Council leader pledge to fight 'Yartoft'

AS ministers fired the “official” starting gun for a multi-million pound overhaul of council services in Norfolk, the leader of Great Yarmouth Borough Council vowed to fight the changes.

AS ministers fired the “official” starting gun for a multi-million pound overhaul of council services in Norfolk, the leader of Great Yarmouth Borough Council vowed to fight the changes.

Conservative councillor Barry Coleman said his party would “strongly campaign” to keep the status quo in opposition of government plans to link Yarmouth with other councils to create a larger unitary authority.

He said: “We will run a campaign to drum-up support for the status quo. Do we want to be part of a unitary authority that could have dubious consequences?”

Mr Coleman said finer details of the government plans were still unknown - including whether the status quo would be an option.

He added: “If a strong enough case can be made for the status quo, and if we can put it forward, we will.”

The government last year asked the Boundary Committee for England to look at whether Norfolk's and Suffolk's two-tier system of county and district councils should be scrapped in favour a one-size-fits-all unitary model.

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The move followed a bid by Norwich City Council to create a new unitary authority to cover the city and its urban fringe.

Mr Coleman added: “There is no reason it could not carry on as a two tier system with Norwich as a unitary.”

The overhaul, expected to cost about £100m, would see unitary authorities take responsibility for all services including planning, highways and education.

Last year the borough council was asked to propose its favoured option - a Norfolk coastal option covering Yarmouth to Hunstanton - and it set aside £100,000 to evaluate it.

However, Labour councillors want to link up with Lowestoft. And on Wednesday, local government minister John Healey confirmed the shake-up could pave the way for the cross-border link-up with the Suffolk town, opposed by the ruling Tory councils in both towns.

Yarmouth council Labour group leader Trevor Wainwright hoped the Tories would have “a change of heart” and denied that either town would suffer in a link-up with Lowestoft.

He said: “Both areas are growth points and both towns have regenerations issues. We have the urban regeneration company covering both areas and the Primary Care Trust. I think it could bring greater investment. It makes a lot of sense to join up.”

A working party made up of three Tories and two Labour councillors has been set up to consider possible options and Mr Wainwright said he would ask for a meeting of the group “as soon as possible.”

On Wednesday, it was confirmed the Boundary Committee had until December 31 to review current council arrangements and Mr Coleman said he expected further details would be known in about two weeks.

“We can't do anything until we hear from the Boundary Committee. They will meet and come up with a series of alternatives and one of those could be 'Yartoft'.”

Criticising the shake-up, Mr Coleman branded it as a “waste of money” and that Norfolk was “the worst possible county for the government to start tinkering with.”

He said: “We have a county council that is delivering good services and all district councils are doing a good job.”

Mr Coleman said that Eastport and work on the outer harbour was a great example of how councils work together for a shared purpose.

“All councils worked together for the benefit of the county - you wouldn't have got that anywhere else.”

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Should we link up with Waveney District Council to form a “Yartoft” unitary authority, or would the Norfolk Coastal option serve Great Yarmouth people better? And what about the status quo? Write to Letters at The Mercury, 25 Regent Street, Great Yarmouth NR30 1RQ or email anne.edwards@archant.