Councillors support unitary plans

LABOUR councillors have come out in support of proposals which could see Great Yarmouth linked with Lowestoft and Norwich in a unitary authority. Leaders of Labour groups across Norfolk and Suffolk are backing the so-called 'wedge' option - a new unitary which would include greater Norwich, Acle, Yarmouth and Lowestoft - in a bid to prevent the creation of a super unitary covering the whole of Norfolk.

LABOUR councillors have come out in support of proposals which could see Great Yarmouth linked with Lowestoft and Norwich in a unitary authority.

Leaders of Labour groups across Norfolk and Suffolk are backing the so-called 'wedge' option - a new unitary which would include greater Norwich, Acle, Yarmouth and Lowestoft - in a bid to prevent the creation of a super unitary covering the whole of Norfolk.

As part of a major review of local government in Norfolk and Suffolk the Boundary Committee for England had proposed the county should be governed by a single unitary authority.

However, Labour councillors have attacked the plans saying a Norfolk unitary would be too big.

Mick Castle, leader of Yarmouth's Labour group, said he feared the town could be marginalised in a county unitary.

He said: “Norfolk is mainly rural and I think this option would seem less attractive in terms of development potential.”

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Mr Castle said the Norfolk unitary would be 20 times bigger than the UK's current largest council in Birmingham, which covers a larger population.

“I can see the attraction,” he said. “On sheer money I am sure that a single county unitary would be leanest and meanest but you have to weigh that against local accountability. It would be an enormous authority.”

He added that no consideration had been given to the wide variances in need and service provision in rural and urban areas, particularly council housing which is only run in Norwich, Yarmouth and Lowestoft.

Labour originally wanted a unitary covering Yarmouth and Lowestoft but said the areas could still benefit by being linked in an authority with Norwich.

“We have a big economic agenda here in Yarmouth and being associated with a booming city like Norwich will only help that. It seems the neatest solution. There is a sense of synergy between the three places - they share an airport and are joined by the Broads.”

Mr Castle said Yarmouth councillors would continue to work with colleagues in Lowestoft and Norwich to strengthen their case for what they have called a potential Norwich City and Maritime Council.

Mr Castle added that attempts by the “do nothing” brigade to prevent change in local government were , at worst, “a desperate attempt to hold on to their power bases”.

Last month the Mercury revealed that Tory councillors were fighting plans to carve up the county and create unitary authorities, insisting “if its not broke, fix it”.

At the time Mr Coleman said Conservative councillors would be mounting pressure on ministers in a bid to keep the status quo.

In July the Boundary Committee announced three preferred options which include:

w A single unitary covering all of Lowestoft and Norfolk

w A 'wedge' option that includes Yarmouth, Lowestoft, Norwich and parts of Broadland

w and a 'doughnut' option which would see a Norwich unitary created and a second unitary authority covering the rest of the county.

The borough council has until September 26 to consider its favoured option while ministers are expected to make a final decision in January 2009.