Paving way for region's prosperity?

SHAUN LOWTHORPE Cities including Norwich should be given greater powers to help boost development and jobs and have a hand in projects beyond their own boundaries.

SHAUN LOWTHORPE

Cities including Norwich should be given greater powers to help boost development and jobs and have a hand in projects beyond their own boundaries.

That is among the findings of a new report sent to ministers by Regional Cities East (RCE), a partnership pushing for greater collaboration between the region's urban centres to attract government funds and investment.

A 40-page business case document - drawn up by officials in Norwich, Colchester, Ipswich, Luton, Peterborough, and Southend - was sent to local government and communities secretary Ruth Kelly yesterday.

With at least half a million homes and more than 400,000 jobs earmarked for the region by 2021, the report's objectives are to add £10bn to the UK economy, create at least 140,000 of the new jobs and build 160,000 of the new homes - mostly on brownfield sites.

The six cities should be allowed to tap into a pooled pot of business rates and borrow cash from the stockmarket to invest in mutually-beneficial projects, such as improving transport links.

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Richard Atkins, an Ipswich councillor who chairs the RCE board, said: "If we build on our existing cities, capitalise on our particular strengths and collaborate, rather than compete for investment, we can hit tough targets for jobs and homes," he said.

"We can bring prosperity to everyone in the region without damaging the environment."

The RCE insists the proposals are about creating freedoms for councils to boost their economies, and are not a fresh bid for home-rule by cities like Norwich to run all council services under one roof.

But the report, if backed, could fuel the growing turf war between councils over the unitary issue with its intriguing recommendation to work within "functional urban areas" based on the "assets and ideas of cities and their surrounding local authority partners, not simply traditional council boundaries".

Richard Rockliffe, Norfolk County council's cabinet member for economic development, feared the proposals could add an extra layer of red tape in the battle to secure government cash.

"Any funding that we can get for the county is welcome, but not at the expense of aggravating the current system," he said. "The last thing we want is the turf wars we are starting to get in the unitary battle."

Steve Morphew, leader of Norwich City Council, said: "It's about co-operating with other cities to create a critical mass to compete. If the county can't see this as an opportunity to do something sensible for Norwich and Norfolk they are missing the point dramatically."