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High court ruling expected on councils

PUBLISHED: 08:51 17 November 2008 | UPDATED: 12:17 03 July 2010

A HIGH Court judge is expected to deliver a ruling within two weeks over a legal challenge to radical proposals for a shake-up of councils in Norfolk.

On the second day of the case in London on Friday, government lawyers fought a rearguard action in their bid to save the proposals for reorganisation of the local government structure in the county.

A HIGH Court judge is expected to deliver a ruling within two weeks over a legal challenge to radical proposals for a shake-up of councils in Norfolk.

On the second day of the case in London on Friday, government lawyers fought a rearguard action in their bid to save the proposals for reorganisation of the local government structure in the county.

All seven of Norfolk's district councils, along with the county council, are facing abolition under the radical proposals and three of them are asking top judge, Mr Justice Cranston, to stop the whole intensely complex process in its tracks.

But barrister, James Eadie QC, argued the councils had left it too late to launch their High Court challenge and a victory for them now could derail the process of change and be “detrimental to good public administration.”

He also told the judge that the proposals are currently only in “draft” form and Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Hazel Blears, will have the final word on whether or not they are implemented.

He added that the councils' judicial review challenge - if successful - will jeopardise a tight deadline of December 31 this year when the proposals must be submitted to Miss Blears with a view to any changes being brought into effect by April 1 2010.

After the two-day hearing, Mr Justice Cranston left the councils - and the government - on tenterhooks when he reserved his decision, which is likely within two weeks.

The proposals for change have been put forward by the Boundary Committee, which has recommended that the whole administration of Norfolk - along with Lowestoft, which is currently in Suffolk - should be taken over by a single “unitary” authority.

It also says it can see some merit in two other options: A Norfolk and Lowestoft unitary authority surrounding a Norwich unitary authority - “the doughnut option” - or a Norfolk unitary authority surrounding a Norwich/Great Yarmouth/Lowestoft unitary authority - "the wedge option".

However, Tim Straker QC for Breckland, South Norfolk and Kings Lynn Councils, has told the judge that the Boundary Committee is hell bent to push through a unitary option and has “simply shut its mind” to the possibility of maintaining the “status quo” in Norfolk.


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