Rising costs warning

People in the Dereham area could face rising council tax bills, fewer bin collections and free parking could be scrapped if a new single authority for Norfolk is introduced.

People in the Dereham area could face rising council tax bills, fewer bin collections and free parking could be scrapped if a new single authority for Norfolk is introduced.

That is the gloomy prediction from senior councillors and officers at Breckland who will today urge colleagues to bankroll a £100,000 fighting fund to oppose the proposals.

The Boundary Committee has recommended the present two-tier council structure should be replaced with a unitary authority for Norfolk and Lowestoft.

The battle for the hearts and minds of local people is under way with supporters and opponents of the plans working hard to get their message across.

It emerged this week that four councils - Breckland, King's Lynn and West Norfolk, North Norfolk and South Norfolk - are considering spending up to £300,000 between them on opposing the overhaul of the system, including a £185,000 referendum.

A budget has been drawn up and councillors are being asked to share out the cost. It would also include £40,000 provision for a judicial review, taking on four experts at a cost of £22,500 to scrutinise the committee's proposals and employing a £50,000 lobbyist.

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Breckland's full council will today be asked to support up to £100,000 being spent.

Deputy chief executive Tim Leader said: “We need to explain the impact to people. What we would spend would be a drop in the ocean in comparison with charges brought on local people.”

He said the Breckland share of the council tax could double, free parking in Dereham and other Breckland towns could be scrapped and bin collections could be less frequent if there was one authority.

Breckland leader William Nunn accepted that £100,000 was a huge sum. “I wish we did not have to go ahead with it, but potentially it could cost tens or twenties of millions of pounds, which will not deliver services better,” he added.

Mr Nunn supports an “enhanced status quo” with current councils working closer together.

Labour group leader Robin Goreham: “If this is money being used to formulate Breckland's wholly negative response to the local government review then I would oppose it. It is completely pointless to argue - interminably - for the status quo when this is clearly no longer an option.

“If it is money to be spent on preparing positive and sensible alternatives for local government, then that may be justifiable.”

The Conservatives deputy chairman Bob Neill said the current two-tier structure should remain, and he criticised the Boundary Committee's proposals for a single authority for Norfolk and Lowestoft as “being fundamentally flawed and an unnecessary distraction.”

Mr Neill, who is also shadow local government minister, said Norfolk people should be able to vote in a referendum.

He insisted that Norfolk people were interested in the delivery of quality services and not in a structural shake-up.

Norfolk County Council leader Daniel Cox, whose authority had advocated a single council, said he hoped that all sides could work through the process currently on the table.

“Labour parliamentarians have already said that they will fight it in Parliament, what difference that will make we will have to wait and see,” he said. “There is a debate happening now about the future of local government in Norfolk around the single draft proposal on the table. I hope that proposal can be shaped with the help of others so that it can reflect the needs and aspirations of Norfolk as a whole.”