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Is this the end for Yarmouth Town Hall?

PUBLISHED: 08:47 08 December 2009 | UPDATED: 15:52 03 July 2010

Town halls in Norfolk should be scrapped in favour of a single super council for the county as part the biggest shake up for local government in a generation.

Town halls in Norfolk should be scrapped in favour of a single super council for the county as part the biggest shake up for local government in a generation.

The independent Boundary Committee finally presented its verdict on the best form of local government for Norfolk - ruling that a single unitary authority was the best option because it could deliver cheaper services for all while still giving the county enough clout to make its voice heard at a regional and national level.

The committee was swayed by the case that a single unitary council would deliver savings of more than £25m a year, particularly during the recession, and at a time when the brakes look set to be applied to public spending to reign in the nation's spiralling public debt.

In Suffolk it also opted for a single council option as its preferred choice but unlike in Norfolk kept open the option of a two council option based on Ipswich and Felixstowe and a 'rest of Suffolk' option.

But despite being backed by the committee, the super council option has little local political support, which some feel could yet stop it in its tracks.

The announcement is also a blow to supporters of a rival 'doughnut' bid for a greater Norwich council and a rest of rural Norfolk option which supporters hoped would secure the city its home rule dream after the committee ruled the case was not affordable and did not enjoy wide support.

County Council leader Daniel Cox said he was pleased that the committee had recognised the authority's argument that Norwich and Norfolk should not be separated, but he said the Tory-run authority would still lobby to keep the status quo.

“We won't be campaigning for the single unitary,” he said. “In reality the county council has now got a position of strongly supporting the status quo. We never sought the structural review and given that we are six months away from a general election and a Conservative commitment to unwind what is put in place, it is all rather academic.”

Norwich City Council leader Steve Morphew said the process was a complete shambles and the authority would continue to make the case that a 'doughnut option' was the best model for both rural and urban areas.

“We will take a little while to reflect on what they have said and consider our options, but I feel it's the continuation of what's been the most bizarre process where no-one makes a decision on anything,” he said. “If the county council which put this forward is not in favour, it's pretty difficult to see how the secretary of state is going to go for that. Nothing surprises me anymore about the Boundary Committee, but this process has been a complete shambles from beginning to end.

Mr Morphew said it was time to go back to first principles and there was more need than ever for the city to have a strong voice.

“As far as I am concerned we have won the argument, and we will keep battling on,” he added.

Norwich South MP Charles Clarke said the Boundary's Committee's report was “appallingly incompetent” and he would be lobbying for a two-council option.

And South Norfolk Council leader John Fuller suggested the decision was part of a “scorched earth” policy to get rid of as many Conservative activists as possible.

“This is the most politically unpalatable option,” Mr Fuller said. “It's nothing to do with what's good for Norfolk, it's blatant politicking of the worst kind. This is just about culling the number of Conservative councillors as they step out for an election.”

But committee chairman Max Caller said the single unitary proposal based on the extensive evidence he had seen had the capacity to deliver all the government's aims of affordability, deliver value for money and equity in public services, provide strong effective, and accountable strategic leadership and deliver genuine opportunities for neighbourhood empowerment.

“We heard strong views from those who want to keep the current system, and we make no criticism of the people working hard to deliver services that people rely on. It's also clear that there is no decisive consensus either way,” Mr Caller said “But in deciding our advice we were ultimately persuaded by the broad cross section of people and groups who told us that there were patterns of unitary local government that are able to deliver more affordable services with clear strategic leadership and can empower local towns and villages to get more out of the services they use.”

All sides now have until January 19 to make their views known to communities secretary John Denham - but the big question now is whether he has the political stomach to back the Boundary Committee, or will pursue the other option of doing nothing or going back or even revive Norwich's original unitary bid based on its existing boundaries, which the committee has advised him against.

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