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Opposition to unitary proposals

PUBLISHED: 09:53 07 November 2008 | UPDATED: 21:42 05 July 2010

Five councils opposing a town hall overhaul yesterday launched a 'Keep Norfolk Local' campaign to torpedo the changes and said they would consider a New Year referendum to give the public their say.

Five councils opposing a town hall overhaul yesterday launched a 'Keep Norfolk Local' campaign to torpedo the changes and said they would consider a New Year referendum to give the public their say.

Leading councillors from King's Lynn and West Norfolk, Broadland, South Norfolk, Breckland, and North Norfolk are joining forces in a fresh attempt to derail the controversial local government review.

The independent Boundary Committee is currently running the rule over a submission to create a single super council for Norfolk and Lowestoft - with a decision expected on December 31.

The committee is also looking at two other unitary options - a wedge comprising Norwich, Yarmouth, and Lowestoft, and a doughnut comprising the greater Norwich authority, surrounded by the rest of Norfolk with Lowestoft.

At a press conference held at Norwich City Football Club's executive boxes in the Jarrold Suite, the councils said they were disputing the claimed £18m costs being put forward by Norfolk County Council and believe the final bill is likely to be closer to £60m.

The districts' finance officers are still refusing to sign off the finance workbooks because they do not agree with the figures submitted by the county council. And opponents insist with a recession coming, the cash would be better spent on helping residents.

Next week the battle moves to the High Court after the councils mounted a legal challenging questioning whether the Boundary Committee has followed the right processes.

If that fails they said they will look to a referendum in the New Year.

Nick Daubney, leader of West Norfolk Council, said the overhaul would cost tens of millions of pounds in transition costs, lead to hundreds of job losses and hit local services.

“The five councils represented here are absolutely clear that these proposals are bad for Norfolk, bad for Norfolk council tax payers, and they are bad for the local economy,” he said. “These proposals have been dreamt up by civil servants in London who simply do not understand Norfolk, they do not understand the people here, they do not understand our communities.”

Broadland leader Simon Woodbridge said the figures submitted by the county council contained “significant flaws” and did not take into account the costs of tearing up existing council contracts for services such as IT and emptying the bins or planned growth for the county.

Last night County Hall said its business case, which had been verified by independent consultants, was based on a worst case scenario and savings could be greater than the £25m planned. District councils had also been invited share key information about costs.

Chief executive David White said: “The Boundary Committee is itself examining this information with the help of independent financial experts to reassure itself as to whether or not its proposals meet the relevant affordability criteria.

“We are, of course, sorry that some of the district 151 officers do not feel able to sign off the workbooks. However, I am fully satisfied with the work that's been carried out.

The launch, which also includes a dedicated website, comes amid bitter political infighting among Conservatives and claims that district Tories, furious at the success of the county's single unitary bid, are actively de-selecting county councillors and putting forward their own supporters to sit on the county council, if next year's elections take place.

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