MPs' anger over unitary proposals

MPs from Suffolk and Norfolk have united across the political divide to reject proposals for unitary councils in the two counties.At a Westminster briefing yesterday presented by members of the Boundary Committee for England, the MPs described the projected Norfolk and Lowestoft, Suffolk rural, and Ipswich-Felixstowe unitaries as “inherently flawed.

Graham Dines

MPs from Suffolk and Norfolk have united across the political divide to reject proposals for unitary councils in the two counties.

At a Westminster briefing yesterday presented by members of the Boundary Committee for England, the MPs described the projected Norfolk and Lowestoft, Suffolk rural, and Ipswich-Felixstowe unitaries as “inherently flawed.”

John Gummer, Conservative MP for Suffolk Coastal, said the BCE had achieved the near impossible task of bringing Tory, Labour and Liberal Democrat together to oppose the plans with one voice.


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Mr Gummer said: “These proposals have no sense of place and do not provide a solution based on people's understanding of community.”

Seven months ago, Communities and Local Government Secretary Hazel Blears asked the BCE to come up with unitary solutions for local government reform in Suffolk and Norfolk after the Government rejected bids from Ipswich and Norwich to break free from the existing two-tier structure and to run all their own local government services.

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After publishing its proposals this week, the BCE asked for public comments before finalising its concepts for submission to the Electoral Commission and the Government.

Mr Gummer said the plans for two unitaries in Suffolk and a combined Norfolk and Lowestoft all-purpose council was unacceptable, as was the back-up plan of just One Suffolk, a council which would deliver all local authority services

“The BCE is not allowing members of the public to give their views on what seems to be the obvious plan - East Suffolk, West Suffolk and an enlarged Ipswich.

“There is absolutely no support in Felixstowe to join with Ipswich. Felixstowe does not feel itself part of Ipswich and Ipswich has nothing in common with Felixstowe.”

Mr Gummer said very large councils found it difficult to focus on local issues. “The proposals would bring about a serious democratic deficit if they are implemented.”

Most of the 15 MPs from Suffolk and Norfolk were present at the briefing as were life peers Baroness (Gillian) Shephard of Northwold (Conservative) and Baroness (Patricia) Hollis of Heigham

Ipswich Labour MP Chris Mole said the BCE had strayed from the guidance issued by ministers, insisting that the terms of reference had prevented it from working up more than one solution.

“The general view at the meeting was that there was no value in the BCE consulting with the public on plans which were going nowhere,” said Mr Mole.

“The Boundary Committee has got hooked up on its own academic view of what should happen in the two counties and has not understood the strength of community felt by residents,” said Mr Mole.

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