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Broads board faces shake-up

PUBLISHED: 11:10 08 December 2008 | UPDATED: 12:29 03 July 2010

Government officials will spend the coming weeks sifting through hundreds of responses to a countrywide consultation which could alter the make up of the Broads Authority management board.

Government officials will spend the coming weeks sifting through hundreds of responses to a countrywide consultation which could alter the make up of the Broads Authority management board.

The consultation, launched in the summer and with a deadline of the end of November, was designed to find out what various interest groups and individuals thought about the prospect of holding elections for members of national park boards.

The eight English national parks and the Broads Authority, which is referred to as a “member of the national parks family” without having the full status, are currently run by appointed individuals.

Although many of those appointees are democratically elected to other authorities, many people feel the Broads Authority would appear more accountable if a proportion of members was elected directly.

Such elections are held in the Scottish national parks, where a fifth of members are elected every few years. This fact has been used by supporters of the direct elections concept in England as a key part to their argument.

A Defra spokesman said the process had attracted approximately 200 responses from around the country.

The spokesman said those contributions would be examined and assessed in the coming weeks. And he added: “We expect to make an announcement in the early part of 2009.”

The Broads Authority itself is among those to have responded. At a recent meeting of the full authority, members agreed that the existing membership structure worked well for a series of reasons.

They agreed direct elections could lead to “weakened links with local authorities and a less joined up approach to the common issues we are presented with”.

And concern was expressed that elected members could pursue narrow interests rather than the holistic interests of the authority and the communities it serves.

In a report to the authority, chief executive John Packman argued that “the present system has worked well and ought not lightly be discarded”.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb, a leading supporter of direct elections, said he had received around 500 responses to the consultation through his office.

“I very much hope Defra will consider each of those as a separate response when they look through the paperwork and indeed I will pursue them to ensure that is what happens.

“It is an enormous response to what is not generally considered a bread and butter issue, such as education or health. That tells a tale in itself.

“People were overwhelmingly clear they want to see direct elections and the Broads Authority have made a mistake not recognising that. They have failed to recognise the lack of legitimacy local people feel with regards to the authority.”

If the responses lead the government down the path of direct elections, there will be a second consultation setting out precise proposals for each authority and addressing a number of operational and resource matters.

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