We'll fight for our self-rule dream - Norwich

Shaun LowthorpeNorwich's civic leaders today vowed to fight to keep the city's self rule dream alive after the new coalition government moved to scrap the plans.Shaun Lowthorpe

Norwich's civic leaders today vowed to fight to keep the city's self rule dream alive after the new coalition government moved to scrap the plans.

Communities secretary Eric Pickles has ordered civil servants to urgently look at cancelling the plans which would have given City Hall the right to run all council services in Norwich as a new look unitary authority for the first time since 1974.

The Conservatives had a manifesto pledge to stop the proposal and a similar scheme in Exeter and the new minister wasted little time in delivering on the promised - barely 24 hours after getting his new job.

City MP Chloe Smith, who retained her seat in Norwich North last week, also supports the decision because of fears it will disrupt services and cost the earth.

But council leader Steve Morphew accused the new government of being vindictive and picking on Norwich at a time when there were more pressing problems nationally to worry about as council leaders vowed to fight any plans to kill off its hard fought unitary dream.

'The people of Norwich will be the losers here,' Mr Morphew added. 'There are huge savings to be had in this current economic climate. Over the next 10 years we will be saving more than �20m which could help protect us from the inevitable cuts in public spending that are to come. What is also at risk here is the huge amount of work that has already been invested in getting us this far.

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'This is an astonishing affront to the people of Norwich who voted overwhelmingly in favour of parties which supported a city unitary,' Mr Morphew said. 'The city has won the right to keep the day centres open and the street lights on, and the government is trying to take away the city's right to determine things which benefit the people.'

The council is seeking an urgent meeting with ministers about the plans.

But the decision means that the authority has temporarily put on hold plans to advertise for new staff until it becomes clear whether the government can stop the creation of the new council which should be up and running by next May

And it could also mean that the council will have to hold by-elections for 13 councillors which were cancelled this year after the Labour government approved the unitary bid.

Brian Watkins, Lib Dem group leader at Norwich City Council, said he and Mr Wright planned to lobby his party nationally and do everything they can to get the government to reverse the latest decision.

'As far as I an concerned, we are not going to be bullied in to submission on this,' Mr Watkins said. 'We feel very strongly about this.'

But Chloe Smith said the decision was the right one and the election result proved that most voters agreed.

'I am very pleased to see this statement from Eric Pickles come out so quickly and delivering on a pledge that was made in the manifesto,' she said. 'It should certainly be done as quickly as possible and I see no reason to hang about.

'In the week since the election concerns about these plans going ahead are still a large part of my postbag. People in Norfolk and Norwich have not had a say on that and we have just had an election result where we said we would overturn it and we are acting on that.'

Antony Little, Conservative Group leader in Norwich City Council said: 'We need to think very carefully about the resources we put in to this. Eric Pickles has been very clear that the process is going to end and I think it's clear it will be done.

Mr Wright said: 'If it comes up as an issue we will confront that and work together to get what we think is the right outcome. I think it is right that the people of Norwich have more say on how our affairs are governed, but I do have concerns with the process. If it's really a case of throwing out the baby with the bathwater, that could mean a more challenging discussion.'