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Norwich council leader insists home rule is still on track

PUBLISHED: 09:00 05 March 2010 | UPDATED: 08:35 02 July 2010

Shaun Lowthorpe

The leader of Norwich City Council has insisted today that a damning report published by a committee of peers into the unitary decision has not derailed home rule plans for the city.

The leader of Norwich City Council has insisted today that a damning report published by a committee of peers into the unitary decision has not derailed home rule plans for the city.

Communities secretary John Denham's decision to create a unitary council for Norwich, which goes against advice from the independent Boundary Committee which favoured a single authority for the county, has sparked uproar and fears it would break up vital public services in Norfolk and was too risky financially.

Ministers face renewed calls to scrap a controversial plan to give home rule to Norwich after the House of Lords merits committee published its report on proposals, concluding they did not conform to criteria published by Mr Denham's own department (CLG).

But Steve Morphew, leader of Norwich City Council, denied the report was a setback. He said: “What really matters is the decision of the two Houses of Parliament and I am now looking forward to finding out the timetable for their deliberations.

“It isn't a setback, as to say that would be to inflate the significance of the merits committee and doubtless the same opponents who have grabbed at every passing straw will do the same to this one and claim it is a terminal blow. If every claim of something having mortally wounded our case had been substantiated, it would have been dead and buried long ago.”

The report, which was published yesterday and also looked at the case for Exeter, said the government had failed to state a more detailed case beyond the assertion of “compelling reasons” for change and committee requests for more information had failed to provide any more robust advice.

And it suggested that the government's approach in Norfolk and Devon was inconsistent with its decision not to proceed with any change in Suffolk.

The committee also concluded there was not an “evidence backed case” for the proposal and it “remains unclear about how unitary status is expected to solve the problems identified” and it flagged up concerns about government plans to cancel this May's local elections in Norwich and Exeter.

The issue will now be debated in both the House of Commons and the Lords before any regulation agreeing to the change is made.

Daniel Cox, leader of Norfolk County Council, said the report was another nail in the coffin for the plans, and said the government must reject them.

He said: “This is a committee of very eminent peers whose job is to scrutinise the genuine merits of the order that the government has put before them. They have clearly found it wanting and I'm not surprised. I hope the Lords will now kick it out.”

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