Yartoft idea thrown out

Laura Bagshaw RESIDENTS across the borough of Great Yarmouth are no closer to knowing how they will be governed in 2010 as part of a major overhaul of council services.

Laura Bagshaw

RESIDENTS across the borough of Great Yarmouth are no closer to knowing how they will be governed in 2010 as part of a major overhaul of council services.

A shock announcement by the Boundary Committee indicated no clear front-runners in the race to change local government in Norfolk and Suffolk.

Yarmouth Borough Council had favoured becoming part of a Norfolk Coastal unitary, linking with North Norfolk and parts of Broadland, while Labour groups in both Yarmouth and Waveney had been driving a campaign for a Yartoft unitary.

However, on Monday these proposals crashed out of the race as the committee laid its cards on the table, proposing three surprise options for the future of Norfolk's political landscape:

A super unitary council covering the whole of Norfolk and incorporating part of Lowestoft.

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A wedge - a unitary pattern for Norfolk and unitary linking Norwich, Yarmouth and Lowestoft

And the doughnut option - a Greater Norwich unitary and a unitary covering the rest of Norfolk.

Councillors from both sides of the chamber reacted in shock this week - with many feeling ignored by the Boundary Committee.

Borough council leader Barry Coleman questioned the super council option, saying it would be less effective than the current system with local decisions being made miles away.

“While there are likely to be obvious economies of scale, it is hard to see how the proposal of one big council could work locally with our communities to shape services to meet their specific needs. Decisions would be made so remotely from the people they affect,” he said.

“Yarmouth has a strong voice and a history of strong partnership working which it will use to ensure that the Boundary Committee's final proposals take account of local needs and views.”

The council will now look at all three proposals - and more importantly gauge public opinion on them - although further details on this won't be revealed until later.

Jane Ratcliffe, the borough council's executive director for resources, said the decision had come as a “surprise”.

She said: “These are not options we have considered and we will now be working with our neighbouring authorities to find the best possible solution for the people of Yarmouth.

She added the creation of a super council could see areas “swallowed up” and forgotten about.

However, business leaders appeared to come out in support of the super unitary. Peter Barry, president of Norfolk Chamber of Commerce, said: “What is clear from these recommendations is that bigger is better and likely to be more able to punch its weight in gaining funding, representation, growth and infrastructure development at a lower overall cost.”

Leader of Yarmouth's Labour group, Mick Castle, said he was disappointed that the Yartoft option had not been featured in the committee's recommendations.

He said “strong connections” between the towns had been partly acknowledged with Lowestoft being including as part of a super unitary option.

However, Mr Castle said he felt optimistic about the 'wedge' option - a unitary covering Norwich, Yarmouth and Lowestoft. He said it could pave the way for further economic development with an expanding Norwich International Airport and the outer harbour.

Local businessman Peter Jay said while the committee had not chosen Yartoft as an option, not all had been lost.

He said the committee's preference to include Lowestoft in a super Norfolk council would give the resorts a chance to work together.

“Politicians are not going to like it, but it could be perfect,” he said.

Yarmouth MP Tony Wright branded the proposals as “nonsense” but said the ideas behind them paved the way for a Yartoft authority.

Mr Wright said: “The suggestion for a Norfolk wide authority with Lowestoft is unacceptable. It is clear, however, that the Boundary Committee accepted the case for Lowestoft and Yarmouth to be together.

Norfolk County Council is in favour of the super unitary option - arguing it would be the most cost effective and simplest solution.

Yarmouth Borough Council has until September 26 to consider these proposals.

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