Could Norwich get an elected mayor?

Shaun LowthorpeNorwich citizens could have the chance to vote for an elected mayor after the government held the open to the idea yesterday - despite stripping the city of its self rule dream.Shaun Lowthorpe

Norwich citizens could have the chance to vote for an elected mayor after the government held the open to the idea yesterday - despite stripping the city of its self rule dream.

The coalition government introduced an urgent three clause bill in the House of Lords yesterday to revoke the unitary orders, which it hopes to get on the statute book by the summer.

Ministers also said this year's city council elections, which were cancelled following the previous decision to grant unitary status, will be postponed until next May to avoid the need for 13 costly by-elections.

Council leaders and chief executives in Norfolk also received a letter from local government minister Bob Neill telling them not to spend any more money on implementing any unitary proposals.

But Mr Pickles also hinted that the city could bid for an elected mayor.

Currently the government wants to hold referenda for London-style elected mayors in England's 12 largest cities.

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When asked if Norwich could be considered Mr Pickles said, 'Norwich is too small', but added: 'If they had something, we could look at it.'

However he insisted the unitary plans would have been 'a waste of time and money, and utterly pointless'.

'You can deliver to Norwich most of what they are wanting without the unnecessary expense of reorganisation,' Mr Pickles said. 'When the priority must be to tackle the immense public deficit we have inherited, it is ludicrous that taxpayers' money is being wasted imposing a council reorganisation in Exeter and Norwich.'

Steve Morphew, leader of Norwich City Council, said the elected mayor issue was worth considering as part of the wider issue of addressing the question of governance for the city, but the authority also planned to lobby the government to give the city a greater say over its affairs.

'I think it's an issue that's worth debating,' Mr Morphew said. 'I'm not advocating an elected mayor, but if the people who feel let down by having the right to make their own decisions taken away give some sort of indication, at least they can say where they want to go from here.

'If the government is genuine about trying to get decisions made closer to the ground then from Norwich's point of view the existing system clearly doesn't do that.'

Norwich South MP Simon Wright, who supported the self rule idea, accused the previous Labour government of a cynical death-bed conversion to a unitary city.

'I feel we have been led up the garden path,' he said. 'It's quite clear when the previous minister made the decision he wasn't going to be in power after the election. Labour were in power for 13 years, if they had wanted a unitary Norwich, we would have had it by now. I'm disappointed we aren't going to get unitary, but I'm also appalled at the shambolic process that's gone on for the last few years.'

But he said the elected mayor idea needed careful thought to see if it was right for the city.

'I am open to debate about it,' Mr Wright said. 'If that's something the city council wants to progress, then I think it's right that the people of Norwich are consulted before anything goes ahead.'