Challenge by councils in court today

THE fate of a controversial overhaul of councils in Norfolk could finally turn on the outcome of a court hearing due to start in London today (Tuesday).

THE fate of a controversial overhaul of councils in Norfolk could finally turn on the outcome of a court hearing due to start in London today (Tuesday).

Both Norfolk County Council and Norwich City Council had reached the final round of a local government review with plans for either a single super council for the county or a rival Greater Norwich/rest of rural Norfolk bid going head to head for approval.

The independent Boundary Committee was due to give its verdict on the two options in July but the process was stalled after a successful High Court legal challenge by three Suffolk district councils, St Edmundsbury, Forest Heath and Suffolk Coastal.

The three are part of an alliance, which includes Waveney District Council, which favours a rival East/West and Ipswich unitary split, who argued the process was flawed because their option was never consulted on.

Supporters believe that unitary councils are easier to understand and will deliver millions in savings in the long run because all services are delivered under one roof.

But critics believe the overhaul is too costly and will create councils too remote from local people.

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The Boundary Committee has challenged the Suffolk ruling and the appeal hearing is expected to last today and tomorrow.

The hearing is the latest legal challenge aimed at torpedoing the controversial local government review.

And it comes a week after Tory-run Norfolk County Council called for the process to be scrapped.

Yet if successful, the appeal will allow the Boundary Committee to finally deliver its recommendations to communities and local government secretary John Denham, possibly in as little as two weeks.

However the minister has also indicated that he is prepared to look at giving Norwich its original home rule bid, possibly on it existing boundaries, if the current process is ultimately derailed by the courts.

A Boundary Committee spokesman said: 'We believe that an appeal is necessary in order to achieve clarity on the way forward for local government reviews. We hope the verdict in this case allows us to put forward to the government our independent advice on Norfolk, Suffolk and Devon as soon as possible.'

A spokesman for the three Suffolk councils said: 'The three councils reluctantly decided to seek a judicial review of the local government review of Suffolk as we strongly believed the process was seriously and fundamentally flawed. The initial High Court judgment endorsed this position.

'It remains our view that there has been no serious consideration of the option of an Ipswich/East/West split in Suffolk despite it enjoying significant council and public support.'

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