Three-way plan as saga takes new turn

A plan to carve Norfolk into three new unitary councils will be put forward tonight in response to the controversial £1m review of local government. The idea emerged yesterday ahead of a debate and vote at one Norfolk district council which has been working on the proposal with three other districts - which together represent more than 400,000 people, or more than half the population of the county.

A plan to carve Norfolk into three new unitary councils will be put forward tonight in response to the controversial £1m review of local government.

The idea emerged ahead of a debate and vote at one Norfolk district council which has been working on the proposal with three other districts - which together represent more than 400,000 people, or more than half the population of the county.

In a political twist two of those councils - Tory-run Yarmouth and Breckland - have their names directly associated with the Liberal-Democrat North Norfolk initiative and Norwich City Council, where Labour is the majority party, is also backing the plan.

North Norfolk council leader Simon Partridge says his administration has been working with the other three to come up with a “conceptual” proposal to answer demands by the Boundary Committee for initial views to be registered by the end of November.

The three-way division envisages a Greater Norwich council and the rest of Norfolk split into a Norfolk Coastal area and a South/West Norfolk area. Each would have control over all local government services in its area.

Norfolk Coastal would take in the current North Norfolk and Yarmouth areas, most of Broadland and possibly part of West Norfolk's area. South/West Norfolk would come from Breckland and most of the present South and West Norfolk council areas.

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Mr Partridge said he and the other councils had good reason to point to the three-tier option of Greater Norwich, Norfolk Coastal and South/West Norfolk as the best alternative if unitary transition took place, but he strongly criticised the process itself.

“This is all hugely expensive and is using money which should be spent on services rather than boundary reorganisations,” said Mr Partridge. “But the committee is looking for a unitary solution for Norfolk, which leaves us in a position of having to get our views in by the end of the month.”

He described the process as a “total and utter fiasco, chaotic” which had not allowed time for adequate public consultation.

He added: “It is an unbelievably short timescale and the committee are working in the dark themselves without terms of reference. We are left having to play their game because we want to spend as little money on this as possible until we know where it is all going.

“If we wait until after November 30 the only way of registering views is to enter a fully worked up and costed plan, which could cost tens of thousands instead of what we have spent now, which is less than £10,000. Basically they want to merge seven multi-million pound companies, a process which in the commercial world would take years.

“This is on top of the fact the committee are moving the goalposts every week.”

The committee has been tasked by ministers to redraw the two-tier map of local government in Norfolk after they threw out a bid by Norwich city council for self-rule on its current boundaries.

City Hall has published its plans for a Greater Norwich taking in some neighbouring parishes and Norfolk County Council has proposed a single county-wide unitary solution.

Tory council leaders across Norfolk insisted last week that they would no longer work with the committee until its terms of reference were known.

William Nunn, Tory leader of Breckland, said his council would not express an official view before the November 30 deadline because of a “lack of clarity” - though its name is still attached to the North Norfolk plans. He admitted Breckland's document would have been identical.

Broadland and Yarmouth councils also hold meetings tonight to discuss the issue. Yarmouth's minority Labour group is still backing the Yartoft option, which calls for combined status for Yarmouth and Waveney.

Norwich's leader described the council's painstaking progress to its home rule dream as “fairly tortuous”.

Speaking at the full city council meeting Steve Morphew outlined the progress in Norwich's unitary bid while councillors voted on steps to take it further, including giving the green light to the draft boundary drawn up by the executive committee earlier this month.

But Mr Morphew said the process as set down by the government's boundary committee had been “fairly tortuous” and “on some levels a little bit frustrating”.

He said the council was still waiting for terms of reference from the boundary committee although officials were doing what they could so far.

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