Six weeks till D-day on city home rule

Policymakers have six weeks to plan a carve-up of Norfolk and shape the future of local government in the county.

Policymakers have six weeks to plan a carve-up of Norfolk and shape the future of local government in the county.

Boundary committee officials yesterday set out the way forward to council leaders and chief executives for considering the replacement of the current system of county council and seven districts with one-size-fits-all unitary authorities.

The closed door session heard that:

Councils are expected to come up with home-grown proposals for their own demise by the end of November.

A single county for the whole of Norfolk could be put forward.

Existing county borders would be respected - ruling out any tie-ups between Yarmouth and Lowestoft.

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The session, at the Maid's Head Hotel, was led by Max Caller, chairman of the Boundary Comm-ittee for England. Separate meetings were also held in the afternoon with officials from Norwich City Council and Norfolk County Council, with future sessions planned over the coming weeks with other authorities.

Mr Caller declined to be interviewed yesterday, but noted the session was informal and the committee was keen for the public to be involved once the substantive work begins in the New Year.

Delegates revealed that the former council chief executive also warned participants that although he "speaks softly" he "carries a big stick" and was hoping all councils co-operated fully in the process.

Any proposal must be strongly evidence-based and backed up by a robust business case.

Last night both opponents and supporters of a political upheaval said they were satisfied with what they heard.

But questions still remained about how much say the public would have about any changes, and there was concern that councils could not make the case for the current status quo.

Steve Morphew, leader of Norwich City Council, whose original bid for home rule triggered the review, said he hoped councils could now join forces to work out an acceptable solution for the county.

"They were very clear they expected co-operation and they were particularly clear they wanted evidence and not flannel," he said. "I have always thought it's in everybody's interest to work together and the offer is there to other authorities."

John Fuller, leader of South Norfolk council, was encouraged by the meeting.

"We have all been looking at the alternatives, but that doesn't mean we support a change," he said. "We've been invited to prove the negative and that any change isn't worth it.

"I'm pleased the boundary committee is committed to an evidence-based approach. It's far from a done deal and my suspicion is that they have been given enough wriggle-room to get ministers off the hook."

David White, chief executive of Norfolk County Council, said: "Our opposition to the Norwich unitary bid made it clear that we believe that the future health and wellbeing of Norfolk and Norwich are inextric-ably linked and that any piecemeal approach to change was not in the long term interests of either. So we are very glad that this is not to be the case."

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