Plans for single unitary council ditched

AN ambitious plan to abolish Suffolk's eight councils and replace them with a single unitary authority looks set to be rejected in next week's boundary review of the county.

Graham Dines

AN ambitious plan to abolish Suffolk's eight councils and replace them with a single unitary authority looks set to be rejected in next week's boundary review of the county.

One Suffolk has been proposed by the county council and Mid Suffolk district as the best solution to end duplication of services and the “who does what?” confusion among the public, but it is opposed by the six other districts in the county.

A boundary review is being undertaken in Suffolk, Norfolk and Devon after ministers had a last-minute change of mind and turned down stand alone unitary bids from Ipswich, Norwich and Exeter.

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Instead, they ordered the independent Boundary Committee to recommend new councils for the three counties, based on a unitary solution.

The review in Suffolk has been headed by Max Caller, the chairman of the Committee, who has a personal knowledge of Suffolk as he lives near Woodbridge.

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His recommendation, which is published today, is likely to favour a western unitary, incorporating the districts of St Edmundsbury and Forest Heath, and the Long Melford, Sudbury, and Lavenham areas of Babergh, thus recreating most of the historic county of West Suffolk.

The seaboard side of the county is more complex. Plans for two unitaries - Greater Ipswich and East Suffolk - are supported by the main districts, but the Boundary Committee has had the added complication of being asked specifically by Communities Secretary Hazel Blears to examine the feasibility of joining all or part of Waveney with all or part of Great Yarmouth.

Ipswich's fate is likely to be linked to the future council structure for Waveney. Should a cross-boundary Yartoft unitary - encompassing Lowestoft, Beccles, Bungay, Great Yarmouth, Gorleston and Hemsby be recommended - Ipswich could be merged with Suffolk Coastal and most of Mid Suffolk.

There is quiet optimism in the west that they will get their own unitary. John Griffiths, the Conservative leader of St Edmundsbury district, said a unitary West Suffolk had a broad spectrum of support from across the county.

“I believe a West Suffolk unitary will be big enough to provide economies of scale and efficiency, and small enough for public accountability,” said Mr Griffiths.

St Edmundsbury Labour councillor Mark Ereira-Guyer said: “The county council proposal is nonsense and has no support. We did major consultation with organisations and individuals, and only two from the west said they favoured a unitary county.

“There is unparalleled political consensus over here for a unitary west Suffolk. The county pressed the self-destruct button over here with plans to get rid of middle schools.”

The Green Party and Independent group on Mid Suffolk also has come out against one council for the whole of Suffolk, instead proposing four unitary districts - Suffolk Coastal combined with Waveney; Babergh and Mid Suffolk; St. Edmundsbury and Forest Heath; and Ipswich with some additional parishes which are part of the urban conurbation.

Green councillor John Matthissen said: “These would be the right sort of size to be responsive to the public, and boundary changes could be kept to a minimum. The amalgamation would produce economies of scale and existing partnership working across the county could continue and develop, not least to pursue the ideal of making Suffolk “The Greenest County.”

St Edmundsbury, with the support of other councils, has submitted a proposed boundary between east and west which would divide the current Babergh and Mid Suffolk districts.

Starting from the north of the county, West Suffolk's eastern boundary would run from Redgrave to

to Bures St Mary and include Bottesdale, the Rickinghalls, Walsham-le-Willows Elmswell, Woopit, Rattlesden, Brettenham, Kettlebaston, Chelsworth, Monks Eleigh, Milden, the Waldingfields, Newton and the Cornards.

East Suffolk would stretch from Wortham to Nayland-with-Wissington and include Burgate, Gislingham, Westhorpe, Wyverstone, Bacton, Wetherden, Harleston, Shelland, Buxhall, Hitcham, Bildeston, Sener, Lindsey, Groton, Edwardstone, Boxford, Assington and Leavenheath

A spokesman for the Boundary Committee said Monday's report would be as a concept proposal for public consultation. Final plans would be drawn up in the autumn and submitted to the Electoral Commission, which would pass them to the Communities Secretary for a final decision.

The new councils could be up and running by April 2010.

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