Boundary dispute could soon end

Years of wrangling over the shape of councils in Norfolk and Suffolk could finally come to an end next week as the preferred shape of potential new unitary authorities is revealed.

Years of wrangling over the shape of councils in Norfolk and Suffolk could finally come to an end next week as the preferred shape of potential new unitary authorities is revealed.

The controversial local government review, which looked all but dead and buried after being bogged down in legal action, flickered back in to life on Wednesday after the Court of Appeal ruled the Boundary Committee had consulted properly on any potential changes.

The ruling potentially cleared the way for the committee to put its advice to ministers and yesterday it emerged that John Denham, communities' secretary told the Boundary Committee he wanted their final recommendations by Tuesday.

But that still means a decision is not likely until the New Year since he has previously indicated that he would take two weeks to make his mind up and then a further four weeks when representations can be made - further fuelling the belief of the opponents of change that no decision can be put through Parliament before a general election.

In Norfolk two options are on the table - one for a single super council for the whole of the county, a second based on two authorities for greater Norwich and a rural rest of Norfolk option.

That means the final battle could rest in parliament and last night Norwich South MP Charles Clarke said he was encouraged by the announcement.

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“I'm delighted that the secretary of state has responded so quickly and I hope the Boundary Committee will meet his target of next Tuesday and set out precisely what the options are,” Mr Clarke said.

But Mid Norfolk MP Keith Simpson said the government would never get the legislation needed to se up the new councils through parliament.

“This is something they do not have a mandate for and I wonder whether it's appropriate to do this in the dying embers of this government,” Mr Simpson said. “If they want to bring this forward they should do so with a new mandate from a general election.”

The committee is expected to meet and consider its final report and the implications of its latest ruling. It is also expected to consider the impact of recent 'local' events thought to include a recent Mori poll commissioned by King's Lynn and West Norfolk Borough council showing a large majority of people against a unitary change, and a motion put forward by Norfolk County Council leader Daniel Cox calling on the government to scrap the controversial review process.

In a letter to the Boundary Committee Paul Rowsell, the civil servant overseeing the process outlined the minister's thinking and the importance of minimising disruption and further uncertainty for the councils and communities concerned.

“The secretary of state recognised that the Boundary Committee's draft alternative proposals, published on 19 March 2009, were quashed by the High Court at a time when there were only three full working days left before the 15 July deadline,” Mr Rowsell wrote.

“He therefore believes that the committee was well advanced in the formulation of its advice in July, and he is aware that the committee has meetings planned over the next few days. Accordingly, the secretary of state considers that the December 8 deadline provides the Boundary Committee with sufficient time to take such steps as are necessary for the provision of any advice.”

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