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County's unitary review halts district merger

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A proposal to merge two more districts in Suffolk has been put on hold as the county council is exploring options for creating unitary authorities, it has emerged.

The leaders of Babergh and Mid Suffolk DCs have decided “it would be illogical” to present their proposals to merge in time for 2020 while a review by the county council is underway.

Thinktank ResPublica has been commissioned by Suffolk CC to look at the options available for reorganisation. While the leaders of Babergh and Mid Suffolk would “support some form of unitary arrangements for Suffolk” they have urged the county council to put a stop to the review in its current form and replace it with a joint one.

Housing and communities secretary Sajid Javid has already backed the merger of Suffolk Coastal and Waveney DCs to form a single East Suffolk DC, and the separate merger of Forest Heath DC and St Edmundsbury BC to create West Suffolk DC.

LGC reported last month how a poll found more than 60% of residents surveyed were in favour of merging Babergh and Mid Suffolk DC and leaders were preparing to submit a business case to government with a view to the merger going ahead in 2020.

John Ward (Con), Babergh leader, said: “I made two commitments to the residents and councillors of Babergh when I became leader in January 2018. These were that I would personally prefer to see some form of unitary arrangements be brought forward for Suffolk, but that in the absence of any viable unitary plans I see real merit in creating a single district council in the centre of Suffolk to replace Babergh and Mid Suffolk district councils.”

But with the ResPublica review underway at the same time as an electoral boundary review, Cllr Ward said “now is not the right time to be actively pursuing a merger with Mid Suffolk DC”.

Nick Gowrley (Con), leader of Mid Suffolk, said: “We remain convinced that merging with Babergh, to cement our long standing relationship, is the right thing to do and something that we could deliver. It would be good for our residents, would save taxpayers money, and protect the services that residents value most.

”However, one of the alternative options that we also favour is the creation of unitary councils. Whilst it makes sense for the district and borough councils in East and West Suffolk to complete their mergers which will come into effect from 2019, it would not be sensible for us to start the process of a merger given the county council’s new willingness to consider other options.”

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