Public set to get say over devolution for East Anglia

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 - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2016

People across Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire are set to start giving their views on potential devolution deals for East Anglia from today – but uncertainty still surrounds what the future holds for the much-vaunted power transfer.

Under proposals driven by chancellor George Osborne, two deals are currently on the table – one for Norfolk and Suffolk and one for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

Each deal would have a combined authority and directly elected mayor, with the government prepared to transfer powers, such as transport and infrastructure.

The government is offering £750m over 30 years to spend on new roads, transport links, and another £100m over the next five years to help build affordable homes, plus an additional £30m over the same period specifically for Norwich and Ipswich.

Four councils in Norfolk –Norwich, Great Yarmouth, Breckland and North Norfolk – voted against supporting the deal. But, undeterred, the remaining authorities are pushing ahead with consultation with the public, ostensibly on the governance of the scheme.

Under a joint consultation by Norfolk and Suffolk county councils, leaflets will be sent to homes across the two counties urging people to take part – with the same questions being asked. Slightly different questions will be posed in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

The questions were not available at the time of going to press and the consultation will be done online and through a MORI-run telephone survey. The results will be analysed and presented to councillors in October, when each authority is due to make final decisions.

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However, uncertainty remains over how the Norfolk/Suffolk deal would work, with four Norfolk councils having said they do not want to take part. Given that deal would have seen a specific £30m to support home building in Ipswich and Norwich, it remains unclear what would happen to that cash now Norwich has signalled it does not want to be part of the deal.

And, with Suffolk councils all supporting the deal, the make-up of that combined authority needs to be addressed. With more Suffolk councils on that board than Norfolk ones and the assumption that council leaders will be on that authority, the weighting of votes needs to be resolved, along with how vetoes would work.

Privately, a Norfolk MP has said that they believe the devolution deal is dead and it remains to be seen whether a government, in the midst of a leadership battle and negotiations over Brexit, will have the same interest in devolution as Mr Osborne had.

But other officials remain confident a deal can be struck and believe the elected mayor element - unpopular even with those who support a deal - may be abandoned.

The official government line is that they are still committed to devolution, despite the flux and withdrawal of four councils.

A spokesman for the department for communities and local government said: 'This government is determined to ensure power and funding is devolved from Whitehall to local people, so that no corner of the county is left behind.

'This is a bottom up process and if any local authority in the end decides it no longer wants to be part of it, then we will continue to work with those local partners who do, in order to make this historic opportunity a reality.'

Mark Pendlington, chairman of New Anglia LEP said: 'Make no mistake this is a terrific opportunity on offer for Norfolk and Suffolk, the detail of which has been worked on long and hard for over a year.

'We now think it's time for everyone to hear more of that detail and to have their say because very many people and businesses stand to benefit from these exciting proposals.

'I for one and everyone in the LEP will be working extremely hard to convince people of the significant benefits to be had.

'I would also urge the government, who have given us great support in framing what, I believe, to be a very generous deal, to bear with us as we make this key decision locally.'

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