Race to merge Babergh and Mid Suffolk set to be relaunched next week

Nick Gowrley , leader of Mid Suffolk District Council and Jennie Jenkins, leader of Babergh District

Nick Gowrley , leader of Mid Suffolk District Council and Jennie Jenkins, leader of Babergh District Council - Credit: Archant

The merger of two Suffolk councils is expected to be firmly back on the political agenda next week – six years after voters in Babergh rejected the proposal.

A joint meeting of the cabinets of Mid Suffolk and Babergh councils is to consider whether to start the merger process again with a new public engagement process.

But that is likely to fall short of a second referendum on the issue – and that has prompted one leading Babergh councillor to say it would be undemocratic to go ahead without a new mandate.

Mid Suffolk and Babergh already share a joint administration run by chief executive Arthur Charvonia, and officers are in the process of moving out of their premises in Needham Market and Hadleigh to offices in Suffolk County Council’s Endeavour House headquarters in Ipswich.

Now Mr Charvonia has drawn up a proposal to restart merger negotiations that will be put to the cabinets next Friday. It is estimated that a merged council could save at least £1m a year in running costs.

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Babergh council leader Jennie Jenkins said: “This would just be the start of the process and we will be getting the feeling of people – but things have changed significantly since 2011.”

In that referendum, merger was backed by voters in Mid Suffolk, and that council’s leader Nick Gowrley said many people in his district could not understand why the merger had not happened yet.

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A change in legislation means that a public vote is no longer necessary – Waveney and Suffolk Coastal are merging to form East Suffolk Council while St Edmundsbury and Forest Heath are preparing to merge to become West Suffolk council.

However Simon Barrett, who stood down as deputy leader of Babergh council earlier this year, said he could not support a merger proposal without a new vote.

He said: “I can see the benefits of a merger. I am in favour of it. But I could not support any moves to a merger without a public vote after it was rejected by Babergh voters last time –that would be undemocratic.”

The cabinets of both councils will be meeting together at Endeavour House – but both will have to agree separately to start the consultation process.

Details like the number of councillors, the name of the authority, and the date for its start have still to be decided.

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