Review re-ignites row over unitary status in Norfolk

Norfolk County Council's County Hall in Martineau Lane, Norwich.

Norfolk County Council's County Hall in Martineau Lane, Norwich. - Credit: Archant

Old wounds have been re-opened after the possibility of a unitary council in Norfolk was revived.

With the government committed to devolution, Norfolk County Council yesterday agreed, at a full council meeting, to start a review of what that could mean for Norfolk.

And that would see the exploration, once again, of the possibility of single tier authorities – known as unitary councils – along with combined authorities or other partnerships.

The UKIP motion for a review stressed no options would be ruled in or out, but that the government's Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill presented an opportunity for savings and efficiencies which the county would be foolish to ignore. Toby Coke, leader of the County Hall UKIP group, said: 'It would be fiscally irresponsible for this council not to explore all possibilities.'

But the Conservatives warned that could be viewed as declaration of war on district councils – less than a decade after proposals for a unitary Norfolk posited their abolition.

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Those plans, which were ultimately scrapped, proved one of the most divisive issues in local government in recent years, while the controversial awarding of unitary status for Norwich was ditched at the 11th hour in 2010. The Conservatives had put forward an amendment to the UKIP proposal, that any review be done in conjunction with other councils, voluntary and public sector bodies. And, specifically, the Tory amendment stated a unitary form of governance should be excluded from the review.

However, their amendment was lost, by 39 votes to 35, with one abstention. The motion for the review itself was agreed by 40 votes to 35.

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Conservative Bill Borrett warned the motion was a 'Trojan Horse' for a unitary Norwich, while his group leader Cliff Jordan said it would be a mistake to go back to the 'hatred' which had been sparked by the previous unitary proposals.

What do you think? Write, giving full contact details, to Letters Editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE.

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