Special meeting to debate Norfolk-Suffolk link

Norfolk County Council switches on its first fibre broadband cabinet, in Croxton.     George Nobbs (leader of County Council), Kev Black (from BT), Bob King (Parish Council Chairman) and Hilary Cox. ENGANL00120130507122324
Norfolk County Council switches on its first fibre broadband cabinet, in Croxton. George Nobbs (leader of County Council), Kev Black (from BT), Bob King (Parish Council Chairman) and Hilary Cox. ENGANL00120130507122324

Norfolk County Council is to hold an extraordinary meeting next week to examine the idea of forming a combined authority with Suffolk.

The debate, which will take place next Thursday, October 8, comes after members of the authority’s policy and resources committee agreed to back the proposal “in principle” on Monday.

District and county level authorities have been holding talks for several weeks in a bid to draw up plans for how the region could capitalise on government devolution plans.

But the fate of the proposal was left unclear after a meeting last Friday ended without agreement.

Ahead of Monday’s meeting, the county council’s managing director, Dr Wendy Thomson, said government ministers had urged the councils in Norfolk and Suffolk to join forces, as it did not think a Norfolk-only plan would work.

She said: “A Norfolk and Suffolk devolution deal will require a new form of governance based around a combined authority model.

“Discussions about the remit for a combined authority are taking place between council leaders in Norfolk and Suffolk and the New Anglia LEP.

“The combined authority proposal could include a ‘double devolution’ approach, which sets out functional clusters of districts, and this is currently being considered.”

Members will be asked to follow the policy and resources committee in agreeing in principle to the idea of a combined Norfolk-Suffolk authority.

They will also be asked to allow Dr Thomson and the council’s leader, George Nobbs, to “continue to play a full part in discussions, representing the best interests of Norfolk residents.”

Some have voiced concerns about the potential costs of joining forces with Suffolk, with one councillor, Alexandra Kemp, even claiming it could be a “catastrophe” for Norfolk.

Speaking at West Norfolk Council’s meeting last week, its leader Nick Daubney, who supports devolution, said he didn’t want to “sell a successful council” to other less successful authorities.

But Dr Thomson said there were “significant potential benefits” from devolution in areas such as economic growth, infrastructure investnment, health and housing.