Peer attacks review handling

The handling of the review of Norfolk's local government structure was strongly challenged yesterday in the House of Lords.

The handling of the review of Norfolk's local government structure was strongly challenged yesterday in the House of Lords.

Former cabinet minister Lord MacGregor asked the government how councils in the county could be expected to submit proposals by the end of this month if the terms of reference for the Boundary Comm-ittee were not to be set until January.

It was his understanding, he said, that an inquiry by the committee could legally begin only after the terms of reference had been fixed.

The review is widely expected to lead to a unitary Great Norwich Council. And Boundary Committee chairman Max Caller signalled at a meeting in the city last month that the status quo was not an option. Some local councils are preparing submissions in a belief that they have to be in by November 30.

“It is rumoured that the chairman of the Boundary Committee has indicated that it is only a matter of what form of unitary structure should be imposed and that the status quo is ruled out even if the people of Norfolk prefer that,” Lord MacGregor told peers.

He also emphasised that council restructuring in Norfolk could cost up to £100m, and he asked whether the cost would be substantially met by central government or whether local council tax payers would be left to foot the entire bill.

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The political pressure on the government to remove confusion about the review was further increased by the announcement that a one-and-a-half hour Commons debate on the subject will be held on Tuesday, initiated by Mid Norfolk MP Keith Simpson, who describes himself as a “status quo man”.

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