Challenge to super council

PUBLISHED: 09:19 13 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:17 30 June 2010

Norfolk councils seeking to stop a controversial overhaul of the county's local government system will be able to make an 11th hour challenge to the process in the High Court next month.

Norfolk councils seeking to stop a controversial overhaul of the county's local government system will be able to make an 11th hour challenge to the process in the High Court next month.

Communities secretary John Denham can either back the independent Boundary Committee's preferred proposal for a single Norfolk super council - or an original proposal to create a unitary based solely on the existing Norwich City Council area.

But leading the charge against any change are five district councils, Breckland, Broadland, North Norfolk, South Norfolk, whose challenge is ironically being backed by £10,000 from Norfolk County Council, which produced the super council bid.

The districts, who learned yesterday that they would be given a chance to argue against the process during a special two-day High Court hearing scheduled for the week beginning February 15, are set to argue that the Boundary Committee's consultation process was flawed and failed to properly take into account arguments to keep the status quo or a Mori poll of more than 3,500 people supporting the current set-up. They will also argue that the committee failed to disclose an independent financial consultants report until December 2009.

Yet with civil servants indicating that a new unitary council could be set up in four months with elections in May, the challenge could be the final act of resistance to a process which has dragged on for nearly four years and cost millions of pounds.

Meanwhile council leaders from across the county will meet ministers Barbara Follett and Rosie Winterton today and tomorrow to give their views on the plans.

Steve Morphew, leader of Norwich City Council, who will hold talks with Mrs Follet today said much had changed at City Hall since the council's earlier bid was ruled out, including an improved financial performance, while politically recent controversial decisions by the Tory run county council on day centres and street lighting proved the city's needs would be better served by its own unitary authority.

“The secretary of state would be hard pressed to justify a unitary county,” Mr Morphew said. “The argument for having a unitary Norwich on existing boundaries seems to be being made for us very helpfully.”

William Nunn, leader of Breckland District Council, said Norfolk would be left in “unprecedented chaos” if the new super council was brought in within four months.

“For some years the government has been pushing forward for unitary authorities without the public desire and it has become very clear it is nothing more than a political whim,” Mr Nunn said.

Last night Broadland councillors backed a submission to the government stating that the review should be consigned to the waste bin because it lacked support and the financial case pre-dated the recession. A city unitary option would be too small and would have to rely on sharing services in order to deliver services, the council warned.

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