Recriminations start as devolution for Norfolk and Suffolk looks dead after King’s Lynn councillors vote against deal
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Devolution for Norfolk and Suffolk today appears to be in tatters, after councillors in west Norfolk voted against the deal.
With Norwich, Great Yarmouth, Breckland and North Norfolk councils having already withdrawn from the process, the government made clear the remaining 12 councils in the two counties would have to back the deal, or it would be taken off the table.
And West Norfolk Council dramatically voted by 44 votes to 14 to reject it last night – a decision which sent political shockwaves rippling across the two counties and sparked fury from supporters.
Broadland District Council and South Norfolk Council backed the deal last night, but West Norfolk's decision is likely to be the decisive one.
The DCLG was not available last night to confirm the deal would be withdrawn, but when four of the seven councils in the north-east decided to halt devolutions plans amid fears over post-Brexit funding from the government, communities secretary Sajid Javid's response was to withdraw the deal.
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Broadland leader Andrew Proctor said he believed west Norfolk's vote meant the deal in its entirety would not proceed.
Critics of the current deal, such as North West Norfolk MP Sir Henry Bellingham, who had urged west Norfolk councillors to vote against it, hope that will open the door for a new, Norfolk-only deal to be negotiated.
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He said: 'I'm delighted with the outcome. It wasn't the right deal for West Norfolk. The deal has been in intensive care for many months, this will hopefully see it off.'
Sir Henry said Mr Javid had told him he would be willing to meet to discuss the possibility of a different deal in the New Year. He added: 'I'm very hopeful.'
But Mr Proctor said: 'It's been destroyed by those who don't even want to understand it.'
Supporters of the deal, including the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, had said the deal would bring in £750m of new funding for infrastructure and £130m for new homes.
But critics were unhappy the government was insisting that a new mayor must form part of a combined authority.
That was part of the reason why the Norfolk councils which had previously withdrawn from the process did so.
Mark Pendlington, chairman of New Anglia LEP, said the partnership would continue to champion the case for devolution, but acknowledged: 'Clearly the situation is now more complex, but it is too early to say definitively what the coming days will bring.'
John Fuller, leader of South Norfolk Council, said: 'Where is the morality in councillors 60 to 70 miles way in a different economic area holding back those areas that want to get on with devolution?
'Now is the time for a coalition of the willing to get together and see how we can ask the government to help us.'
Norfolk County Council is due to meet on Monday to discuss the deal, while Suffolk's councils are also due to meet next week. It remains to be seen whether those meetings will now take place.