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Newsletter, October 2008 (Issue 173)

New Unitary Authority

Your Society's Executive Committee has given a great deal of time and thought to the Boundary Committee's 'Draft proposals for unitary local government in Norfolk and Suffolk'. Our submitted response runs to fourteen pages of reasoned arguments covering all five of the Secretary of State's criteria and most aspects of economic development, infrastructure and community interests. We realise that not all Society members will agree with this response, particularly those who advocate a single Suffolk authority, but on considering the whole range of present and future interests we have concluded as follows. This is the Executive Summary which prefaces our response.

'Of the two models recommended by the Boundary Committee for consultation, The Ipswich Society strongly supports the preferred proposal for two unitary authorities in Suffolk, comprising a North Haven unitary authority covering Ipswich, Felixstowe and connected areas; and a Suffolk unitary authority comprising the rest of the county.

'The Secretary of State's five criteria, and the range of services to be delivered, suggest an over-arching principle: that the boundaries for the new authorities in Suffolk should recognise the emergence of quite distinct communities of common interest, for both now and the future. The Society's original proposal recognised three such communities: an enlarged Ipswich, a Suffolk Coastal including Felixstowe and Lowestoft, and a Suffolk Rural. However, the popular support enjoyed by that model is not matched by the assessment of its economic viability. Of the two models deemed capable of satisfying all five criteria therefore, the Society recognises that the development needs of the North Haven area - to provide a focus for economic development and a strategic transport gateway for trade and tourism between the UK, mainland Europe and the world - are quite distinct from those of the rest of Suffolk, and will best be met by creating two distinct unitary authorities.

'Local government should indeed be local, but unitary authorities must be large enough to be viable. Ipswich is rightly proud of its eight centuries' tradition of self-determination under the Charter of 1200, and is now the focus for much new development, not least the establishment of a new university; but it is also recognisably a part of the wider North Haven region which boasts the expanding Port of Felixstowe and the thriving technology centre of Adastral Park at Martlesham. The demands for regional infrastructure, supporting services and shared amenities all require concerted strategic direction from a local authority committed to a clear vision for North Haven, and the active involvement of the communities participating in these developments. The Society strongly argues, moreover, that Westerfield and Tuddenham are properly part of the North Haven community of interest and should be included within that authority. We also note the interest expressed by Hadleigh.

'In contrast, if Ipswich were subsumed into a single unitary authority for the whole of Suffolk, sheer weight of representation would result in rural interests being given priority over those of the urban regions, as has prevailed in matters governed by the present Suffolk County Council since 1974. Creating a single county-wide authority would reduce the self-governance of Ipswich even further, and the Society strongly endorses the Boundary Committee's understated conclusion that "the aspirations of Ipswich may not best be met under this model," with strategic consequences for the whole country.

'The Ipswich Society therefore supports Ipswich's future development as part of a North Haven unitary authority, ideally to be re-named "Orwell".'

    Front cover of issue 173 Cover, issue 173

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