Mixed reaction to devolution deal among West Norfolk politicians

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Political leaders in West Norfolk have given a mixed reaction to yesterday’s announcement of a proposed combined authority for Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire.

The scheme, which would see an East Anglian combined authority created under the leadership of a directly-elected mayor, was unveiled by Chancellor George Osborne in Wednesday’s Budget.

The new authority would control an annual £30 million infrastructure budget over 30 years, plus a further £175 million for housing.

A draft agreement document also sets out a commitment to a new housing settlement for the borough, based on “garden town” principles.

And it pledges to help make the case for improvements to the rail link from Lynn to Cambridge and London.

But initial views have been mixed, largely because of doubts over where the money will come from.

Norfolk County Council maintain the deal, which has been signed by representatives of more than 20 county and district authorities across the three counties, does offer new funding for the region.

Its leader, George Nobbs, said: “I am personally delighted that this is a deal specficially for East Anglia.

“This is not a region created by central dictate. It is deeply rooted in English history and has possessed a distinct identity for more than a thousand years.”

But North West Norfolk MP Sir Henry Bellingham said he feared the move could undermine traditional county institutions, such as that of the Lord Lieutenant, and add to existing bureaucracy.

He said: “We have an affinity to Norfolk, not to East Anglia.”

He said he was also seeking “urgent clarification” of how the authority would be funded, but added: “If it is new money, we would have to look at it.”

However, South West Norfolk MP and environment secretary Elizabeth Truss called the announcement “great news for industry, jobs, our local economy and residents.”

She added: “This is the first ever arrangement for a rural area and demonstrates the eastern region is a powerhouse of innovation and enterprise.”

And West Norfolk Council leader Nick Daubney, who has played a leading role in devolution discussions over several months, said the authorities involved had worked hard to get to a position where a firm proposal could be put forward.

But he conceded that, while authorities like his were used to working with neighbours to fight for a share of government cash, there was a “legitimate question” about whether the new body would replace or add to existing tiers of government.

And he acknowledged the question of the funding source would be crucial.

He said: “If this is a way of working with colleagues to make that happen, I’m all for it. If it’s a way of money coming through some new bureaucracy, I’m not interested.”

Under the government’s proposals, which also include plans for a similar Greater Lincolnshire authority covering South Holland, mayoral elections are scheduled to take place in May next year, alongside those for county councils.