West Norfolk MP says devolution is ‘doomed’

Election Count at Lynnsport King's Lynn
Henry Bellingham ANL-150805-111717009
Election Count at Lynnsport King's Lynn Henry Bellingham ANL-150805-111717009

A West Norfolk MP has claimed devolution proposals for the region are “doomed” following talks with the government.

A delegation of MPs from Norfolk and Suffolk met the communities secretary, Sajid Javid, this week to discuss the plan to establish a new combined authority for the two counties.

The meeting followed the publication of the results of a public consultation on the issue, which claimed majority support for the proposals, including the plan for a directly elected mayor.

But critics say a majority of participants within Norfolk opposed the scheme, following the refusal of four of the county’s district councils to take part.

Mr Javid is understood to have reiterated the position of his predecessor, Greg Clark, that the deal could only go ahead with an elected mayor.

A spokesman for the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG), said: “We remain committed to the devolution deal, but have been clear that it is for the local area to decide.”

But North West Norfolk MP Sir Henry Bellingham, who was at the meeting, said the minister had also insisted the measures would not be imposed on Norfolk, if the county didn’t want them.

He said he was “pleased and relieved” by that and said supporters of the scheme should now turn their attention to developing a future model that would command wider support.

He said: “I would like to thank those local authority leaders and businessmen who have been trying hard to secure the best deal for 
Norfolk, but the time has now come to accept that the 
current proposals are completely doomed.

“I would certainly warn very strongly against any attempt at bullying or cajoling those local authorities that have opted out.

“They have taken a principled and sensible stance and I will be doing all I can to encourage their continued vigorous opposition.”

Figures published by Norfolk County Council last week showed that, of around 10,000 people across the two counties who took part, 53 per cent of respondents supported the principle of devolution to the two counties.

Fifty-eight per cent were said to favour the establishment of a combined authority, with 25 per cent against, and 52 per cent supported the creation of an elected mayor, with 29 per cent opposing it.

But Sir Henry says that, within Norfolk, more than 53 per cent of participants opposed the scheme, with only 38 per cent in favour.

He has raised questions over the phone polling, which was carried out by Ipsos-Mori and was the only element of the consultation to show a majority in favour.

But the county council says the same questions were posed to online participants as to phone interviewees.

Meanwhile, councillors in Swaffham have added their voices to those opposing the devolution scheme.

The town’s district authority, Breckland, is one of the four Norfolk authorities which declined to take any further part in the project when they debated it in June.

And, during its meeting on Wednesday, the town council voted 10 to one to support the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England in its opposition to the scheme.

Members’ greatest anger was reserved for the suggestion that residents of districts whose councils have rejected devolution would not be able to vote in subsequent mayoral elections.

The town’s mayor, Paul Darby, said: “We’re still part of the county. It’s not democracy.”

Terry Jennison added: “It’s a form of blackmail.”

But Shirley Matthews said there were now “great hopes” the project would not proceed.

West Norfolk Council is due to hold a special meeting on the issue on October 27. Norfolk County Council is set to debate it on November 3.