Senior Labour figure urges his party to unite and back Norfolk and Suffolk elected mayor plans

Great Yarmouth Borough local elections/ mayoral election and AV vote at Great Yarmouth Town Hall.Mic

Great Yarmouth Borough local elections/ mayoral election and AV vote at Great Yarmouth Town Hall.Mick Castle (Labour)Picture: James Bass - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2011

A senior Labour figure has urged his party to unite to back plans for an elected mayor for Norfolk and Suffolk.

Mick Castle, a long-serving councillor in Great Yarmouth, said he believed it would be a 'lost opportunity' if councils failed to sign off the Norfolk and Suffolk devolution deal next month.

Labour-led Norwich City Council has already opted out of the proposal, which includes £25m of devolved spending along with an extra £130m for housing. His local district council in Great Yarmouth has also rejected the plan along with North Norfolk and Breckland.

Even if the plans do go ahead, people living in those four areas will not be able to vote for the newly elected mayor.

Mr Castle said it was 'ironic' that the Labour Party, which had long been associated with devolution, had split itself over the plans for combined authorities. While Cambridge and Ipswich councils, which are both Labour-led, have backed the plans, Mr Castle was the only Labour councillor at Norfolk's County Hall who voted to push on with devolution earlier this year.

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A vote to approve the plans following a summer consultation will take place next month, but Norfolk County Council Conservative leader Cliff Jordan has said he is not confident his authority will back the move.

Mr Castle said it was a 'matter of political principle' and he had campaigned over many years to get a proper regional voice for East Anglia.

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He said the former quango the East of England Development Agency and an appointed East of England Assembly plan had been a 'staging post' to proper devolved regional decision-making for road, rail, economic development, flood defence, but it 'came to naught' when it was scrapped with local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) set up to to take their place. 'Although only the elected mayors will be directly elected by the public, there will still be a very real shift of power from government to the regions and I feel sure that the next Labour government will finish the job by addressing the inherent democratic deficit and getting rid of unnecessary duplication in democratic structures,' he said.

'I believe that it will be a real lost opportunity if Norfolk Councils do fail to sign off arrangements for the new Norfolk and Suffolk combined authority. For decades we have missed out on major highways improvements, A47 dualling and rail improvements in Norfolk and Suffolk and as far as I can see we will continue to lose out in future until we take these decisions properly 'in our region - for our region',' he said.

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