Fight stepped up over councils shake-up
Ian Clarke Three Norfolk councils and the Boundary Committee are squaring up for a two-day High Court fight costing tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayers money over the future of local government in the county.
Three Norfolk councils and the Boundary Committee are squaring up for a two-day High Court fight costing tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayers money over the future of local government in the county.
A judge has agreed that Breckland, South Norfolk and King's Lynn and West Norfolk councils have got “an arguable case” to challenge the BC's draft proposals, which would create a unitary authority for Norfolk and Lowestoft.
The three councils claim the BC has been “unlawful” by not including the issue of affordability in its consultation on the proposals and that “fundamentally undermines the entire reorganisation process.”
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A two-day hearing at the High Court will be held before the end of November and if the judge rules in favour of the three councils it could lead to the unitary plans going back to the drawing board.
The councils have budgeted £65,000 for the case and while the BC has refused to discuss its likely costs, local government sources estimated they could be even higher - especially with reports it has employed “the best QC in the business.”
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Breckland has launched the High Court action on behalf of all three and its chief executive Trevor Holden said there were “high stakes” to be played for.
He said the estimated £65,000 legal costs - which would be shared between the councils - would be dwarfed by the amount which would be lost by the districts, especially Breckland, if the new unitary council was created.
“It is a lot of money but we are playing for big stakes in the way local services are delivered and local democratic accountability is delivered and there are huge risks. It may cost Breckland £30,000 but it could save residents here £2m here in the first year. If the changes go through that it is what it is going to cost the people of Breckland.”
Breckland leader William Nunn added: “The Boundary Committee has not consulted openly by refusing to add any mention of affordability within its proposals. The recent county estimates have compounded the worry for residents.
“We believe that the county have understated the set up costs and over estimated the savings and have stated before that such proposals are bad for democracy in Norfolk, bad for services in Norfolk and bad for council tax payers in Norfolk.”
Boundary Committee spokesman Gareth Nicholson said: “We will definitely defend it. We believe the process we followed are lawful and consistent with the request and guidance set out by the Secretary of State.”
He said he did not expect the court case to interrupt the process.
Mr Nicholson said the BC had already had more than 2000 responses to the Norfolk plans and said there was still time to express views before the deadline of September 26.
The BC will then prepare a recommendation for the government by the end of December and a further month of consultation will then be held.
Mr Nicholson said no other applications for judicial reviews in the current round of local government re-organisation had been made.
But it is believed there could be further action in areas such as Devon and Suffolk.
A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said it was only an “interested party” in the proceedings and not directly involved.
Norfolk County Council did not want to comment on the case.