West Norfolk MP calls for devolution plans to be ‘killed off’

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A West Norfolk MP has called for devolution plans covering Norfolk and Suffolk to be scrapped, despite claims of public support for the project.

Council leaders from across the two counties met this week to discuss the results of a public consultation exercise on the plan to establish a new combined authority for the region.

Officials say the survey, which attracted more than 10,000 responses, showed strong support both for additional powers and the controversial proposal for an elected mayor.

But the number of responses equates to less than one per cent of the counties’ total population of around 1.6 million.

And North West Norfolk MP Sir Henry Bellingham says he will be urging ministers to scrap the plan altogether when he holds talks with them next week.

He said yesterday: “It’s a complete shambles and the sooner it’s killed off, the better. I think to carry on now would be incredibly foolish.”

Figures released ahead of Wednesday’s leaders’ meeting claimed that 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.

Officials maintain that the results reflected a cross-section of opinion, though they admit that some age groups and geographical areas were represented more strongly.

But Andy Wood, independent chairman of the East Anglian Devolution Leaders’ Group, said: “Devolution is about improving people’s lives and the places they live.

“It’s great that those responding to the consultation recognise that and support more decisions being taken locally.

“Leaders are committed to building on all the success and positives of the two counties to make Norfolk and Suffolk as successful as possible for the future.”

But Sir Henry claimed briefing papers showed a clear divide between the responses given by online participants and those from phone surveys carried out by polling company Ipsos-Mori.

He said he had also canvassed the views of parish councils in his constituency on the subject, with all responses so far opposing the scheme.

A report of the consultation’s findings is now set to be passed to government officials, who have to decide whether the criteria for proceeding with the project have been met, today.

If they are satisfied the requirements have been reached, a draft order will be put before Parliament, which all participating authorities will have to approve by the end of October for the project to proceed.

But Sir Henry believes the scale of the consultation, the decisions of four Norfolk district authorities, including Breckland, not to take part in the project and suggestions that people in those areas would not be allowed to vote for a mayor justified dumping it altogether.

He is due to be among a delegation of MPs from the two counties who are scheduled to meet the new communities secretary, Sajid Javid, and junior minister Andrew Percy next Wednesday.