LATEST: West Norfolk Council backs devolution proposals

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West Norfolk councillors have backed devolution plans to set up a new combined authority for Norfolk and Suffolk.

Members voted 34 to 12 to continue participating in the process, which will be the subject of a public consultation beginning next week, at a meeting in King’s Lynn town hall this evening.

Council leader Brian Long stressed backing the deal now did not mean the council could not change its mind when a final decision is expected in the autumn.

But he insisted there was more to be gained by supporting the proposal than by turning it down.

He said: “Agreement means we can carry on in the process. Rejection means we can no longer be involved.

“Rejection, I fear, will see us with poorer infrastructure, housing and jobs while other parts of the country move ahead.”

Mr Long highlighted the specific reference to additional investment in improvements to the Ely north junction in both the Norfolk-Suffolk and Cambridgeshire-Peterborough deals as a prime example of the scheme’s benefits.

And former borough mayor Colin Sampson, who chairs the Fen Line Users Association which represents the interests of groups using the line from Lynn to Cambridge, said: “The chance to get the money to sort out Ely is one I can’t miss.”

But fellow Tory backbencher Thomas Smith argued the amount of money on offer was inadequate.

He said: “This area has been underfunded since the war and this amounts to less than £30 per head per year. And whose money is it? It’s ours in the first place. We’re being given our own money back and we’re expected to roll over like obedient pups.”

He also slammed the proposed public consultation on the measures, calling on a visual aid to help make his point.

He said: “If you want to do a real consultation, you get these, a ballot box. You get a referendum and ask the people what they want.

“You can put me on hot coals and I will never, ever support this.”

Lord Howard said he could not vote for a consultation where it wasn’t known what questions would be put to the public.

Labour’s Gary McGuinness said the plan should be the subject of a poll in the affected areas, while Charles Joyce said the deal amounted to very little.

He added: “An elected mayor will be the government lackey for the want of a better word.”

But deputy leader Alistair Beales said that, despite his reservations about the deal, there was no viable alternative to help tackle major infrastructure issues, such as road and rail links.

He said: “When we’re offered money to do the Ely junction, the A47, when there is no other sign of it, can we turn it down? No we can’t.”

And Sandra Squite suggested it was “arrogant” to reject the plans without giving the public a chance to have their say on them.