Devolution deal ‘is a Suffolk takeover’, claims Norfolk MP

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A West Norfolk MP has condemned devolution proposals which he claims amount to a “Suffolk takeover” of Norfolk.

Councils across the two counties are expected to decide in the next few weeks whether or not to participate in the project to establish a new combined authority for the region.

More than 20 political and business leaders have now signed a new letter calling for the project to be allowed to proceed.

But four of Norfolk’s district authorities, including Breckland and North Norfolk, have already pulled out of the scheme.

And North West Norfolk MP Sir Henry Bellingham, a consistent critic of the idea, has renewed his calls for it to be scrapped altogether.

He said: “If it goes ahead in its current form, it would definitely be a Suffolk takeover.”

Almost 30 politicians and business leaders have signed the latest letter, which was published this week.

The group includes South West Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss, West Norfolk Council leader Brian Long, Norfolk County Council leader Cliff Jordan and senior officials of both the New Anglia local enterprise partnership and the county’s Chamber of Commerce.

And they insist the proposal for a new combined authority, to be headed by a directly elected mayor and with more than £1 billion to invest in housing and infrastructure over the next 30 years, can create an even brighter future for the two counties.

The letter said the counties “are at our best when we are innovative and bold.

“Norfolk and Suffolk can be even greater places to live, work and learn. That is what local businesses and people deserve.

“As local authorities approach landmark decisions on behalf of the future of people and places in Norfolk and Suffolk we, the elected representatives, local authorities, and businesses of the area, want to reiterate our support for this opportunity to help our people, places and businesses reach their full potential.”

But Sir Henry, who is one of three Norfolk MPs not to sign the letter alongside Chloe Smith and Clive Lewis, said: “Far from being a time to be bold, it’s a time for common sense.

“It’s time for people to face up to the fact it’s not a good deal for Norfolk.

“It’s not new money and far more is being taken away through the loss of the revenue support grant.”

He claimed he was also being supported in his campaign by other MPs who have not spoken publicly on the subject.

And he dismissed claims of strong public support for the proposal as “mischievous”, insisting that a majority had opposed it when it went to public consultation.

Meetings are due to take place around the end of this month for councils who have supported the project so far to decide whether to take part in it or not.

Sir Henry said he believed the project would be “dead” if the county or borough councils voted to turn it down now.

And opponents have also criticised what they claim is a democratic deficit that would prevent people in districts which rejected devolution from voting in a mayoral election, even if the county decides to support it.

Marie Strong, the county council’s Liberal Democrat group leader, said MPs should be able to change that, even if they support the project in its current form.

She said: “Norfolk County Council canvassed residents across the whole county – including residents of the four barred councils.

“So surely if given the opportunity to take part in a devolution consultation gives you a vote then all residents of Norfolk should have a vote.”