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Local Government (Unitary Proposals)

Volume 502: debated on Tuesday 8 December 2009

My right hon. Friend, the then Minister for Local Government, the Member for Wentworth (John Healey) told the House on 6 February 2008, Official Report, column 66-68WS, that we were requesting the Boundary Committee under section 4 of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 to advise on certain matters respectively relating to the unitary proposals made by Exeter city council, Ipswich borough council, and Norwich city council. We originally requested the advice by 31 December 2008, which, on account of litigation brought by certain local authority against the Boundary Committee, we subsequently extended to 8 December 2009.

The Boundary Committee has now provided its advice, copies of which have been placed in the Library of the House.

In its advice the Boundary Committee has, pursuant to its powers in section 5(3) of the 2007 Act, made alternative unitary proposals covering the counties of Devon, Norfolk, and Suffolk, and recommended, on the basis of the evidence available to it, that the original unitary proposals made by Exeter city council, Ipswich borough council, and Norwich city council are not implemented.

There is now a period of six weeks until 19 January 2010 for representations to be made to the Secretary of State about the Boundary Committee’s advice, and for any further representations to be made about any of the three original proposals.

Thereafter, the Secretary of State intends to take his statutory decisions under the 2007 Act as to whether to implement, with or without modification, any of the unitary proposals—the alternative proposals made by the Boundary Committee and the original proposals—before him, or to take no action. Before taking his statutory decisions he will consider carefully the Boundary Committee’s advice, all the representations he receives, and all other relevant information available to him. Under the 2007 Act no proposal can be implemented unless Parliament has approved an Order giving effect to the Secretary of State’s decision.

We recognise the need to end uncertainty and intend to move forward as quickly as practicable. Our priority is to ensure that the people of Devon, Norfolk, and Suffolk will have the councils that are best able to play their part at the heart of providing innovative and better value public services across the counties, providing strong strategic leadership, engaging effectively with their most local communities, and delivering efficiencies and service improvements.