Road maintenance merger plan

SUFFOLK is looking at merging the maintenance of county council-owned roads with Norfolk in 2013 as part of the divestment of services.

Senior county officials have been working with colleagues across the border to set up a single body to maintain roads from Felixstowe to King's Lynn and from Haverhill to Cromer.

Top-level meetings have taken place with items under discussion including highways maintenance and whether the councils could join forces and issue a single contract for road repairs.

Another option is whether the passenger transport units, which organise services such as park-and-ride and bus contracts, could be brought under one roof, and a tie-up could see both counties uniting on cross-border issues such as improving rail links between Norwich and Lowestoft, and travel connections between Beccles, Bungay, Harleston and Diss.

The individual councils would continue to own the depots, like the new highways centre which opened on the Whitehouse industrial estate on the edge of Ipswich, but the daily operations would be run by the new body.

Most of Suffolk's non-trunk roads are maintained directly by the county council, but in Ipswich maintenance is in the hands of the borough council.

That is an arrangement that will continue until 2013 if the county's cabinet agrees to an extension to the contract when it expires next April.

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In Norfolk, County Hall has a partnership with contractors May Gurney and Mott MacDonald, but the contract is due to expire in 2014, and there is also an option to break the contract in 2012.

Guy McGregor, portfolio holder for roads transport and planning at Suffolk County Council, said while the authorities could join forces on a joint contract, Suffolk would not plan to divest itself of its council maintenance workshops and depots such as the recently opened facility in Ipswich.

He said: 'We are looking at things such as cross-border co-operation on public transport and whether the procurement organisations can be brought together.

'The other thing we have got to pursue is 'real time' passenger information, which we have got rolling out in Lowestoft, which is the one we would hope to go for, but that's something we have to discuss with our colleagues in Norfolk.

'It would make absolute sense if we were to go down the road of offering a maintenance contract for both Norfolk and Suffolk.

'I have given instructions to officers to work these things up and make sure we don't miss any opportunities.'

The talks come as both councils seek to bridge multi-million pound funding gaps in the wake of likely Government funding cuts.

And the moves for a tie-up have also been boosted by the proposed New Anglia local enterprise partnership (LEP) for both counties, which is currently being considered for approval by business secretary Vince Cable.

Ian Mackie, deputy leader of Norfolk County Council and chairman of the environment, transport and development strategic review board, said: 'Given the geography and our close working with Suffolk regarding the LEP, it makes for a natural partnership.'

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