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Let's work together on council reshape

PUBLISHED: 11:22 01 August 2008 | UPDATED: 09:30 11 May 2010

A CLARION call has been sounded out for grassroots democrats to help shape Norfolk's future by working with a controversial proposal to create a single county unitary council which includes Lowestoft.

A CLARION call has been sounded out for grassroots democrats to help shape Norfolk's future by working with a controversial proposal to create a single county unitary council which includes Lowestoft.

The Boundary Committee for England has put forward the model as its preferred option to replace the current two-tier system of county and district councils after being asked by ministers to look at how a new unitary set-up could work.

On Wednesday night more than 200 parish councillors met Boundary Committee officials to hear more about the plans and how they could get involved. A second meeting is planned in King's Lynn on Monday.

Stephen Teverson, chairman of the Norfolk Association of Town and Parish Councils which chaired the Norwich event, said the committee was told there would be resistance to any plans to sweep away smaller parishes or force councils to take on extra powers if they did not want to.

But he urged parish councillors to take part and help produce evidence backing or criticising the plans during the consultation process.

While many members said they supported the status quo, the meeting heard the time to make the case for no change was after a final submission had been made to the government in the New Year.

“Our message to members is we know it was foisted upon you and not everybody agrees with the process or the preferred option, but if we do not get involved in the next few weeks their communities will only have their parish councils to blame if they get left behind,” he said. “If we don't engage, we are not properly representing those who elected us. We want our members to be engaged.

“Whatever this is - it is not going to be the county council or the city council, it's a new body. We wish to be involved in working up the detail and putting the jam in the middle of the sandwich.”

But there was concern about the accountability of 21 proposed new 'community partnership boards' groupings of parishes based on market town clusters. Mr Teverson said that 60pc of the board membership should be town or parish councillors - in line with a similar initiative in East Cambrigdeshire.

“We are happy that police, health services and schools should be there, but they shouldn't have any voting rights and we would wish parish councils, who are elected to be in the ascendency,” he added.

Yet many local political leaders beyond the parish pump level have washed their hands of the process, which they see as flawed, after the Boundary Committee ruled against the options they put forward.

Norwich City Council is continuing to support an alternative 'doughnut' proposal which would see an enlarged greater Norwich authority while Labour county councillors recently voted in favour of the so-called 'wedge' option - which would see a link up between Norwich, Yarmouth and Lowestoft.

Meanwhile in Suffolk county council leader Jeremy Pembroke is urging people not to forget that the boundary committee has also seen merit in other proposals - including one for a single Suffolk council.

A spokesman for the Boundary Committee, said the meetings, which also included sessions with businesses and community groups, were extremely productive and positive.

“There are people who are beginning to realise that we have got this time to try and make this proposal as good as it can be,” he said. “We are not being prescriptive about what the community arrangements are going to look like - we want that to be driven by people across Norfolk.

“It's right that people should have strong views about our draft proposal, but we also want people to write to us telling us why they hold their views. We urge people to contribute to the process in this way, or by going to our website and e-mailing us or filling in an online form.”


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