Councillors in Great Yarmouth knew voting against devolution deal would exclude residents from voting

View from the top of Havenbridge House.Town Hall.October 2015.Picture: James Bass

View from the top of Havenbridge House.Town Hall.October 2015.Picture: James Bass - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2015

More than 72,000 people in the borough will not be able to vote for the elected mayor who would control multi-million pound local transport budgets and have power over where homes are built, it has been confirmed.

And councillors knew residents would not be able to use their vote when they rejected the government's devolution proposals.

Great Yarmouth representatives overwhelmingly threw out the plans, which include an elected mayor for a joint Norfolk and Suffolk authority, at a full council meeting in June. Three other councils - Breckland, Dereham, North Norfolk and Norwich City - also said no.

Yarmouth leader Graham Plant, who had wanted the borough to be part of the deal, pointed out that all bar four councillors had voted to reject the deal on his authority.

'The majority of members felt they shouldn't get a vote. I was disappointed at the time that the council would not be part of the procedure.'

But he was hopeful the government might rethink its plans for an elected mayor, adding: 'The mayor seems to be the one issue holding it up. If we can get rid of the issue, devolution may well spring back to life with a new vigour.'

He added he had made it clear at the time that voting against the deal would not only mean Great Yarmouth representatives didn't have a seat at the table, but that residents would not be able to vote for the elected mayor.

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'I made it very clear what the vote was about,' he said. 'A lengthy report went to councillors but when it came to the vote, but they didn't like the mayor.'

Leader of the UKIP group, Kay Grey, voted against the deal. She said when the people of Great Yarmouth voted against having an elected mayor for the borough in 2011, that was an indication of what was wanted.

At that time a £51,000 referendum had 15,595 no votes to 10,051 yes votes, with 291 spoiled ballot papers.

She said: 'We were voted on [to the council] as representatives and the people voted against an elected mayor before, why would they vote for it now?'

However Cllr Plant said it could be the case that the government decides an elected mayor wouldn't be necessary.

Meanwhile, because Norfolk County Council agreed to the plans, residents in Yarmouth have still been taking part in a consultation over whether they back the devolution deal on the whole.

On Monday Cliff Jordan, the Conservative leader of Norfolk County Council, described the situation as a 'pig's ear', and said the four councils had disenfranchised their residents.

He, and the leaders of the four other parties on the county council, will not be able to vote in the mayoral election because they all live in areas that rejected the deal.

He said: 'It's not fair on Norfolk. That's why I'm saying those four councils disenfranchised us. If they can't see how badly they behaved, what can I do about it? The consequences of their behaviour are awful.'

He said he would wait to see the results of the public consultation before deciding whether to recommend the county council proceed with the deal when it comes back for approval in October.

Mark Pendlington from the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, said he had seen nothing to suggest Norfolk would be disadvantaged by the process.

He added: 'There's great support all around the table about Norfolk and Suffolk being a united area, rather than being two counties sparring against each other. Norfolk and Suffolk are two equal counties. I hope Norfolk does not feel it's being short changed at all.'

The councils which accepted the deal will make a final decision in October, with elections due in May pending orders being laid in Parliament.

And, if the councils which have stepped back from the deal do change their minds and decide they want in, the consultation process would have to be run again and another Parliamentary order would be needed.

The people living in the area of the council which wants to join would also have to wait for the next set of mayoral elections before they could vote, which will happen every four years.

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