Mark Conrad 21 June 2010

High Court rules unitary bids ‘unlawful’

Plans for new unitary authorities in Exeter and Norwich will be abandoned, after the High Court ruled that the orders to create the new councils were illegal.

Preparatory work on the new unitaries, which would have seen the city councils of Exeter and Norwich break away from their two-tier counties of Devon and Norfolk, will now stop, after the leader of Norwich said his team would not appeal against the High Court’s decision.

The former Labour government backed the unitary proposals, but the then opposition Conservatives had promised to withdraw the plans if they came to power. Labour ministers had claimed unitary status for both Exeter and Norwich provided the cities with the best chance of economic growth.

But the counties, and Conservative MPs, said the plans were expensive and wasteful.

In the event, the coalition government did not need to withdraw the plan because a joint judicial review of the proposals by Devon and Norfolk county councils ended successfully on 21 June.

Local government minister Bob Neill said: ‘We welcome the Court’s confirmation that the orders are unlawful and the Court’s decision that leave to appeal has not been granted. This is in line with the government’s commitment to stopping this wasteful and unnecessary restructuring.

‘That the department now has to pick up substantial legal costs is a further demonstration of the reckless spending habits of the previous governments.’

Cllr Steve Morphew, leader of Norwich City Council, said: ‘We are very disappointed…and see this as a real missed opportunity for the city.

‘We could respond by seeking leave to appeal the judgement, but it clear the new government is determined to stop Norwich and Exeter having independence and we would have to question whether the time and resources we would spend on this would best serve local people.’

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