Norfolk super council in four months?

Norfolk could have a new look super council in four months with an election held at the same time as a general election if ministers are minded to press ahead with a decision.

Norfolk could have a new look super council in four months with an election held at the same time as a general election if ministers are minded to press ahead with a decision.

Communities secretary John Denham is consulting on proposals for a single super council for the county - put forward last year as the preferred option for change by the independent Boundary Committee.

Mr Denham can opt for a super council covering all of Norfolk, create a new unitary authority based on Norwich on its existing boundaries, or do nothing.

All councils in Norfolk and Suffolk have received a letter from Paul Rowsell, the senior mandarin in charge of the process, setting out an implementation timetable for either a single Norfolk council or a unitary Norwich on its own boundaries and giving them until February 2 to respond.

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The letter includes a discussion paper setting out the merits of holding a city-only election, or a county election this year or next, based on a new 84 member council - the same number of councillors as the existing county council, or an authority comprising 168 councillors, which it adds could present “additional though not insurmountable complexities” for electoral administrators and political parties.

The paper notes that experience in the nine other unitaries created last year suggests there are “significant advantages” in having a newly- elected political leadership at the start of a new unitary rather than setting up a shadow body to implement any change because of its lack of a democratic mandate.

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A vote this year could also thwart a Tory pledge to reverse the process because any new council would have a democratic mandate.

But with five district councils in Norfolk likely to learn today whether they can challenge the process, there is still the potential for the plan to be torpedoed in the courts.

In his letter Mr Rowsell said the secretary of state, recognising the need to end uncertainty, “intends to move forward as quickly as practicable” and intends to make a decision as soon as practicable after January 19.

“If he were to decide to implement any unitary proposal, he also thus intends immediately, or very shortly after his decision, to lay before parliament a draft of an order, which if approved by parliament, he would make to give effect to his decision,” Mr Rowsell wrote.

Norfolk County Council leader Daniel Cox, said the letter was “another unexpected twist in a very convoluted saga”.

“It makes clear the evident determination of the key civil servants to get this matter resolved and see unitaries in place before a general election,” Mr Cox said. “However, we are now four years into this process and whether their political masters quite share their appetite for change at this point in time is a lot less clear.”

Norwich City Council leader Steve Morphew said recent county council decisions such as the controversial plan to shut two city day centres and moves to switch off street lights, were further evidence of the need for home rule for the city alone. “I don't think you can pre-ordain the outcome given some of the bizarre recommendations we have had,” Mr Morphew said. “I wouldn't take anything for granted given that the unitary county has no friends whatsoever.”

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