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West Norfolk Council leader supports fresh look at devolution

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West Norfolk Council’s leader has backed calls for politicians to look again at devolution for the region.

Proposals for a combined authority serving Norfolk and Suffolk, and led by an elected mayor, were scrapped four years ago when several councils, including West Norfolk, rejected them.

But the issue looks to be back on the agenda after two of the region’s new Conservative MPs indicated their willingness to consider the scheme.

Devolution could be back on the agenda (30018257)
Devolution could be back on the agenda (30018257)

And borough council leader Brian Long said he would be open to any new ideas that come forward.

He said: “If you look at the potential investment that mayors can bring, we would be remiss not to look at the new conditions and how we approach that.”

Mr Long’s comments come after the new Ipswich MP, Tom Hunt, questioned whether there were plans for an authority covering Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire.

Brian Long
Brian Long

The government says it will bring forward plans for what it described as “full devolution” for England in a White Paper.

North Norfolk MP Duncan Baker also signalled his support in a social media post, writing: “It’s important we consider all ideas especially if a structural change could come with billions to invest in our regions.”

The previous devolution proposal had covered all three counties, before a separate scheme for the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough areas was drawn up.

That authority has now been operating for nearly three years, under the leadership of its mayor, James Palmer. Mr Hunt was chief of staff to Mr Palmer before being elected to Parliament.

West Norfolk Council opposition leader Terry Parish says he has little faith in devolution.
West Norfolk Council opposition leader Terry Parish says he has little faith in devolution.

The requirement for an elected mayor was one of the key stumbling blocks which hampered the previous proposal.

But Mr Long said that, while he understood the reasons a majority of his colleagues opposed the previous scheme, he felt the work of the Cambridgeshire authority showed what could be achieved.

He said: “If you look at the schemes that Mayor Palmer is looking invest in, improvements to the A10 right to the county border, we really want to see that investment go right through to King’s Lynn.”

However, Terry Parish, leader of the borough council’s Independent group, who form the main opposition, said he doubted whether the measure would have a positive impact.

He said: “No doubt there will be a large pot for administration and democratic matters, though the public will be further distanced from anyone who can do anything - if anyone can.

“I have no confidence whatsoever that a conglomerate of councils will mean anything better, any improvement, for the general public.”

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