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Countdown to new democracy?

PUBLISHED: 15:04 05 February 2009 | UPDATED: 12:57 03 July 2010

Laura Bagshaw

RESIDENTS living in and around Great Yarmouth will find out next Friday how they are likely to be governed at local level when the result of the major review of democracy in Norfolk is announced.

RESIDENTS living in and around Great Yarmouth will find out next Friday how they are likely to be governed at local level when the result of the major review of democracy in Norfolk is announced.

The Boundary Committee is expected to announce its recomm-endation for an overhaul of local government, which could see the current two-tier structure of county and district councils being axed in favour of unitary authorities - and result in the scrapping of Yarmouth Borough Council.

Last year, three consultants were tasked to look at the affordability of plans to create:

A super-council for the whole of Norfolk, taking in Lowestoft.

A “wedge”-shaped authority covering the areas of Yarmouth, Lowestoft, and Norwich, or

A “doughnut” option of a Greater Norwich council, and one to cover the whole of the rest of Norfolk.

While Conservatives bitterly opposed plans to overhaul the present system, claiming it was costly and unnecessary, the Tory-led borough council had to submit a preferred option for a unitary and plumped for the so-called wedge option. This option has also had strong support from the Labour Party, which believes Yarmouth and Lowestoft would be able to complement one another in a new authority.

Borough council leader Barry Coleman said they had received no indications whatsoever of

the likely outcome of the investigation and it was simply a case of “wait and see”.

Labour group leader Mick Castle said he thought there was still everything to play for. However, he thought officials from the Boundary Committee had taken on board criticism of the favoured super-Norfolk council idea.

He said: “One of the things that came out of the public's comments was that the single Norfolk council was too big. I think our proposals give a sense of scale, and if that goes ahead I will be delighted. If the super-council is chosen, the biggest challenge for us will be safeguarding local decision-making.”

Commenting on the issue in a borough newsletter, council executive director for customers and resources Jane Ratcliffe said the advantage of the wedge option was that Yarmouth and Lowestoft shared common ground.

If the plan were adopted, she said, the new authority would have more scope to influence decisions in areas such as education and health - an influence that would be dimin-ished as part of a countywide authority.

Financial work books on all three options have been examined by the committee, and indepen-dent consultants said the super- Norfolk council option was the only one on the table where the finances stacked up. The consultants concluded that this option - both with or without Lowestoft - would pass all the affordability tests on issues ranging from council tax levels to payback periods and reserves.

While the Boundary Committee will release its findings on Friday, making a recommendation to central government, a final decision at secretary-of-state level is not expected until spring.

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