabulary.

But much could hinge on the exact terms of a Boundary Committee review tasked with looking at the issue and the response of Norfolk County Council, which would be swept away by the move, and also whether Yarmouth opts instead to join with Lowestoft to create a new combined council on the lines of the lines of the new primary care trust.

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Simon Woodbridge, leader of Broadland district council, said he was still in shock at the announcement. But he conceded that a new unitary Norwich offered the Tories the best chance of seizing power in City Hall for a generation. And it could also revitalise the Lib Dems, which lost power in the city two years ago.

Broadland Tories are set to meet on August 11 to work out what to do next with the ruling cabinet meeting two days later.

“We as a Conservative Party have got to sit down together and think through what the outcome of the boundary review mean,” he said. “I guess we are all going to have to figure out how we can make sure Norfolk retains strong local leadership if we run with the unitary system of governance.”

But he admitted that he was torn between maintaining the status quo and the prospect of the Tories - with its strength in the suburbs - taking control of the city.

“I have got both trains of thought in my mind,” he added. “I have got to sit down with my fellow Conservatives and get my instructions from them. We need to debate it as a party and work out how we are going to go with this.”

If we go down that unitary path, what is inevitable is that we will have a powerful number of Conservatives coming in. There could be a new kind of administration taking control of the city and it may well be a lot of people would be prepared to vote for that.

“It would be nice if we could be successful in Norwich, maybe the ministers themselves are thinking the city needs a breath of fresh democratic air.

“Yet the more I think about it, the more I can't believe we are being forced to spend all this money when are performance is comparable with anywhere else in the country. We are still shell-shocked. I don't think ministers had their eye on Broadland when they made that decision.

“It's not about money, it's about politics. Someone has made up their mind that there is no other way of doing this and there is no point complaining or listening to the voices of local people and I think that's really unfair.”

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