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'My door is open', says new West Norfolk Council leader

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The new leader of West Norfolk Council says he will work with anyone who wants to make the borough better after the Covid crisis.

Stuart Dark has completed his first week in the role after his election was confirmed during the authority’s annual meeting last Thursday.

And, with issues ranging from the economic recovery after coronavirus to the future of landmarks such as the St George’s Guildhall on the agenda, he says the door is open to all who want to boost the borough’s fortunes.

New West Norfolk Council leader Stuart Dark at his desk (47622357)
New West Norfolk Council leader Stuart Dark at his desk (47622357)

He said this week: “The start for myself is we will talk to anybody that is trying to improve West Norfolk and people’s lives in West Norfolk. That’s got to be the big thing.”

In his first major interview since becoming leader, Mr Dark said he wanted to build on the achievements of his predecessor, Brian Long, insisting there would not be a “revolution” in policy.

He said he wanted to work with other agencies to bring investment into the borough, as well as build public trust on service delivery.

King's Court, Borough Council of West Norfolk.. (43755272)
King's Court, Borough Council of West Norfolk.. (43755272)

He said: “You can deliver a great service but if people don’t think you are, that is an issue.”

An early priority for the new administration is a review of the council’s working structures accounting for the impact of the pandemic, where many staff took on additional duties.

Although Mr Dark has named his new cabinet team, which includes Mr Long, details of their portfolio responsibilities have not yet been announced.

A report is to be presented to the new cabinet’s first meeting next month, though it was stressed the plan was a “realignment” rather than a shake-up.

And Mr Dark said other policy areas, such as Lynn’s transport plan, are also likely to be re-examined in light of the pandemic.

The document, which was first published in January last year - just weeks before the original Covid lockdown - contained more than 30 projects including the aims to divert traffic around the historic South Gate and dualling of the A149 between the Hardwick and hospital roundabouts.

Mr Dark said future planning needed to take account of the impact the pandemic has had on the way people travel and work and respond to long-term changes in those patterns.

He added: “We need to have a re-look and a refresh, not because they were bad ideas, but they were ideas of their time.”

He also outlined work which he believes will make food waste collections better - when they can eventually restart.

The service remains suspended for social distancing reasons, having been halted in April last year.

The authority is hoping to reintroduce the collections once all limits on social distancing are relaxed, potentially from June 21.

But Mr Dark said work has been taking place in the background to make the collections more effective and efficient.

Material will be processed in an anaerobic digester with the remains then able to be used on farms instead of artificial fertiliser.

He said the work reaffirmed the council’s commitment to reducing waste.

He added: “It’s getting the message across to people it’s not out of sight, out of mind.”

But one area that is unlikely to be high on the priority list for the moment is the question of devolution.

Although plans for a combined Norfolk and Suffolk authority were scrapped five years ago, there have been calls in recent times for the issue to be reconsidered.

A government white paper has been expected for some time, although Mr Dark suggested recent “levelling up” proposals meant the issue was on the backburner for now, adding: “Will the public thank politicians for shaking things up or do they want quality services?”

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