Lords raise queries over scale of council merger consultation
PUBLISHED: 11:08 25 April 2018 | UPDATED: 11:08 25 April 2018
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Concerns over the public consultation undertaken by district councils ahead of the east Suffolk merger have been raised in the House of Lords.
Members of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee highlighted the fact only two of the 17 positive responses received during the second consultation period came from members of the public.
The merger of Waveney District Council and Suffolk Coastal District Council would make the newly formed East Suffolk Council one of the largest district councils in England, and would see the combined numbers of councillors drop from 90 to 55.
Results from the first consultation saw 131 responses from the public, with 114, or 87pc, against the merger, which led to a second consultation period from November 2017 to January 2018.
This was alongside a ComRes survey sent to 1,000 residents, community meetings, and social media posts.
The committee asked the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government whether they had “any evidence that this “silence” meant “assent” by local residents, or is there any evidence of ongoing local concern at the proposals?”
In their response, the department said they had not received any more negative responses from the public and said: “There is no evidence of ongoing local concern regarding the proposal and it is apparent through the representations made that the majority of stakeholders are supportive.
“Moreover, perhaps the best indication of local views are the views of those who have been democratically elected to represent the area. Both councils are strongly supportive of the merger.”
Sonia Barker, leader of the Waveney Labour Group, said: “We still feel that there should have been a chance for everyone to have a voice on the issue and in the absence of that, more publicity should have happened in November.”
A statement from Waveney and Suffolk Coastal councils said: “Suffolk Coastal and Waveney do not recognise the suggestion that there has been significant opposition to the proposals and we have undertaken a range of consultative exercises which reinforce this position.
“Both councils believe that public opinion is extremely important and went to great lengths to ensure that views are welcomed and acknowledged.”
It is believed that despite the concerns raised there will be no threat to the merger.