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More time urged for unitary bid

PUBLISHED: 11:01 12 September 2008 | UPDATED: 21:14 05 July 2010

Backers of a plan to create a new council covering Yarmouth, Lowestoft and Norwich have asked for a two-week extension to prepare the financial case for the scheme.

Backers of a plan to create a new council covering Yarmouth, Lowestoft and Norwich have asked for a two-week extension to prepare the financial case for the scheme.

Yarmouth borough council has been tasked by the Boundary Committee with making the case for the so-called 'wedge' option - one of three proposals in the running to replace the existing two-tier set-up of county and district councils.

But the authority said it needed more time because it was waiting to see the figures put together by Norfolk County Council and Norwich City Council which had yet to be made available to them.

Boundary Committee officials had given finance chiefs until today to produce detailed workbooks looking at costings of the proposals being put forward.

But in Norfolk, district officials have refused to sign off the figures, while in Suffolk, officials have also sought an extension after being told to consider the costs of bringing Lowestoft back into Suffolk.

A six-page report by Yarmouth has suggested refining the original wedge concept by expanding the proposed boundaries to include areas such as Stalham and more of Broadland to the north and the A146 corridor to the south-east - bringing in Chedgrave and Loddon.

And it would also be enlarged to cover the existing Norwich policy area by taking in Wymondham, Long Stratton and Hethersett to the south-west of the city.

That would mean Norfolk would be split into two councils, each with a population of around 400,000 and with around 100 councillors representing them.

The move comes after Norfolk County Council unveiled how its £18m plan for a single council including Lowestoft would save £25m a year and see council tax bills cut for the majority of residents - but a £46-a-year increase for Band D householders in Breckland.

The city council says its case for a doughnut model would also mean cheaper bills and save around £20m a year.

Jane Ratcliffe, executive director for customers and resources at Yarmouth council, said the authority was hoping to put together its detailed financial case by September 26.

She said the new proposal had been refined to make it balanced in terms of population, but was not a modified version of the former East-West model previously supported by King's Lynn, which had been the preferred option of some Boundary Committee officials before being overruled. “It's been hard work but we hope to put forward some innovative ideas, and while we won't reproduce exactly the same sort of savings as the county council's single unitary model, it will not be far off that,” she said. “There will be significant savings, but there will also be different uses of resources, and we are not just thinking of setting up mini-districts.

“The detailed workbooks are with both the city and county councils and we have agreed with the Boundary Committee that we will look at those and rework them.

“We are not planning to reinvent the wheel, people have done a lot of work already, so we are just using what is already there, but adding some interesting ideas about how local people can get involved in how their services are developed and delivered.”

Meanwhile, the County Hall business case came under fresh attack from opponents of the scheme who argue the figures fail to stack up and that the savings do not justify the costs involved.

Simon Woodbridge, leader of Broadland council, said the proposed £5m council tax savings were miniscule for an organisation likely to have a budget or more than £1bn a year.

“That's just peanuts,” he said. “This is purely a PR stunt to try and curry favour with public opinion. There isn't one example of local reorganisation in the country that's managed to stick to its original business case and deliver savings.”

William Nunn, leader of Breckland council, said the new super council would be larger than Luxembourg, with councillors expected to represent around 9,000 residents.

“If this monster council goes ahead it will result in residents of Breckland being levied nearly £2m a year towards a council tax reduction for the city,” he said. “The very marginal reduction in council tax for other districts could be completely eradicated by the very first inflationary rise.”

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