Work on self-rule Norwich gets under way

Shaun LowthorpeWork to build a new unitary council for Norwich will be overseen by a cross-party team of councillors - under plans published by the government.Shaun Lowthorpe

Work to build a new unitary council for Norwich will be overseen by a cross-party team of councillors - under plans published by the government.

Ministers last week gave the green light to creating a new council for the city which will see the creation of one authority running all services within its boundaries currently provided by both the city and the county councils.

The new council would come in to effect in April 2011 - if it can cross the final parliamentary hurdles, and is not derailed by a legal challenge from Norfolk County Council, which believes the decision could be illegal because it flies in the face of advice from both the independent Boundary Committee and senior civil servants who fear it could be costly and unviable.

The House of Lords merits committee is also due to consider next week whether the new city council will meet the government's goals as part of the first stage of getting parliamentary approval.

Meanwhile, the government's draft orders state that the implementation executive, which will be set up to oversee the creation of the new authority, should be made up of 18 city and county councillors.

The plan is for city council leader Steve Morphew to lead a shadow executive, which will also consist of eleven city councillors and six county councillors from Norwich divisions.

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The orders also state that Labour, Greens, Lib Dems and Conservatives should all be represented on the new body. Talks are ongoing on the exact numbers of councillors, though they are likely to be based proportionately on the strength of the parties, with Labour likely to field an experienced team based on its current city executive members.

However, given the strength of the parties in Norwich and particularly at County Hall, where the Greens are the largest city based party, there is a question mark over whether Green councillors, who have never held political office, will be the largest group on the body.

County Hall this week launched its legal challenge against the plan and council leader Daniel Cox has indicated he may have other ideas about what should happen and the timings, while the Tories have pledged to scrap it if they win the general election.

However the draft orders state that the implementation executive must be up and running within 21 days of parliament approving the plans.

And Mr Morphew said he hoped all sides would come together before the general election as time was tight to get the new council up and running.

'I'm hoping all parties from the city and county will work hard from the first day and nobody decides they are going to take their ball home,' Mr Morphew said. 'We can't afford to waste a day let alone a month. The moment the orders are approved I will call the first meeting.

'What we will be looking for is a transition that's efficient and effective whatever the political parties are or whatever administration there is. We would want to set up an organisation that can function, whatever is thrown at it.'

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