Clifford Smith was Chief Planning Officer, then Chief Executive of East
Suffolk County Council and from 1974 Chief Executive of Suffolk County
Council. With so much experience of local government it was not surprising
that he gave the Society a talk (on 9 January) which was comprehensive,
methodical and coloured with thoughtful personal opinion. It is hard to do
justice to the detail and quality of his talk but I should start by
summarising that his 'Fifty Years of Planning' is inextricably wedded to
'Fifty Years of Reorganisation of Local Government'!
The 1947 Town and Country Planning Act was administered by Local
Authorities, often without qualified planners although sometimes informally
aided by civic societies such as ours and by architects' panels. There were
33 Local Authorities in Suffolk, of which three were planning authorities
with limited resources. In 1964 the South East Study was a "first
bombshell". Planning consultants came up with bright ideas such as expanding
Ipswich along the Orwell to link up with Felixstowe. Few Local Authorities
would have been able to handle such big proposals but East Suffolk's
response was that before any development should occur, an Orwell crossing
must be built. Then the Shankland Cox plans of 1965 proposed major housing
developments adjacent to Ipswich, one in the south and one in the
south-west, with a motorway through the middle of town!
Future plans and Public Inquiries took place until the Government in 1969
decided not to proceed. Clifford was pleased about that decision because a
New Town governance would not have had much, if any, local control. But at
least all these deliberations had led to the existing Local Authorities
working together, especially East Suffolk and Ipswich Borough Council, now
with its first planning officer, Geoff Ramsdale (1970).
The "next bombshell" was the 1972 Royal Commission to reorganise Local
Government - just as authorities had starting working together! One of its
aims was to create larger authorities. Suffolk County Council was created
with seven District Councils (including Ipswich) - as now. Suffolk County
Council was then big enough to run education, social services, strategic
planning, highways, etc. But the reorganisation had created eight planning
authorities instead of the previous three. Clifford acknowledged that this
didn't go down well with Ipswich which, having lost its County Borough
status, wanted to become a unitary authority.
His assessment of Suffolk County Council's achievements since 1974 included
many different aspects of the County's work, e.g. welcoming more employment
such as BT, Willis and Axa, the growth of the Port of Felixstowe, ensuring
that housing growth has been in the right areas, the Orwell Bridge, dualling
of the A14 and A12 (part), keeping the East Suffolk railway, designing and
managing the Heritage Coast, and resisting imposed growth.
He regretted Central Government's "increased powers" and "increased
privatisation of services" and not surprisingly he argued strongly that
two-tier Local Authorities are wasteful. At the end, there were some
searching questions from the floor and some thoughtfully reasoned answers.
It was a splendidly delivered, worthy talk and a thought provoking evening.
Many of us felt that the County Council had been in good hands with such a