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Authorities split over East Anglia devolution vision as North Norfolk rejects proposals

PUBLISHED: 09:35 30 June 2016 | UPDATED: 09:35 30 June 2016

The East Anglia flag flying at County Hall in Norwich. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The East Anglia flag flying at County Hall in Norwich. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Archant

A cross-border split over the devolution vision for East Anglia is emerging as North Norfolk became the third Norfolk council to reject proposals for an elected mayor.

So far all Suffolk councils which have voted have backed the plans.

Whitehall sources had earlier indicated they wanted to crack on without Norfolk districts Norwich and Breckland, which turned down proposals on Tuesday, but admitted more rejections could spell the end of the devolution dream.

The proposals face a crucial test today with Great Yarmouth, South Norfolk, West Norfolk, Suffolk Coastal, and Suffolk County Council set to vote.

Before last night’s vote, Whitehall sources said they were keen to proceed with the plans for Norfolk and Suffolk’s elected mayor regardless of the rejection by Breckland and Norwich.

Now North Norfolk has joined the opposition to the scheme, with 40 councillors voting to turn down the proposals, which are set to go to public consultation next month. But they remain the only three to veto the plans after Ipswich, Waveney, Forest Heath and Mid-Suffolk voted to back taking the plans to the next stage of consultation with the public.

While Norfolk County Council and Broadland have already approved the proposals, the Conservative group at Suffolk County Council is known to be split on the deal, with former leader Mark Bee and a number of other councillors feeling it would be better to abandon the devolution proposals and look to strengthen the Local Enterprise Partnership instead. They also suspect regional devolution was no longer on the government’s agenda following the crisis sparked by last week’s EU referendum vote.

Whitehall sources suggest ministers will support a “North-East model”, where authorities ploughed on without Gateshead.

But it remains unclear exactly how a deal would work without certain councils. Ministers hope councils which reject the proposals will opt back into the deal in October following the consultation.

Andy Wood, the chief executive of brewer Adnams who was brought in to negotiate with the government on behalf of Norfolk and Suffolk leaders, said: “At the moment we are waiting to see all councils go through the process and we will take stock of the situation on Friday or early next week.”

He brokered a separate deal with Cambridgeshire and Peterborough for an elected mayor, which has so far been backed by all the councils.

Speaking before last night’s North Norfolk vote against, he said: “Unfortunately Norwich and Breckland decided to turn it down. We will take a view on that at the end of the process on where we go with the consultation.”

William Nunn, leader of Breckland Council, said members were very aware when they voted against the plans that a combined authority could be formed without them.

He said Breckland may look for funding through the Local Enterprise Partnership or the newly-formed combined authority, but they would be represented by Norfolk County Council.

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