More grassroots power in council shake-up

SWEEPING changes giving “power to the people” are set to go hand-in-hand with the introduction of unitary authorities in East Anglia, it was claimed last night.

Graham Dines

SWEEPING changes giving “power to the people” are set to go hand-in-hand with the introduction of unitary authorities in East Anglia, it was claimed last night.

Parish councils seem certain to jump at the opportunity to take some decision making away from town halls and hand it to the grassroots.

The Government has published a White Paper - aiming to quell fears that the pending introduction of unitary local government in the mainly rural counties of Suffolk and Norfolk will mean key decisions affecting local communities are made up to 60 miles away.

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Archie Gall, director of the Boundary Committee for England, said although unitary authorities “deliver high-quality, efficient services,” there was a case for “stronger, better-resourced parish and town councils capable of making decisions that affect their local communities.”

“This could mean, for example, that town or parish councils decide where speed bumps are built, what facilities are available in local parks, or how often streets are cleaned,” Mr Gall said.

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The Boundary Committee is currently consulting on its proposals for three big councils - Ipswich-Felixstowe - which would also include the Shotley peninsula and the villages of Capel St Mary and Stratford St Mary, Suffolk Rural, and Norfolk-Lowestoft.

The Suffolk Rural unitary would stretch from Southwold to Newmarket and Sudbury, with headquarters likely to be in Bury St Edmunds.

Teresa Baggot, mayor of Southwold, said the town council would welcome more responsibility.

“We have been trying to persuade our district council, Waveney, to give us back some of the services we lost to them in 1974,” she said. “Local people want local control. It would be just ridiculous if Southwold planning applications were to be decided on the other side of Suffolk.”

After discussing the White Paper, town councillors in Sudbury have decided to look into applying for additional powers, including the running of Belle Vue Park, after being told they could take control of pavements, footpaths, parking restrictions and some aspects of the planning process.

Sue Brotherwood, clerk to Sudbury Town Council, said: “We already provide a lot of services locally and we would want to continue doing so regardless of the decision over a unitary authority.”

Sandra Peartree, clerk to Pinewood Parish Council on the outskirts of Ipswich, said that with local government reorganisation imminent in Suffolk, it was vital that “the voice of the community” should be heard.

“Most definitely, greater powers should be given to parishes,” Mrs Peartree said. “Pinewood is hoping to be given quality status soon, which means we will have more responsibilities.

“Parish councils are the councils closest to town and village opinion. We know what's going on and what our residents need.”

Kathy Pollard, the Liberal Democrat group leader on Suffolk County Council, supports the empowerment of local communities.

“However, not all parishes will want this extra power and for them, establishing area committees with a proper scrutiny role and covering several parishes might be better,” she said.

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